I ate with Maunika Gowardhan, the author of Indian Kitchen once. Our common friend Pooja Dhingra (macaron mogul and now a cookbook author herself) had invited me and several of our friends over to lunch at Studio15 where Maunika was cooking.
Maunika made a gorgeous pineapple chutney and a fragrant green masala curry that was bursting with mint and coriander flavours. I couldn’t get either out of my mind for the rest of the day so I went home and stalked her blog Cook in a Curry and continued to do so many times over the next year during my travels whenever I was nostalgic for the tastes of home.
Like many others in my generation, I was never motivated to learn to cook Indian food because it’s home food, it’s what the older generations know best and what’s on my table most days. So while I can whip up an aglio olio in minutes or make a mean thai curry, my Indian home cooking has always left a literal bitter taste in my mouth.
But alas, my grandmother who is currently my roommate is leaving me for the fair shores of New Zealand for at least half a year. And I’m desperate to learn to cook half as well as she does, lest I starve in her absence.
And so I was excited for this book and happy to have my nani’s supervision when I made my first dish from it and of course I made the Haraa Masalewala Murgh (scroll down for the recipe). It was deceptively easy and a great success, I think I can already recreate it from memory which is a very good thing when it comes to recipes. I loved its herb flavours balanced with creamy cashew. It was mildly spiced, homely and as mentioned in her introduction, very moreish. Also I grew the mint I used in my balcony which I'm particularly proud of.
If my pictures don’t do it justice know it’s because it’s impossible to take beautiful photos of Indian food. (But I adore this earthenware pot from Ninad Pottery who I will write about later this week, and these super deep square bowls from Bungalow 8.)
Three days later, I made the Kosha Mangsho because I seemed to have all the ingredients at home, and the result was a luscious spiced mutton that had me licking my fingers. And then yesterday I made the Chicken Ishtew which tasted like Kerala itself. You can't review a cookbook without a whole lot of eating right?
It turns out Indian cooking is easy peasy, all it requires is keeping a well stocked spice rack (check), and having a grinder handy (check), both tips Maunika includes in her book.
I think Indian Kitchen is a wonderful book for even a novice cook to get and try all types of Indian dishes. What I liked about it is that it really feels like a notebook of favourite recipes collected from family and friends and that it offers a variety of regional favourites.
The book is divided into five self-explanatory parts: Hungry, Lazy, Indulgent, Celebratory and Extras. There are recipes for simple dals, breads, chutneys, snacks (Bombay sandwiches, pakodas) and even desserts. My favourite recipes are in the Indulgent and Celebratory sections, because I am a glutton with good taste, ghar-ka-khana be damned. From Mughlai nalli gosht to Bengali bhapa maach to Malwani hirwa tisrya masala to Malyali kozhi biryani, I’m suddenly looking forward to cooking Indian food more regularly.
A final word: Maunika Gowardhan is based in the UK and Indian Kitchen is written with that audience in mind. As a result some recipes are adapted and simplified using canned chickpeas or substituting rare ingredients like dagad phool (WHAT?) for alternatives. Yet the recipes seem authentic, and more importantly they seem delicious and undaunting. If you’re not convinced, just make this or one of the many recipes she shares on her blog. You will be.
Haraa Masalewala Murgh
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 onion (160–170g), finely chopped
pinch of sugar
1 green bird’s eye chilli, slit lengthways
1 heaped tbsp grated fresh ginger
900g chicken on the bone, skinned and jointed into small pieces (ask your butcher to do this)
juice of ½ lemon
salt to taste
FOR THE SPICE PASTE
60g cashew nuts
8 garlic cloves
2 green bird’s eye chillies
60g fresh coriander leaves and stems
40g fresh mint leaves
FOR THE GARNISH
roughly chopped fresh coriander
1.5cm piece of fresh root ginger, cut into julienne strips
1. First make the spice paste. Soak the cashew nuts in enough warm water to cover for 15–20 minutes. When ready, put them in a blender with the rest of the spice paste ingredients and 50ml water. Blitz to a smooth paste and set aside.
2. Place a deep heavy-based pan over a medium heat and add the oil. When hot, add the cumin seeds and let them sizzle for 30 seconds. Add the chopped onions and the sugar, and fry for 12–15 minutes, stirring frequently until the onion starts to soften and go a caramel-brown colour. Add the chilli along with the ginger and fry for 1 minute.
3. Add the spice paste mix and fry for another 2 minutes, stirring well to make sure it doesn’t stick to the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken pieces and stir well, making sure they are well coated in the green gravy. Fry for 2–3 minutes to seal. Add 500ml water, season to taste and bring to a boil. Simmer for 25 minutes, stirring halfway through cooking, until the chicken pieces are cooked through and are coated by the masala.
4. Garnish with coriander and some fresh ginger.
©Maunika Gowardhan. Recipe taken from Indian Kitchen by Maunika Gowardhan (Hodder & Stoughton £25/Rs.999)