I once believed that curry was a spice, when in fact it’s a combination of spices, more accurately referred to as garam masala.
Eastern spices are an inspiration to everyone who loves to cook and eat good food. The exotic flavours of cumin, coriander, turmeric, five spice powder, cardamom, mustard seeds, saffron and cayenne pepper are now familiar to people throughout the world, where once their use was pretty much confined to India and the Middle East.
And, whenever you add such distinct flavours to a cuisine, it’s enriched by the addition.
I have found it absolutely fascinating over the years to learn to use these spices in my kitchen forays into Indian recipes and I’ve begin to incorporate them into my other cooking as well.
Garam masala is a combination of such spices as cumin, coriander, peppercorns, cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and dried ginger and there is a vast range of differently-flavoured masalas.
The combination of onions, ginger, garlic and some of these exotic spices in a frypan with a little oil and some heat, amounts to a transport to heaven as the wonderful aromas infiltrate the kitchen.
Yet, some are reluctant to take the first step to trying some of these spices, perhaps because they’re concerned they will be too hot or uncomfortably spicy. But, you can control how much heat is added if you’re the cook, so it doesn’t need to be too hot, just nicely spicy.
My good friend Donna served up a delicious Indian meal during a recent holiday and she shared a couple of the recipes with us.
For more spicy recipes using seasonal, local foods, pick up a copy of my new book, Jude’s Kitchen wherever books are sold.
Incidentally, if you’re interested in tasting amazing new flavours, combinations of flavours and pairings with excellent wines, pick up a ticket for the upcoming Fall Epicurean Dinner at Mission Hill Family Estate in the elegant Chagall Room. Joining award-winning winery chef Matt Batey, will be chefs from Oliver and Bocancini Restaurants at this memorable six-course meal. Details: www.missionhillwinery.com
Donna’s Palak Paneer
Paneer (Indian cheese made from milk) is available now in some local shops that specialize in exotic items, and that’s what Donna used in her version of this favourite East Indian dish. Following is her recipe for the sauce she poured over the fried paneer. I’ve used firm tofu or bean curd instead and it’s good too and more generally available at supermarkets. Where my recipe includes a dollop each of tomato sauce and yogurt, hers features hot, green and red peppers, and it was very good.
2 medium-sized onions
2 tbsp. (30 ml) grated ginger
4 jalapeno peppers, minced
1 red pepper
1 green pepper
2 c. (500 ml) cooked spinach
drizzle of oil
1 tsp. (5 ml) turmeric
1 tsp. (5 ml) salt
2 tsp. (10 ml) garam masala
1/4 c. (60 ml) water
Chop onions, grate ginger and mince hot peppers. Slice sweet red pepper into strips.
Clean green pepper and cook spinach.
Heat a drizzle of oil in a large frypan and soften the onions and ginger. Add the turmeric, salt and garam masala and mix well.
In a blender, process the spinach and green pepper until very smooth and add to the onion mixture, along with the red peppers and water.
Bring to a boil, then lower the heat and simmer for a few minutes until everything is heated through.
Add fried paneer and combine, heating it through.
Donna’s vegetable curry
This is a very flavourful and attractive way to provide the family with lots of different vegetables in a way they’ll lap up because it looks and tastes so good. It’s flexible too. If snow peas aren’t available, just add a handful or so of frozen peas.
2 large carrots
20 green beans
1/3 head green cabbage
15 small mushrooms
20 snow peas
4 garlic cloves
2/3 c. plain yogurt
1 tsp. (5 ml) cornstarch
drizzle of oil
1 tsp. (5 ml) cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. (3 ml) mustard seed
1 tsp. (5 ml) ground turmeric
1 tsp. (5 ml) garam masala
1 tsp. (5 ml) red chili pepper flakes
1/2 tsp. (3 ml) salt
Dice onion and slice carrots on the diagonal; string beans; shred cabbage. Clean mushrooms, string snow peas and mince the garlic.
In a small bowl, combine yogurt and cornstarch.
Heat a drizzle of oil in a deep pan and add cumin and mustard seeds and let them pop.
Add turmeric, garam masala, red chili pepper flakes and salt, then add onions and carrots and stir for a minute. Add a couple of spoonfuls of water, cover and let cook for a couple of minutes more.
Stir in the beans and cabbage, whole mushrooms and minced garlic, cover and let it all steam for another couple of minutes. Add peas for just a minute or two of steaming.
Combine yogurt and cornstarch and add to the vegetables, stirring until it bubbles and making sure all the vegetables are coated in sauce.