easy Indian

Spice it up with easy Indian food


When the weather turns cold, my thoughts turn to curries, with spices to warm me up on the inside as well as for their delicious and complex flavours.

For the home cook, the first task is to address the spice situation in the pantry. How do you know if they’re still okay to use?

The good news is that spices do not spoil. The bad news is they lose their strength, as the flavours are in the volatile oils. You can keep whole spices in airtight containers in cool dry places for up to 4 years, and 2-3 years for ground spices. (Super-organised cooks can label the bottom of the jars with a purchase date.) For ground spices, shake the jar, let it settle and have a sniff. If there’s no smell, toss it out. If the spices have a bit of fragrance, but are not as potent as you remember, then use more in the recipe. You’ll run out sooner and be able to start again with a new batch.

Next, buy any spices that are needed for the recipe. I suggest you go to shops with high turnover, as the spices are more likely to have more flavour. Alternatively, online stores like www.herbies.com.au provide good quality herbs and spices.

There are many fantastic Indian supermarkets around that are a one-stop shop, providing everything from rice and yoghurt, to complex spice mixes and curry pastes, pappadams of all sizes and flavours, fresh herbs and Indian breads. Prices are very reasonable, too.

Curries don’t have to be daunting lists of ingredients. Try these easy recipes to spice up your next meal.

lentils with cherry tomatoes and fresh curry leaves

This is a simple dal, or thick stew, made with split peas and some spices. The fresh curry leaves add an authentic curry flavour. Look out for fresh leaves at asian market stalls.

photo Marina Oliphant

1½ (one and a half) cups (300g) yellow split peas

1 tsp salt

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp ghee

1 tsp minced garlic

1 tsp red chilli powder

4-5 fresh curry leaves, plus extra for garnish

250g cherry tomatoes, halved

Place split peas in a saucepan with salt, turmeric and 1 litre of water. Bring to the boil, reduce heat and cook for 15-20 minutes until lentils are soft.

In a separate frypan, heat ghee then add garlic, chilli and curry leaves. Fry for a few minutes, then add tomatoes and continue to cook for 3-4 minutes. Add cooked lentils and simmer for 10 minutes.

Serve hot with extra fried curry leaves to garnish.

Serves 4.

spicy cauliflower and chickpeas with minted yoghurt

Panch phoran is a spice blend of fenugreek, nigella, cumin, fennel and mustard seeds. They provide a flavour hit and textural crunch alongside the sweet cauliflower. Serve as an entrée or part of a main meal.

photo Marina Oliphant

500g yoghurt

½ (half) cauliflower, broken into small florets

400g tin chickpeas

¼ (quarter) cup plain flour

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp curry powder

6 tbsp ghee, plus extra, for frying

1 tbsp panch phoran

2 small green chillies, split in half

sea salt to season

½ (half) cup fresh mint leaves

mint and coriander leaves to garnish

Place yoghurt in a muslin lined colander over a bowl and set aside to drain and thicken.

Cut cauliflower into small florets and place in a large bowl. Drain chickpeas and set aside on paper towel to dry a little.

Mix flour, cumin, coriander and curry powder. Toss cauliflower in spiced flour to coat.

Heat ghee in large frypan until melted. Add panch phoran and green chillies and fry for one minute until the spices start to pop. Add spice-dusted cauliflower and fry over low heat for 10 minutes until cauliflower is soft. Toss the drained chickpeas in the remaining spiced flour to coat. Add to the pan and cook for a few minutes. (You may need to add extra ghee). Season with salt.

Mix drained yoghurt with shredded mint and spread a few tablespoons over a serving plate. Top with spiced cauliflower and chickpeas. Garnish with extra mint and coriander leaves.

Serves 4.

Peppery chicken curry

A very simple curry packed with flavour that can be put together with pantry staples. Ghee adds an authentic flavour, but you could easily use vegetable oil instead.

Chicken casserole pieces on the bone are inexpensive and full of flavour.

1 kg chicken casserole pieces

2 tsp minced garlic

2 tsp minced ginger

pinch salt

2 tbsp white vinegar

1 tsp ground turmeric

pinch saffron

3 tsp black peppercorns, freshly crushed

4 onions

5 tbsp ghee

fresh coriander to garnish

steamed rice to serve

Place chicken in a shallow bowl. Mix together garlic, ginger, salt, vinegar, turmeric, saffron and 1 tsp of the pepper. Spread over the chicken and leave to marinate.

Peel and chop two onions. Place in food processor and blend to a paste.

Slice the remaining onions and set aside.

Heat ghee in a deep pan. Add sliced onions and pepper. Cook for 10 minutes until softened and golden. Add onion paste and continue to cook over low heat for 10 minutes until golden brown.

Add chicken and marinade and cook, stirring to coat all sides and brown the meat. Add 200 ml water, bring to a simmer and cook over low heat for 20 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and tender.

Serve garnished with coriander and extra ground black pepper.

Serves 4.

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