I’ve spent the last 3 weeks either sleeping, or cooking. It started with this cold that put me in bed for almost 4 days. A cold! It was a bad one. And even after the cold was over I napped and napped for days after. Shortly after this, my mother and I started preparations for Diwali, as we were hosting 3 dinner parties and thankfully curries can easily be prepared ahead of time.
On the night of Diwali we invited a family of very close friends, and the students that board at our house. Dinner consisted of samosas and pakoras (fried vegetable fritters and snacks), chana masala (spiced chickpea curry), aloo gobi (a Punjabi classic- spiced potato and cauliflower), homemade naan and chapati, carrot raiyta (savoury yogourt with vegetables- in this case grated carrot), fresh mint and apple chutney, and a lovely greek salad that our guests brought. Dessert was gulab jamun (fried milk balls in cardamom-sugar syrup) and kheer (rice pudding with nuts, raisins, and cardamom). Yum.
The night after Diwali we had my mother-in-law and my mother’s best friend over for dinner. We prepared rajma (another Punjabi classic- spiced kidney beans in tomato sauce), malai kofta (potato-paneer dumplings in a thick creamy sauce), aloo palak (spiced potato and spinach), naan, carrot raiyta, and pakoras. My mum made a delicious, refreshing drink out of the whey that was leftover from the paneer she made for the malai koftas. For dessert we had kulphi- spiced, very rich, Indian ice cream. With the exception of the dumplings for the malai kofta, the pakoras, and the whey-drink, I had cooked everything for this particular dinner and was feeling very pleased with myself. As I told my mother-in-law: I wanted to show that there was a perfectly sane reason for why her son would want to be married to me (he claims he married me for my looks, but since he is clearly blind I’m pretty sure he just likes how I cook).
The next day my aunt invited my husband and I over for a delicious lunch that included a potato-cabbage curry, spinach-tofu curry, stuffed naan (organic, local lamb for her, my uncle, and husband, carrot and radish for me and my grandmother), raiyta, rice, and I brought the leftover malai koftas from the night before. For dessert, we had kheer.
The next day I napped all day (I don’t know if it was left-over exhaustion from the cold, from the cooking extravaganza the days before, or if the onslought of rain that *won’t stop* was getting to me) and she took care of dinner for our neighbours down the street. My mother is very innovative in the kitchen, and when left to her own devices will come up with some of the most extraordinary dishes. In addition to the samosas and pakoras she had prepared earlier in the week, she made a delicious, soft, potato-carrot curry of her own invention, and a lentil-dumpling and potato curry (also, I believe, of her own invention). We ate the delicious curries with rice and paranthas (pan-fried whole wheat flat bread), her homemade mint and apple chutney. For dessert we had gajrela (carrot pudding), and kheer (yeah, I’ve eaten a lot of rice pudding over the last few days).
Between all the napping, eating, and rain (so much rain! What the heck?!) that is keeping me and my dog indoors, I have gained at least a couple of pounds. So I went out and bought a great deal of salad ingredients, even though salad is the last thing I want to eat in cold, wet weather. I need to get rid of this weight, and in order to do so I need your help. I’ve noticed that often when one (or several) of my friends loses weight, another one (or several) gains. I have a theory- there is only so much fatness allowed in this world- or perhaps simply within a social network- and if one of us is to lose it, someone else has to gain it. Therefore, while I eat my salads and force myself to take my dog on long walks despite the rain, I need you to eat delicious food and gain some poundage. Do it for me, yes? To help you gain weight, I will post a couple of recipes from our Diwali dinners.
Rajma (which translates as “royal-mother.”)
We prepare all of our lentil and bean dishes from dried, since it is cheaper (way cheaper) than buying the cans. Every kitchen in India has a pressure cooker, and so the other reason we make our beans from dried is simply because that is what my mother grew up doing. When I prepared the kidney bean curry this time, however, I used canned beans- only because it turned out we didn’t have any dried ones in the house, and my mother insists on going into the city to buy them in bulk from Asian/Arabic specialty stores instead of getting them at our local grocery store (understandably so- the price difference is huge).
*2 cans red kidney beans- dark or light (I prefer dark when possible), drained and rinsed- or the equivalent amount of dried, soaked, and cooked kidney beans
*Any combination of the following ground spices: black pepper, cumin, corriander, cardamom, cinnamon, cayenne, cloves, crushed chillies.
*Turmeric (turmeric is a given. If you are allergic to turmeric, then you should probably avoid all Indian restaurants and food because it is in almost everything. Very good for your health, though, so I certainly hope you are not allergic!)
For the masala mixture (can be prepared in huge quantities, and frozen for whenever you want to make a quick curry. Or simply prepared days ahead of your dinner party). This is the base used for most Indian tomato based curries, and is very, very flavourful. A little is all you need. I often like to eat this rolled up in a chapati, or on toast.
*2 tbsp oil
*1 chopped onion
*salt to taste
*1/2 inch minced ginger
*2,3,4- however many you want-cloves of garlic, minced
*1 cup crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce or 2-3 tbsps tomato paste
Heat the oil in a sauce pan over medium heat. When hot, add the ginger and cook for a few seconds until the garlic is fragrant. And the onion and salt, and cook for several minutes until the onion is very soft and starting to get dark. Add the garlic and cook a few minutes more. Now add either the tomato sauce, or the tomato paste with about a half cup of water. Cook, covered, for several minutes. Stir occassionally. Ideally, you are supposed to cook this until you can see the oil separating from the tomato/onion mixture, but I can never get this to work for me, so I just cook it for a very long time instead. Once cooked, this will be very thick. This is your masala mixture.
Add about a tablespoon of your selected seasoning combination, and 2 cups of water. Cook until simmering, and add the kidney beans and turmeric, and additional salt to taste. Simmer on low until ready to serve (like most bean dishes- the longer this simmers, the better it tastes).
If you want to use whole spices, add them to the oil before you add the ginger (this is usually what I do, but I like my rajma gravy to be consistent in texture without the presence of seeds and whole spices, so I use ground instead). Once they’ve sputtered (be careful!), add the ginger and then proceed as indicated. The other option is to not use any spices at all- it’s still delicious without. My mother makes an equally (if not more delicious version) by soaking kidney beans overnight, and then about an hour or so before serving she puts the rinsed beans in a pressure cooker with the required amount of water and everything else except the oil. When the beans are cooked, you have kidney beans in a delicious, oil-free (hence low-fat) gravy. My father was a very orthodox Hindu, and in addition to not eating meat or eggs, he also did not eat garlic or onion. He was a fantastic cook, and made amazingly delicious curries despite not using garlic or onion, so that is also an option for you. All I’m sayin’ is that this recipe shows how I make rajma, and as with most dishes there are as many ways to make it as there are cooks, so experiment until you’ve found a version you like best.
Chana Masala (heavily spiced chickpeas)
*2 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed, or the equivalent amount of chickpeas cooked from scratch
*Any combination of the following whole spices: ½ tsp cloves, ½ tsp cardamom, 1 tsp each coriander, cumin, mustard seeds
*2 tbsp oil
*2 chopped onions
*salt to taste
*2-3 tsp minced ginger
*2-3-4- however many you want-cloves of garlic, minced
*1/2 cup crushed tomatoes, tomato sauce or 1-2 tbsps tomato paste
*½ tsp turmeric
*1 tsp garam masala (optional)
*black and/or cayenne pepper (optional)
*1 large boiled potato, peeled and coarsely smashed
*3 cups water (approximately)
*lemon juice to taste
Make a masala in the same way as for the rajma, but instead of using ground spices use whole spices. Add to the oil, let them sputter and darken, and then proceed making the masala with the ginger, onion, garlic, and tomato. You’ll notice this recipe has more onion and ginger, and less tomato than the kidney bean curry. I find Rajma is delicious when tomato-y, and Channa Masala lovely with more onion and ginger (and less tomato). As with every recipe though- season to your liking, and fiddle with it until it works for you.
Once your masala is ready, add 2 cups water, the cooked chickpeas, potato, turmeric, and remaining optional spices. Add more water if the mixture is too thick, and then let it simmer for at least 15 minutes. Like the rajma, this tastes better the longer you let it cook. The curry should be quite thick and stew-like, but not dry- add more water if necessary. If too thin, the curry will thicken as it cooks uncovered. Add lemon or lime juice to taste, and adjust salt before serving.
Alright, now go eat your beans. And get fat please. Although…I suppose you’d have to eat a lot of beans to fatten up. Damn it, I should’ve posted my mother’s recipes for the samosas, pakoras, and desserts, instead…