The recipes made easy

The recipes made easy

Anjum Anand
0 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
Vanessa Courtier

Whenever I take things for granted or make assumptions, I get into trouble. So, when it comes to cooking a new cuisine, I assume a lack of knowledge and then look forward to learning about it. When it comes to Indian food, I have seen so many people make preventable mistakes (simple things like choosing the wrong chilli or tomato) that have left their dishes less than perfect. It might be useful to have a quick read of this chapter to ensure the dishes turn out as they should and to start to understand the basics. For those of you who have already mastered the basics and are finding cookbooks repetitive, bear with me as we’re still in the early stages in this culinary evolution!


People seem to have forgotten that chillies have a wonderful flavour. They can be really hot to eat but are not spicy as such. Remember the basic rule – the bigger the chilli, the milder it is. Green chillies ripen into red ones but have a slightly different flavour. I find the red ones slightly sweeter than the green ones, a bit like capsicums. I often leave chillies whole in my food so that they impart flavour without too much heat as this is mainly contained in the seeds and membranes.

If you don’t have fresh chillies, dried red chillies or even chilli flakes are a good substitute; they add heat as well as a little flavour. Chilli powder, however, will give your food a great colour and lots of heat but little flavour. The important thing to remember is that unless a recipe says otherwise, always use the long, thin green chillies that look like knobbly fingers. Other chillies will not give you the same flavour. If you bite into a harsh chilli, follow with yoghurt or something sweet.


The coastal regions of the south and west of the country tend to use the ubiquitous coconut to sweeten and to add richness and texture to their dishes. I don’t always have a fresh coconut at home so often use canned coconut milk and desiccated coconut instead as they work really well. If, however, you love coconut, buy a coconut grater from a well-stocked Indian shop. They are inexpensive, easy to use and it takes just minutes to grate the nut with little effort.


These come in such different sizes, from small and thin to gigantic mutant cloves, so when writing a recipe sometimes indicating how many cloves is not always enough. So, to give you a better indication, one large clove of garlic weighs around 2–2.5g. Yes, I know I’m so pedantic!


This is simply clarified butter. It can be bought in stores but is easy to make. Warm unsalted butter in a saucepan and cook gently until the colour changes to pure gold. By this time all the milk impurities will have risen to the surface and should be removed with a spoon. The ghee is now ready to use. Store in a jar in the fridge.


People have often asked me where to buy ginger paste, I never realised that people actually bought pastes – they are so easy to make at home. Use a microplane grater or a blender. You can store the paste in teaspoon-sized batches in ice-cube trays in the freezer and add them straight to the pan.


I often throw the word ‘masala’ around, assuming everyone knows what I am talking about. I have now realised that, of course, most don’t. It is one of the basic foundations of Indian food. It is, in this context, the mixture of ingredients that forms the base of most curries. It is like making a gravy or curry sauce to which you add the main ingredient. A poorly-cooked masala will result in a one-dimensional dish, so take your time and cook the masala properly at each stage. To gauge if it is cooked, look for little bubbles of oil being released on the sides and if still in doubt, try it – if there are no harsh flavours, it is properly cooked.

Meat and poultry

The best way to get the most from your red or white meat is to cook it on the bone as this provides that wonderful meaty flavour that we often add back in with good-quality stock (which is made from those same bones). We cook our red meat until falling off the bone – there is never any trace of pink – but I leave it to you to cook lamb how you like. If you use meat without the bones, you can either add extra bones to the dish as it cooks and fish them out later, or add some stock instead of water. When cooking lamb, I usually choose shoulder or leg, but you can use cheaper cuts if a recipe requires long, slow cooking. Your butcher will prepare cubed lamb with the bone in if you ask. Also, do skin chicken joints as we do not brown them in the pan and this can leave the cooked skin a little flabby and chewy. It will also act as a barrier, preventing the flavours of the gravy getting into the flesh.


These are a really important ingredient in Indian food. They add depth of flavour, body, richness and sweetness to a dish. Not all curries will have onions, but the onion masala (base of a curry/gravy) will always be used abundantly in north Indian restaurant kitchens. When cooking onions, you need to make sure that the onion is properly cooked and to the right stage. As onions cook, they absorb any oil in the pan, then once cooked they release the oil back and you know they are done. If the recipe says the onions should be soft, then they should be translucent; if golden, then the softened onion should be cooked until browned on the sides and turning golden in the centre. Be wary of cooking the onions over too high a heat when they will brown before they soften – check by pressing a piece.


Whole spices should be the first thing added to the hot oil in a pan. They only take 10–20 seconds to cook and when they release their aroma and just start to darken, quickly add the next ingredient. Powdered spices are very delicate so cook over a low heat. Spices should be kept in airtight containers away from heat and sunlight. It’s always best to buy whole spices as they keep better and retain more flavour. They take seconds to grind in a spice grinder.

To roast spices, use a small frying pan or saucepan and dry roast over a moderate to low heat, shaking the pan often to cook them evenly. You can’t leave them unattended as they need to be taken off the heat and poured out of the pan as soon as they are roasted and fragrant, around 1 minute. Use a pestle and mortar to grind to a powder.


This is a coastal fruit that grows in papery brown pods on trees of the same name. It is an important ingredient and is used to add a sour element to many Southern curries. It can be a bit fiddly to extract the paste from the block of tamarind, but ready-made pastes are now available in supermarkets. Add judiciously as they all have different strengths.


In India tomatoes are used for their slight sourness as well as their flavour. For Indian food, you need to buy the cheap cooking tomatoes – the ones you normally avoid as they look unripe and flavourless. Juicy, sweet plum or vine tomatoes are great for salads and raitas but can sometimes be too sweet for our dishes.


As yoghurt ages, it gets more and more sour, which is fine as we sometimes need yoghurt for its freshness and other times for its sour quality. Fresh and sweet for desserts and raitas, slightly sour for general cooking and even very sour for some specific dishes; the recipe will always say if it should be particularly fresh or sour. If the yoghurt is too fresh, you may need to add a little lemon juice at the end of the cooking. Taste and decide. The Onken biopot range of yoghurt always seems to work well.

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