While creating lots of self referential links I was dumbfounded by the realisation that I haven’t once posted about Indian food. How can this be?! How has this been omitted?! I’m genuinely quite incredulous because we make it at least twice a week.
While buying aubergines and peppers in rural Aberdeenshire was difficult anything out with the Mediterranean an impossibility. I had an exceptionally plain palate as a child and whether that was of my own making or an enforced decision due to living in neeps and tatties country and not particularly having many options I’ll never know. What I do know is that the closest I got to Indian food was a packet of mild curry savoury rice and a less authentic food you would be hard pressed to find. I think it contained dried red peppers, maybe peas, I can’t remember, and has the mildest hints of curry to it as if a packet of curry powder had been waved at it.
In 1995 I tuned into a program called Madhur Jaffreys Flavours of India and it was fundamental in altering my attitude to foods. It was fascinating. It was such a completely different way of cooking and the spices! Wow! I’d never heard of them. Our kitchen cupboard contained two packaged spices and herbs: mild curry powder and mixed herbs. Exotic! I’m not sure what changed but considering that I had never been an adventurous eater or cooked more than a packet of supernoodles it was a great departure. Perhaps it was a realisation that something had to change. I had become a junk food cheese obsessed non bean, non lentil and non vegetable eating vegetarian in 1993 and then a non bean, non lentil and non vegetable eating vegan in1994. I realised that if I I was serious about removing dairy & eggs as well as meat from my diet I had to be the healthiest I could be to prove that my choice was right.
I wrote out the recipes and after school i would venture into the one and only ethnic food shop that Aberdeen had to offer to buy my spices and eventually I started asking the advice of the owners how to cook things: although every vegetable I bought I was told to “cook like a potato”. I experimented after school and slowly introduced different types of pulses and vegetables into my new spiced up flavoursome cooking.
That is where my love affair with Indian foods started. The flavours can be punchy and as hot as hell or subtle and mild but always beautifully aromatic. Dal is an easy place to start. It can be made a little sweet with cinnamon and coconut milk, maybe sour with a hint of tamarind or perhaps fiery and fresh with some coriander chilli and lime stirred in at the end. I can’t really claim this to be completely authentic but I do claim it to be delicious.
Channa dal about 2 cups, 2 bay leaves and Cassia bark (or a cinnamon stick). A few cloves and some cardamom pods can also be added
Throw in a pot and cover with water. Bring to the boil and simmer until channa dal is tender.
Meanwhile: Fry off 2 onions, 3 cloves crushed garlic and good chunk of finely chopped ginger over a gentle heat and try not to burn. Add in a tsp mustard seeds, 1/2 tsp ground fenugreek, a tablespoon each of ground cumin and coriander and fry off a little. If you can get fresh curry leaves put them in too. Throw this mix into your dal.
Now you can add fresh chillies if you like or some tamarind or maybe some coconut milk and let it simmer away. Add salt only once the channa dal is soft. Spinach and fresh coriander should be put in at the last minute if you fancy it…and why not?