An Indian summer… feast

Read on for an Indian feast fit for a king! After a summer full of meat laden BBQ’s it’s time to rediscover seasonal vegetables and to get creative.

Paneer, chickpea and spinach curry: This has become a firm favourite in our household and makes use of the tastiest vegetables around. Paneer is a firm, mild Indian cheese and can be used as a meat substitute so give it a go!

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Serves 4:
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
Few curry leaves (optional)
1 small onion finely sliced
1 tsp ginger grated or pureed
1 tsp garlic grated or pureed
1/2 tsp turmeric
2 tsp mild curry powder
2 tsp chilli powder
1/2 tsp garam masala
400g tin of chopped tomatoes
2 green or red chillies
400g tin of chickpeas- rinsed and drained
Pack of paneer approx. 200g
Small bag of baby spinach- washed

1. Firstly heat the oil in a large saucepan over a medium heat and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves. Heat the pan until the mustard seeds begin to become fragrant, pop and sizzle. Reduce the heat to low, add the onion and cook until golden.

2. Now it’s time to make the paste- that’s right, homemade paste, none of this ready made stuff! This is so simple so combine the ginger puree, garlic puree, turmeric, curry powder, chilli powder and a little water. You are after a thick, rich paste so gradually add the water- you will only need a tablespoon or two. If you fancy paneer with an extra layer of flavour you can reserve a little of the paste and coat the paneer in this.

3. Add the paste to the onion in the pan and cook for a couple of minutes. I then add in the fresh chillies (you can use milder chilies if you prefer or pierce the chillies if you want to release a bit more flavour). Add the chickpeas and stir gently so they get a delicious coating of the paste.

4. Add in the tomatoes and simmer on a low heat whilst you prepare the paneer. This is the perfect time to cut the paneer into 2cm cubes and to fry off in a frying pan so they turn golden on all sides. If you have reserved some of the curry paste this is the time to mix with the paneer before frying off.

5. Simmer the sauce for 20 minutes and then add in the spinach. Continue to simmer until the curry sauce is thick and rich. Just before it’s ready sprinkle over the garam masala and stir in. Serve in warmed bowls with chapatis alongside.

 

Green chilli pickle: This is not for the faint hearted but if you are not a fan of heat then you can choose milder chillies. I make use of my local market and stock up on green finger chillies which you can pick up cheaply. This pickle lasts well and I store mine in a Kilner jar in the fridge so it is on hand for when a curry calls so it is worth making a jar of it at a time. Asafoetida is relatively easy to find these days so I would recommend trying to get hold of this.

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Makes a jar:
30 serrano chillies or approx. 50 green finger chillies
2 tbsp whole yellow mustard seeds
1 tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tsp fennel seeds
1 tbsp salt
1 tsp asafoetida
1 tsp medium or hot chilli powder
1 tsp ground turmeric
Juice of one lemon
5 tbsp of vegetable oil

1. First you need to get going with the preparation for the pickling spice mix. The mustard, fennel and fenugreek seeds one spice at a time and dry roast in a small pan until fragrant. Each spice should take around 30 seconds to roast; put them aside to cool down.

2. Grind the spices so they are coarse and add the salt, asafoetida, chilli powder and turmeric to the mixture.

3. Next up wash and pat dry the chillies of your choice before chopping into 2mm pieces. If you want to reduce the heat level in the pickle then you can remove some or all of the chilli seeds as you go.

4. The pickle needs to be kept in air tight jar (I use Kilner jars which have a proper seal) and make sure the jar is properly sterilised. Now it’s time to mix the pickling spices, chillies, lemon juice and oil together and give a good old stir before putting into the jar. I then push the chilli mixture down a bit with the back of a spoon to level it out a bit and you can then top it up with extra oil if needed in order to create a protective layer if you find the chillies have absorbed some of it. That’s all there’s to it!

The pickle can be used straightaway however I like to leave it for at least a day to develop the flavour- if you resist! The longer the pickle is kept, the punchier it will get!

 

Homemade chapatis: With a bit of effort you can enjoy authentic chapatis which will rival those from even the best Indian restaurant! These are also freezable and I would suggest interleaving each bread with a cling film sheet so they don’t stick together.

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Makes 8 chapatis:
450g wholemeal plain flour
250ml cold water

1. Put 200g of the flour to one side to help with the shaping of the chapatis and place the remaining flour in a deep bowl.

2. Add the cold water gradually to the flour and be sure to knead as you combine the two until you have a soft dough. As rule of thumb, the longer you knead the chapati dough, the softer it will be resulting in a tastier chapati.

3. Lightly flour the work surface and divid the chapati dough into 8 pieces. Shape each piece of dough into a ball.

4. Take each ball of dough one at a time and flatten slightly before rolling it out to achieve a disc of approximately 15cm in diameter. Remember to use some of the leftover flour as you go to keeo the dough from sticking to the surface.

5. Heat a griddle pan to a medium/ high heat and cook each chapati for around 30 seconds until the chapati begins to bubble up and turn golden. Serve on the side of your favourite curry!

 

Onion bhajis:These bhajis are quick and easy to cook. Once you have mastered the basic recipe the ingredients can be tweaked so try experimenting with other vegetables. It is important to make sure you use chickpea flour as this gives a lighter, crisper bhaji.One of my personal favourites is a Brussel sprout bhaji which will convert even the fussiest of eaters!

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Makes approx. 8-10
2 red onions- 1 sliced and 1 finely diced
100g gram (chickpea) flour
1/2 baking powder
2 tsp chilli powder
1 dried red chilli finely snipped
1/2 tsp cumin
Vegetable oil to fry

1. Sift the flour and baking powder into a large bowl to ensure there are no little lumps. Add the chilli powder, dried chilli, cumin and a pinch of salt.

2. Add 150ml of cold water to the mixture to create a thick, smooth batter. I gradually add the last 20- 30mls of water to make sure the right amount is added. To the batter, add the onion and stir well to ensure the onion is well coated.

3. Now this is the bit where you need you wits about you! Heat enough vegetable oil in a large pan so that it is 3- 4cm deep and bring it up to a medium/ high heat. When you think the oil is hot enough drop a slice of onion in it to double check- if the onion sinks and then comes back up to the surface then it is ready. Add heaped tablespoons of the onion mixture to the oil and fry until golden. Don’t overcrowd the pan when frying- I usually do 2 at a time. When the bhajis are golden, carefully remove them with a slotted spoon and blot onto kitchen paper.

The bhajis are best served warm and fresh however they can also be gently reheated- that’s if you havent already demolished them all!

So there you have it, an Indian feast and not a takeaway menu in sight!

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