In an effort to cram in as much as I could into my last month I took an Indian curry cooking class!
Basel has a fairly large Indian community. There are a number of specialty food shops and quite a few curry restaurants around. I have always loved curry and I was excited to be able to find one of my favorite cuisines so readily available.
My friend Sunrita is the chef behind Curry in a Hurry and SpiceitUpp (@SpiceitUpp on Twitter). As part of her blog she also offers cooking classes! She will host you and your friends in her home or she will come to you.
In this case, she held a class with me and several other people I’d never met before. Sunrita is great at keeping the atmosphere light and friendly and warm. In no time we were all friends.
Sunrita also keeps a hands-off policy for herself. We do the cooking while she talks about spices and the “whys” of the recipes. There were 4 of us and we were cooking 4 dishes so we each picked one to cook with Sunrita.
We chopped onion, sliced carrots, and cut up chicken. We did everything.
And Sunrita gave us an education on the different spices that flavor Indian food. From hot and spicy to fragrant and heady. While she encourages you to play around, she also makes it clear that you don’t need that many spices for many of these recipes.
The first thing we made was Potato, Spinach, and Pea Cakes. They were absolutely delicious. In fact, I have a school event to go to this weekend and I am now thinking of making this instead of cookies. Sunrita also says these are perfect for lunch boxes. The small patty size makes it great for toddlers and younger children.
Potato, Spinach and Pea Cakes
- 3 medium Potatoes, cooked & mashed
- 1/4 cup Peas, cooked and mashed with a fork
- 8-10 ounces fresh Spinach, blanched and mashed
- 1/2 cup Coriander leaves, finely chopped
- 2 Green chilies, deseeded (optional, leave it out if you don’t want it too spicy)
- 3 tsp Lemon juice
- 3 T Corn flour
- Sunflower oil – enough for pan frying in batches
- Salt to taste
Spices for the Spice Mix
- 1 tsp Garam Masala Powder
- 3 tsp Whole cumin seeds
- 3 tsp Whole coriander seeds
- 2 tsp Spicy chaat masala (Optional, Available from an Indian store)
To make the spice mix:
Heat a pan and dry roast the garam masala powder, cumin seeds and coriander seeds for 3- 4 mins until it changes color and emits a nice roasted smell. (You don’t need to roast the chaat masala. Add it when the mixture is cool.)
Remove from heat and grind into powder, keep aside for later use.
To make the cakes:
Boil the potatoes. Cool it and peel and mash them. Set aside to be used later. This can be done ahead of time, if – for example – you are hoping to make these are hors d’oeuvres for friends on a Friday after work.
Cook peas (frozen are perfect) in microwave for 2 minutes, then cool and blend it coarsely in a blender and keep ready.
Wash spinach and microwave for 2 minutes or blanch in hot water, allow to cool and keep ready.
Now take a mixing bowl, and add the coriander, chilies (if using), lemon juice, corn flour, and salt and mix to a dough. If you feel the dough is bit moist add some more corn flour and adjust it. It should be able to hold together like a hamburger patty.
Divide the potato-peas-spinach mixture into 14-15 lemon sized balls and flatten into patties.
Now heat a pan with 1 T of oil and take 4 or 5 balls and flatten it to patties or any desired shape and keep it in pan till browned on both sides.
Enjoy immediately or have them cold with a mint yogurt dip.
The next thing we made was a classic: Tandoori Butter Chicken!
Tandoori isn’t a spice so much as a style of cooking. A tandoor is a special clay oven that can get super hot – about 500F. You don’t need to have one to make tandoori chicken, though. A modern oven will do the trick.
There are spices associated with the taste of a tandoori chicken, however. You can buy a tandoori spice mix or use the same Garam Masala powder you used in the potato, spinach, and pea cakes above. The tell-tale red color of a tandoori chicken comes from the Kashmiri red chili powder. The red powder in the bowl of stuff that is about to become a marinade is that nice Kashmiri red chili powder. It’s so vivid!
You can find this in specialty stores or you can order them from Sunrita’s online shop, http://www.curryinahurry.tictail.com.
Here is the full recipe!
Tandoori Butter Chicken
To marinate the chicken
- 1 pound of chicken breasts, sliced thin
- 1/2 cup Greek yogurt
- 2 tsp Ginger paste (fresh ginger pureed with a scant bit of water – this should be the texture of baby food)
- 2 tsp Garlic paste (fresh garlic pureed with a scant bit of water)
- 1/2 tsp for mild (2 T for spicy) Kashmiri red chili powder
- 1 tsp Salt or to taste
2 T oil (Sunrita recommended mustard oil which has a divine smell and adds to the flavor, but vegetable oil is fine)
In a large bowl put the ginger paste, garlic paste, tandoori powder, salt, red chili powder, yogurt, oil and mix well.
Prick the chicken pieces all over with a fork. This helps the marinade really get into the meat.
Add the chicken to the marinade and mix well so that all the chicken pieces are well coated with the marinade. Cover the bowl with cling film and place it in the refrigerator to marinate for about two hours or more. If you don’t have time for this don’t worry. Even 20 minutes in the marinade will give it some flavor.
Roasting the Chicken
Preheat the oven to 375 F.
Place the marinated chicken pieces on a greased tray, cover with a foil and cook till half done, about 10 minutes.
Remove and keep aside.
(You can also grill the chicken. We like to skewer it or we use chicken legs. It gets a nice smokey flavor to it that adds to the tandoori oven flavor.)
For the Butter Sauce
- 40 ounces of tomato puree
- 3 T butter
- 4 Green cardamom seeds
- 1 inch of Cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp Ginger paste
- 1 tsp Garlic paste
- 1/2 – 1 tsp Tandoori Masala mix (optional)
- 1 tsp Deggi Mirch Red Chili Powder (slightly different than Kashmiri, but you an use Kashmiri if you want)
- 1 – 2 T Honey
- 1 tsp Salt or to taste
- 1/2 tsp Dried Fenugreek Leaves (look for kasoori methi in an Indian specialty store), roasted and crushed
- 4 T heavy cream
Heat the two tablespoons of butter in a deep non-stick pan on low heat. Lightly crush the green cardamoms with the flat side of the knife and add them with the cinnamon stick to the pan and cook till fragrant – 3 minutes or so. Add the ginger paste and garlic paste and sauté for a minute.
Now add the tomato puree, salt, and red chili powder and cook, stirring occasionally, for 8 to 10 minutes, until you see the butter rising to the top around the sides of the tomato.
Add the roasted and crushed fenugreek (kasuri methi) to the sauce and mix well.
Add the chicken pieces and cook for further three minutes or until the chicken is cooked through.
Finally add the cream and remaining butter and mix well. Cover and cook for 1 to 2 minutes more.
Remove from the stove and serve hot with rice and/or naan. (Naan is a wonderful flat bread. You can find it most large grocery stores in major cities.)
Then we cooked a dish I’d never had or heard of before. South Indian Fish Curry! It’s almost like a stew, but with the refreshing touch of coconut milk that some southern Indian curries have. This is also a quick dish for dinner as it takes only 35 minutes from start to finish. Just get your rice cooking first and start on the fish!
South Indian Fish Curry
Marinade for fish
- 3/4 pounds of a firm white fish like tilapia, cod, haddock, or snapper
- 1 tsp lemon juice
- pinch of salt
Cut the fish into large chunky pieces. Sprinkle with salt and lemon juice and leave it to marinate while you prepare the curry paste. The marinade actually helps the fish flavor to not overwhelm the other spices in the curry.
- 1 tsp Turmeric powder
- 1 tsp Red chili powder
- 1/2 tsp Cumin powder
- 1/2 tsp Coriander powder
- 1/4 cup water
Put turmeric, chili powder, cumin powder and coriander powder in a small bowl and mix it adding a little water at a time until it becomes a smooth thick paste. Keep aside for later.
In a non-stick skillet heat about 1 T vegetable oil and fry each piece of the fish on both sides till its half done, about 1- 2 minutes each side. Do this in several batches or you risk poaching the fish instead of frying it.
Remove from the oil and place on a paper towel-lined plate.
- 1 tsp of Ground curry (or, if you can find them 15-20 curry leaves)
- 1 tsp Mustard seeds
- 1 Onion, medium sized, finely chopped
- 3 T Tomato paste
- 1 tsp Ginger, finely chopped (or you can use paste if you have some)
- 1 tsp Garlic, finely chopped (or you can use paste if you have some)
- 9 ounces Coconut milk
- Salt to taste (probably around 1/2 tsp)
- 4 T Vegetable oil
- 1 T Coriander leaves, chopped
Using the same oil used for frying the fish, add the mustard seeds and fry until they start to pop. (If you have curry leaves add them with the mustard seeds.)
Add the onion and saute will it become translucent and soft. About 5 minutes. Then add garlic and ginger paste and cook on a medium heat for another 5 – 6 minutes.
Stir in the curry paste you made above and add the tomato paste. Now add the curry powder (if you didn’t use curry leaves). Saute till the oil starts to leave the sides of the pan.
Finally add the coconut milk and season with salt. You can also add water if the coconut milk is too thick. Get it simmering and then reduce the heat slightly.
Serve sprinkled with chopped coriander leaves, with basmati rice.
(In case you were wondering cilantro and coriander leaves are the same thing. Cilantro is the more popular name in the US whereas you find it labeled coriander in Europe.)
As our final dish we prepared vegetable biryani. Biryani looks very similar to Chinese fried rice, but it could not be more different. The rice is not fried and the vegetables are more like cauliflower, green beans, carrots, and the like. Many families add meat to this, but it is a delicious vegetarian entree or accompaniment to the other dishes above. Plus, if you are looking for dishes kids can help out with, they can chop the vegetables.
Biryani calls for lots of spices, but don’t be intimidated. As they cook they meld together to form a completely new flavor, so if you think you’ve tasted all variations of curry think again.
For the Rice
- 1 & 1/2 cups Basmati rice, soaked in water for 30 minutes
- 2 Green cardamom pods
- 5 Cloves
- 1/2 inch Cinnamon stick
- 1 Bay leaf
- 1 Black cardamom pod
- 1 tsp Salt
- 1 tsp Lemon juice
- 1 tsp Vegetable oil
For the Vegetable Mixture
- 2 medium Onions, sliced
- 2 medium Carrots, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 20 Green beans, cut into 1/2 inch pieces
- 15 Cauliflower florets
- 6 Green cardamom pods, smashed
- 10 Cloves
- 1, 1-inch stick Cinnamon
- 1 & 1/2 T Ginger-Garlic paste (3/4 tsp each)
- 1 tsp Turmeric powder
- 2 tsp Red chili powder
- 2 T Biryani masala powder (you can find this in Indian specialty stores)
- 1/2 cup Yogurt
- 1/2 bunch Fresh coriander leaves, chopped
- 1/2 bunch Fresh mint leaves, chopped
- 2 T Vegetable oil
- 2 T Butter
- 2 tsp Sugar
- Salt to taste
- 1/4 c Fried onions (optional – take 1/2 cup sliced onions and fry in a skillet with 1 T butter until dark brown)
Next, make the rice:
Get 4 cups of salted water boiling in a large pot. Drain the soaked rice and then add it to the boiling water. To that add all the ingredients listed under “For the Rice.” The cardamoms, cloves, cinnamon – all of it.
Boil until the rice is about 3/4 done – very al dente. Use a fine mesh colander and drain the water. Pick out the cinnamon and the other spice pods. Set aside.
As the rice is boiling get to work on sauteing the vegetables.
In a large, deep pan (you want a big one, this is going to be a lot of food) heat the oil and the butter together. Once hot add the bay leaves, cardamoms, cinnamon stick, and the cloves. Cook for about 40 seconds or until fragrant.
Then add the sliced onions. Cook until they become translucent. Then add all the prepped vegetables. Cover with a lid and cook for 3 or 4 minutes.
Now add the ginger-garlic paste and continue to saute for another 3 minutes. Then add the biryani yogurt mixture to the vegetables. Give them a good stir and get all those veggies coated with the yogurt. If it seems too thick add a touch of water to loosen up the sauce. Cook for another 2 – 3 minutes.
While the veggies are still crunchy, stir in the salt and sugar and give the whole thing a good stir. Add the fresh mint and coriander leaves. Now add 1 cup of water to the pot and bring it to a boil.
Once the water is boiling go find that 3/4 cooked rice and add it to the pot with all the veggies. Gently stir it together to get the vegetables evenly distributed through the rice. Sprinkle the fried onions on top and cover. Cook on very low heat until the rice and vegetables are cooked. The vegetables should be somewhat soft and the rice should be cooked through and soft.
Serve and enjoy hot!
Sunrita did mention that if we wanted to use broccoli or red peppers that would be great, but add them a bit later in the cooking process – maybe when we add the rice or a little before – or we would end up with mush!
I highly, highly recommend taking a cooking class with Sunrita if you are in the Basel, Switzerland area. At the end you are seated at a marvelous feast! Complete with great food, good company, and refreshing wine. She even holds classes for kids! (But without the wine.)
She will also answer all of your cooking questions via her FaceBook page, https://www.facebook.com/lazywomenscurry.
I hope you try all the recipes that I’ve posted here. They are fun and easy forays into the world of Indian cooking.