I'm excited ... very excited. If you've been following this blog for a while, you know that one of the places I like to play is at I Heart Cooking Clubs. Each six months a new chef is chosen, who we get to know by cooking and posting their recipes, according to a different theme each week, and this week the group begins a new, 6-month culinary journey with the wonderful Madhur Jaffrey.
So why am I so excited? Well, first of all, Madhur has long been one of my favourite chef's, and is definitely my favourite of all the chefs the group has cooked with so far (no slight intended against any of our previous chefs). So there's that.
Secondly, I've had Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking in my cookbook collection for about 25 years, and although I've made several dishes from this book, I haven't used it nearly as much as I would like to. So there's that too.
And, lastly, I'm excited because Indian food is the food of my childhood. This is the food that makes me most nostalgic ... the food that sparked my love of being in the kitchen from a young age. Some of my earliest food memories, transport me back to Saturday afternoons in my grandparents' kitchen while they made preparations for Sunday lunch. Nana would grind spices and roll little balls of lamb, while Grandad grated fresh coconut, for kofta curry. Grandad would make gulab jamun - rolling balls of "cottage cheese", deep frying them and bathing them in a cardamom and rose water syrup. Back in those days, many of the spices my grandmother used were not readily available at the corner grocer - there were no supermarkets around in those days - so she used to buy her spices from a big spice merchant down in Auckland's viaduct basin. The spices were kept in the little brown paper bags they came in, and I used to love hauling a chair over to the cupboard where they were stored, opening the door and breathing in the heady aromas.
Then Sunday morning would roll around, and after church Nana would pull up her sleeves and begin to make the parantha (Indian flatbreads), as the family began to gather around the table. Steaming plates of rice and curry would be brought to the table, with big piles of the parantha, jugs of dahl, and long "wands" of cucumber marinating in tall jugs filled with chilled, salty water. Throughout lunch, background music was provided by the Sunday Request Session on the radio - everyone's favourite was "Silver Threads & Golden Needles". Mum and her sister would regale us with stories of their own childhood growing up in Calcutta, stories we loved to hear so much that my brother and I would ask for them to be told over and over again.
Once the last gulab jamun had been devoured, and dishes done, we would retire to the lounge for the Sunday afternoon "old-time" movie on TV. Once movie time was over afternoon tea would ensue, and after another couple of hours of reminiscing, an early dinner of lunch leftovers and a batch of pholouries (little chickpea fritters, similar to a pakora) would finish off the day.
Surprisingly though, despite my history with Indian food, I don't cook it as often as you might expect, so I'm really looking forward to the next six months of making Indian dishes a regular fixture at my table.
So for our first dish this week - a Potluck theme to "Welcome Madhur" - I headed straight to the bookcase. I chose Prawns in a Dark Sauce ... what could be more welcoming?! This dish was very reminiscent of many I ate during my childhood, though we would never have had prawns - more likely it would have been served with fish. Indeed, you could definitely substitute a firm-fleshed white fish in this dish if you wanted. In fact, if you wanted to make a vegetarian version of this, you could easily substitute chunks of roasted aubergine, or mushrooms, or even hard-boiled eggs. With only 1/4 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, there is no significant heat in this recipe, but the subtle layering of spices certainly delivers some warmth and complex flavours. This is a very quick and easy dish, and would be perfect for a quick, mid-week, after-work dinner. I served this with plain basmati rice, and a simple tomato, cucumber, and coriander salad.
Prawns in a Dark Sauce
Adapted, just barely, from recipe in
Click here for a printable copy of this recipe
1/2 onion, peeled & roughly chopped
2.5cm (1 inch) piece ginger, peeled & roughly chopped
5 cloves garlic, peeled
50 ml (1.5 fl oz) water
4 tablespoons sunflower oil
1x small cinnamon stick
6x whole green cardamom pods
2x bay leaves
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
2x medium tomatoes, peeled and finely chopped
5 tablespoons natural yoghurt
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
275 ml (1/2 pint) water
generous pinch sea salt
300g peeled and deveined prawns
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
fresh coriander, generous handful finely chopped
Put the onion, ginger, garlic and 50 mls of water into blender, and blitz until the mixture becomes a paste.
Heat oil in a medium sized pot over medium-high heat. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and bay leaves, and stir for a few seconds. As soon as they start "spitting", add the onion, garlic and ginger paste to the pan. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring regularly, until the paste becomes a light golden colour.
Now add the ground cumin and ground coriander, and fry for about 30 seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes, and continue cooking until the tomatoes have softened down completely and you have a thick reddish-brown looking paste. If desired you could pre-prepare the dish up to this stage.
Next add one tablespoon of the yoghurt, and keep cooking, stirring constantly, until the yoghurt is completely incorporated into the sauce. Continue to the add the rest of the yoghurt, one tablespoon at a time, until it is all fully blended in. Then add the turmeric and cayenne pepper and stir for a minute.
Now add the 275 mls water, salt, and prawns; stir and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat slightly and allow to simmer for about 5 minutes or until you have a nice thick sauce and the prawns are cooked through - take care not to overcook them. Sprinkle the garam masala over the top and stir in.
Serve immediately garnished with fresh coriander.
(Note: The cinnamon stick, cardamom pods and bay leaves are not meant to be eaten, so you may prefer to remove them before serving)
If you would like to get to know Madhur a little better, then do go and visit my friends at I Heart Cooking Clubs and see what they've all cooked up ...
... or check out Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking and many of Madhur's other great titles available from Amazon USA, Amazon UK or Fishpond NZ.