By Conchita de Souza
By Conchita de Souza
By Conchita de Souza
By Claudette D'Cruz
With today’s mantra of eat more plant food we see posh fruit and juice parlours sprouting around. Instagram is lush with tantalising pictures of luscious fruit and vibrant vegetables arranged in all manner of aesthetics by raw food enthusiasts. But fruit and vegetables are not the only plant food we can enjoy. Let’s take a look at what replaces a steak on an Indian plate - pulses.
With 47% of Indians following a vegetarian (lacto-ovo) diet there are a whole variety of pulses included in every meal. They are cheap but provide high nutrition and the protein component in meals for millions. Pulses are eaten at each meal both in sweet and savoury recipes. In many Indian households lunch or dinner would consist of a dhal, a bean dish, 2 seasonal vegetables, rice and or chappati accompanied by pickle, papadums and a sweet dish.
Dhal for most Indians is synonymous with soul food. A hot steaming bowl of dhal and some rice/roti to accompany it and you have a satisfying meal in minutes. There are several varieties of Dhals and we will endeavour to explain some of them.
- URAD (black coloured lentils) are black in colour and about the same shape and size as moong beans. They are highly nutritious and recommended for diabetics as are other pulses. Only needs washing before cooking.
- CHANA (yellow split-pea lentils) have a deep yellow colour and look like the halves of a chick-pea, only smaller in size. They take a long time to cook and hence are perfect for use in a slow cooker. Need to be soaked to reduce cooking time.
- MASOOR (orange coloured lentils) are most commonly used in many homes. They take the shortest time to cook and are excellent for quick meals. Wash thoroughly till the water runs clear.
- MOONG (green coloured lentils) are easy to digest hence they are prepared for children. They are also used in sweet dishes like in the south (Godsheh in Goa and Vorn in Mangalore) and in the north (Moong Dal Halwa) – which is reminiscent of the Chinese Moon Cake.
The six major pulse groups grown in Australia are: Broad Beans, Chickpea, Field Peas, Lentils, Lupin and Mungbean. Pulses are universally recommended as part of a healthy eating plan and feature prominently in some of the world’s healthiest diets such as the Mediterranean diet. So feel positively pulsed and enjoy these easy recipes, which we have hyperlinked below:
- DHAL MAKHANI - The richest of all the dhal dishes thanks to the addition of cream and butter.
- JEERA TADKA DHAL - Basic everyday dhal that gets most of its flavour from the 'tadka', which is the tempering of condiments like cumin seeds, dried red chilli and curry leaves, in hot oil, which is then added to the lentil curry.
- CHANA DHAL - This lentil is much thicker than its counterparts and usually requires to be soaked in water before cooking.
PALAK (Spinach) DHAL - The addition of spinach in this dhal dish is so divine, you will want to consume it as a soup, rather than just a curry.
By Conchita de Souza
My hypothesis is that any dish which contains the ingredient ‘butter’ in its name will certainly not disappoint: Butterbeer (hello wizarding fans); Peanut Butter (or any of its nutty counterparts); Butterscotch (especially if we are talking about chunks of it in my ice-cream) and Butter Chicken (best enjoyed when served with warm naan).
I have long been a believer in the fact that the amount of butter used in a recipe can only ever be greater than or equal to the amount of love the cook has for those whom she is preparing the dish. It is no surprise then, that Butter Chicken has won hearts and tastebuds throughout the world because of the generous lashings of butter perfectly dissolved into a thick tomatoey gravy that has absorbed the sultry spices of the tandoor-roasted chicken. The dish takes you on a rollercoaster of sensations with every bite; it is mildly spicy, with a hit of sweetness from the tomato base; the mix of butter and yoghurt makes it creamy and; the juices of the spiced chicken give it a tangy touch.
The humble origins of this dish can be traced back to a talented young chef named Kundan Lal Gujral (who had already been credited for inventing Tandoori Chicken and would later go on to create the renowned Dhal Makhani). He had fled to Delhi from Pakistan following the partition and started a restaurant called Moti Mahal. Chef Kundan saw that the tandoori chicken skewers which did not get sold during the day, would go to waste, and so he thought of cooking that same chicken in a sauce to soften it. That sauce was the sauce that propelled this culinary genius into legendary fame and has kept his soul alive through the makers and eaters of Butter Chicken.
My first exposure to this dish came from my Dad, a trained chef and lover of Indian cuisine. His Butter Chicken is renowned amongst our circle of family and friends and it is a dish he always prepares whenever we entertain at home. Although we do not have access to the traditional Indian tandoor (a cylindrical clay oven), he uses our very modern oven to bake the chicken which has been marinated in yoghurt and a blend of spices overnight. My friends like his preparation because he masters the balance between spices and buttery-ness. Sometimes you can order a Butter Chicken that is so opulent that it fills you up and leaves you with an unsettling heaviness in your tummy; Other times the dish can be watered down and resultantly lacks ‘oomph’. Fine tuning your Butter Chicken can be as tricky as doing salsa blindfolded and on a beam - there are so many different elements that require balancing.
Fortunately for you, we have taken the guesswork out of making Butter Chicken (and other favourites). Our authentic, naturally-blended, gluten-free and preservative-free Butter Chicken spice blend will have your family and guests loosening the belts on their pants to make space for another helping (or two) whilst raising their eyebrows quizzically at your unassumed ability to produce an authentic-tasting Indian curry. And because the love for you all is real, we have added a foolproof recipe to prepare this dish with relative ease and certainly hardly any fuss. For vegetarians and vegans - add paneer (Indian cottage cheese) or tofu respectively to make a delightful meat-free version of this dish. Click here for your life-changing Butter Chicken spice blend.
If you are a nutter for butter and want to test out my hypothesis above, then you should most definitely taste our Dhal Makhani (Buttery Dhal) spice blend. ‘Makhan’ means ‘butter’ in Hindi and its addition to this lentil-based dish transforms it from an ‘everyday’ kind-of meal into one fit for royalty. Because everything tastes better with butter.
By Conchita A. de Souza
By Conchita de Souza
There is nothing like coming home after a long period of travelling and eating out at restaurants, in trains and on the street, and finally tucking into a meal prepared in your very own kitchen. Even if that meal is as simple as you toasting bread, spreading vegemite and butter on top of it and sitting half naked on the kitchen counter munching on the said creation.
In India, the notion of a home-cooked meal concocts sensations of familiarity, comfort, belonging and security. Whilst there is a huge culture of eating out at the literally millions of places, be they grand as the Taj Hotel or as humble as the pani puri vendor at the end of the street (click here and here to learn more about the deliciousness that is pani puri), there is also an unsaid recognition and appreciation for the meal that is prepared at home, with love and tenderness, usually (but not always, as things are changing) by the mother. This meal is sacred and wasting it, a big sin.
A common sight in India is bringing home-made ‘tiffins’ to work. ‘Tiffin’ means lunch and, until I lived and worked in India, I can honestly say I never really had a proper ‘lunch’. In Australia, it is common for us to bring sandwiches or something cold for lunch packed from home. Every now and then leftovers that can be heated up, is more of a treat than the ordinary salad sandwich. In India, home-packed tiffins are taken to new heights with spicily-prepared vegetables and hot, soft roti made at home in the morning and packed just in time for hubby, kids and self to take to school and work. Can you imagine waking up early enough to not only prepare breakfast for the family, but also hot lunch, and then get them and yourself ready to be out of the house? Well it happens, and all for the love of a home-cooked meal.
I remember when I first started working in India and it was my first office lunch, I went to the canteen to order food whilst my colleagues accompanied me with stylish and compact bags. Whilst I waited for my food to be prepared, they opened their bags to reveal an assortment of tiffin boxes, some stainless steel and multi-stacked (like in the image below) and others colourful, like the tupperware they sell at tupperware parties in Australia. Each box was carefully packed; rice separated from curry; cooked vegetable separated from roti; a special container to make sure the home-made yoghurt wouldn’t leak and; even a small box with a homemade sweet. All of these tiffins would be spread out amongst colleagues and graciously shared, each colleague boasting about their mum’s amazing pilaf or their wife’s to-die-for jeera aloo (potato and cumin seeds). On a day your mum prepared a dish that was not one of your favourites; no problems, it was easily exchanged with a colleague who liked what you got in your tiffin and vice versa. I felt out of place with my canteen food but within no time, the tiffins were pushed to my side of the table and I was asked to taste everything. After a few weeks of settling in, I too began cooking fresh food in the morning and taking it to work in my tiffin (not as stylish as theirs but nevertheless serving its purpose) and feeling the joy of opening up my tiffin and sharing my cooking efforts with those around me. There is something about homemade food that makes it taste different, and I put that down to one ingredient - love. You wouldn’t prepare meals for your loved ones with outdated ingredients, wilting leafy vegetables or unfamiliar additives. You take pleasure in seeing them enjoy that which you have made and therein lies the love. Not to my surprise, when I have prepared food in anger, or eaten food prepared in anger, this has reflected in the taste which says a lot about the importance of food preparation!
A tradition that remains strong in India is the notion of cooking fresh and eating fresh. I have friends who refuse to eat food for dinner that was prepared in the morning. ‘But it’s stale’ they argue as I guiltily think of eating curries back home that my dad prepared a week in advance (in my defence, certain curries become tastier days after they are prepared). Before the advent of fridges, freezers and microwaves, food was consumed soon after it was prepared and so this practice continues on in many modern and traditional homes across India. If families do not have the time, they hire a cook to prepare food in their home. Such is the importance placed on the home-cooked meal.
Whilst I can appreciate that eating fresh at every meal is not practical for most, I definitely believe we can prepare homemade meals more often and with greater variety, leaving restaurants and take-out for celebrations, special occasions and those days where cooking anything at all requires levels of energy we cannot muster. That’s where we at No Worries Curries come in. Indian and Asian cooking can be daunting to someone who loves the flavours but is not familiar with the methods and the delicate balance of multiple spices. We take the ‘worry’ out of making curry and provide you with authentically blended spices to create your very own Indian feast from the comfort of your kitchen (with recipes on the back of each blend because the love is real for you dear friends). The most empowering factor is that you are in control. If you like it hot, then add more chilli. If you want a vegetarian version, replace proteins with ingredients like tofu or kidney beans. Our range of spices allows you flexibility in flavour, ingredients and quantity.
Why trust us? We have grown up entirely on spices and we know just how nourishing they are when regularly consumed. We also believe in the power of homemade meals and want you to be able to do the same, even if you are preparing a dish from a place that seems foreign but whose flavours and textures have won your heart (read - tastebuds). Here’s to homemade food - that it may always replenish us with the love we all deserve and that we may savour it more often than our busy lives permit!
Inserted image: http://www.saurabhsteel.com/tiffin-carrier/clip-belly/53
By Conchita A. de Souza
By Conchita de Souza
Who would have thought that something as tiny and apparently insignificant as a grain of rice would be the foundation that sustains the world’s largest populations for millennia? The variety of grains and the multitude of ways in which they are used are as diverse as the inhabitants who occupy India. The origins of the cereal grain are traced back to ancient China, where it has been cultivated for 5,000 years. The grain is said to have worked its way through to India from China via the Himalayas. Rice was first mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit text Yajur Veda (1500 - 800 BC) and its earliest cultivated remains date from around 2000 BC - making it pretty darn ancient!
In India, rice is the first and last food as it is easy on the digestion. For babies it is their first solid and for the infirm and old their last sustenance. Nowadays, in most regions of India, rice is a staple dish and is consumed in a myriad of ways.
Below, we explore some of the different uses of rice in the daily lives of Indians.
Flavoured rices - One of the most revered rice dishes out there is the festive dish called Biryani (we’ve dedicated an entire post to this which you can read about here). It is made up with layers of fragrant, coloured rice (saffron gives it a beautiful mustard tinge) and mixed with a thick and spicy gravy of any meat dish (mutton is my favourite) or even vegetables. The rice and the gravy are cooked separately and layered together at the end (much like an Italian lasagne). The dish is usually garnished with raisins fried in ghee and then onions caramelised in the remaining ghee. Pilaf is a less fancy, but equally tasty version of Biryani and can be prepared in a single pot. It is usually vegetarian and also involves fragrant rice which is cooked together with the vegetables and masalas (click here for our fool-proof recipe). Across India, you will find rice dishes prepared with lemon, tamarind, yoghurt and lentils. Lentil rice is known as Kitchari - it is very wholesome and can be prepared with little or no spices (you can find our recipe here). Rice and spice provide the variety in life for Indians!
Puffed rice - Do the names Rice Bubbles and Coco Pops ring a bell? Puffed rice is exactly that (minus the sugar and cocoa, respectively) and is the base for many popular street snacks across the Indian subcontinent. The process of puffing rice is quite cumbersome (if you are interested in knowing how, here’s a link that describes the process) but you do not have to do it yourself as you can purchase the puffed rice ready-made. Bhel Puri is a dish that is made up of a mixture of tasty and tangy ingredients with puffed rice at its base. It is a popular dish that is served on the streets and by local vendors during train journeys with Indian Railways. The textures in bhel puri are titillating to the palate; the crunch from the puffed rice and raw onions; the acidity from the tomatoes and tamarind sauce; the spicy bite of the fresh green chillies; the complex aromas from the chaat masala; the tanginess from the lemon; the sweetness of the tamarind sauce and the pop of freshness from coriander leaves. How can so much flavour be combined in just one spoonful? Try bhel puri and you will know exactly how!
Beaten/Flattened rice - Don’t worry, this isn’t as painful as it sounds! Beaten rice is similar to ‘rolled oats’ and another term for it is ‘flaked rice’. This type of rice cooks much faster than normal rice because it is a lot thinner and swells once added to any liquid. You can add this to your morning yoghurt and fruits or make a spicy breakfast called ‘poha’. Poha is a popular dish throughout India. It is very simple to make - just follow our recipe for a tasty snack that’s easy to put together with a few pantry and fresh ingredients.
Sweetened rice - Kheer is a dish made from rice that is cooked slowly in milk until the two blend with artistic precision. The rice dissolves just enough to become part of the milk, but not to the extent that the individual grains, softened yet defined, cannot be felt by the bite of one’s teeth. Sugar is added according to taste, so if you are not much of a sweet tooth or watching your sugar levels, you can still enjoy this dish in all its richness with a few sultanas. The best part of this dish is the almonds and cashews which are added halfway through the cooking process. The nuts take on a new form; their hard texture is softened in the hot milk and they simply melt in your mouth. Something is missing though, yes, you guessed it right - spice! Saffron is added to the kheer to give it a slight colour and beautiful fragrance as is ground cardamom. Kheer can be served as a hot dish, to melt away winter blues, or as a cold dish, to cool the soul during those hot Indian summers. Let us know if you would like the recipe and we will of course oblige. Below is an image of Zarda - another type of sweet rice prepared by infusing cardamom and saffron in a syrup. The basmati rice is cooked in this syrup and dried fruits are added for extra bursts of flavour.
Rice flour - I’m not kidding when I say that Indians love making flour out of everything and rice is no exception. Chickpeas are finely ground to a powder to make besan - a popular batter that is used to make tasty snacks like pakoras (a term used to describe anything deep fried in chickpea batter). We also apply this to our skin - babies are washed in it and it works as a cooling face-pack too. Lentils are ground to make batter for dosas - the Indian crepe as it is known. Lentil flour is also a healthier alternative to wheat flour. Rice is ground into flour and makes an excellent batter when frying any item. Try rice flour in a batter for your chicken or fish and your ears will delight at the crispy sound made when you bite into your food!
Rice water - Nothing is ever wasted in India! The water in which rice is boiled (traditionally red rice, which is unpolished) is drunk as it has nutritional value. We call it congee in India but it differs from the Asian congee which is eaten. As kids, whenever my mother would cook rice, she would half fill two glasses of the boiled rice water when straining it and give it to my brother and I to drink. The water would be slightly salty and always have grains of rice floating in it. Traditionally, congee is served with something on the side as it is very plain (for Indian palates at least). In Goa it is served with a spicy mango pickle or dried fish. In Kerala the congee is garnished with freshly grated coconut and eaten with lemon pickle on the side and any dry vegetable mixed with coconut (known as varavu).
- Decorative rice - Just when you think you have heard it all when it comes to the uses of rice, we’ve got another one up our sleeve. Rice is used in the preparation of rangoli - a colourful art form which usually decorates the doorsteps or courtyards in a home. The term rangoli derives from Sanskrit and means ‘the expression of artistic vision’. The rice is coloured and beautiful patterns and designs are hand-made (traditionally by the lady of the house) to decorate the home, especially around festive periods. Rangoli can also be made using coloured powders and flower petals.
There you have it - some of the main uses of rice in India, though far from all the uses. Have we missed anything? Comment below and let us know.
By Conchita A. de Souza
By Claudette D'Cruz
I must say that when it comes to the hot summer days in Sydney (which seem quite distant right now as we are smack bang in the middle of autumn), I welcome nothing more than the stormy evenings that follow which settle the dust and temper the heat’s rage. Whilst Australian summers can be hot, it really is nothing compared to summers in most parts of India which involve three months of unceasing, unforgiving and relenting 40+ degree heat. The night brings enough relief for our burnt souls to slumber before we wake the next day to face summer’s wrath. Until one has lived through an entire Indian summer, one really cannot appreciate the relief that the monsoon rains bring. The weather becomes pleasant, albeit a tad humid; the landscape becomes green and lush (which unfortunately the mosquitoes seem to enjoy and hence begin their season of breeding); and most importantly, the appetite increases sevenfold as the tastebuds start to crave. They crave anything remotely hot, spicy, crispy and creamy (sometimes all at once) after being subdued by the summer’s stifling heat and being released from the want of all things icy, liquid and juicy.
It was during this climate that I explored the famous cuisines of Hyderabad; with the skies grey, low and impregnated by the drops of monsoon rains, now in its second month of falling on to parched earth. Hyderabad is the capital city of Telangana, a state which was recently formed in 2014. Before that, Hyderabad had long been under the rule of the Nizams - the Monarchs who were once a part of the Mughal Empire, but declared themselves independent after the Empire collapsed in 1724. The Nizams ruled over Hyderabad until it was annexed during an Indian military operation post Indian independence in 1948. When you travel throughout the city, there are remnants of this rule in the ancient landmarks as well as in the customs, cultures and feel of this bustling city.
One weekend I wandered through the old city of Hyderabad which sports the iconic landmark which has become synonymous with Hyderabad - Charminar. It was not my first visit to this beautiful place, but I had still gone with my camera in hand, ready to capture the culinary delights as much as the magnificent architecture. I visited a famous restaurant called Shahran, just outside one of the four gateways leading to Charminar. It is known for its delicious and crispy samosas and also its beef kebab served with peanut chutney and hot, oily, and soft parathas (click here for our simple stuffed paratha recipe). I could not go past ordering a pink falooda, a popular drink made from rosewater, milk and vermicelli. Not too far from Shahran is the famous Nimrah Bakery, which always has a crowd of people inside and outside the joint. Nimrah Bakery has a very simple menu of chai, various biscuits and puffs - it is basically a tea spot. I squeezed myself into a booth joining a family of four messily slurping their tea and munching on their biscuits. I ordered Suleimani chai (strong black tea) and Osmani biscuits - yet another (edible) symbol of Hyderabad. These biscuits are buttery and subtly sweet at first bite but once they leave your tongue they part with mild salty taste - similar to that of a cracker. They go darn well with chai and are a popular take-back gift for most visitors to Hyderabad. I’ll unashamedly admit that I returned to Nimrah Bakery the following week for the same Osmani biscuits this time accompanied with a sweeter and milky Irani Chai. It was divine, as expected.
Hyderabad is also famous for its biryani - a festive dish made from a spicy, flavoursome and thick gravy containing meat (popular choices are mutton and chicken) which is absorbed by fragrant and colourful basmati rice. Paradise Restaurant is said to serve some of the best biryani dishes in Hyderabad and it is so famous that there are road signs directing people towards it (which I dutifully followed to reach the said destination)! This time round, I went to Paradise for their range of delectable kebabs (mutton shami and garlic chicken) which are always served with green chutney, lemon wedges and raw onions just because life is a lot tastier with all these three ingredients.
You might be wondering when this ode to Hyderabadi cuisine will draw to an end, and I would like to politely inform you that it shall, soon, but not without mention of one last iconic dish, Dosa. Dosa is a staple in south India and is differently prepared and consumed throughout the south (we have an instant dosa version that you can try out without the fuss right here). In Hyderabad, I was introduced to the ‘butter cheese dosa’ by a local friend. It kind of tastes like a thinner, crispier and spicier version of pizza. When I first watched the street vendor make the dosa right in front of me, I was alarmed by the copious amounts of ghee, butter and cheese he so liberally lashed out. As soon as I took my first bite, the alarm melted away at the same rate as the cheese in my dosa did (it was fast, very fast). I must warn you that this butter cheese dosa is deceptively heavy and might result in the unfortunate skipping of your next meal. But seeing as I was still in Hyderabad and had much more to do (read - eat), I wasn’t too concerned by just how satiated I was and wobbled along before the rains reached their point of wrath.
If you have fallen in love with Hyderabad’s rich cuisine but can’t just as yet afford the air ticket to get there, we’ve got you covered. You can bring the flavours of Hyderabad to your kitchen with a little help from our naturally-blended and authentic spices. Try making our baked Hyderabadi Koftas (Baked Meatballs) or if you are feeling like a feast - our rich Biryani, all from the comfort of your kitchen.
By Conchita A. de Souza