Spicy Aubergine Stew

Last I was ‘Desperately Seeking Spice’ and discovered a plump aubergine hiding out in my refrigerator 😊 I had 45 minutes to present something palatable and suitably spicy before it was time to break my fast. So I decided to cut out the elaborate prep and just throw it all into one of my dinky little woks and hey presto!

Prep time: 3 mins

Cooking time: 25 mins

Serves 1-2

Ingredients

  • 1/2 large aubergine, cubed
  • 1/2 bell pepper, roughly chopped
  • 1/3 tin chopped tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 tsp roasted ground cumin
  • 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper
  • 1 tsp chilli flakes
  • Salt to taste

How to prepare

  1. Place all the ingredients, except the oil, into the wok and mix well.
  2. Drizzle the oil and stir in.
  3. Cover and allow to cook until the aubergine is tender.

Word of caution: Those normally adverse to aubergine may just be tempted to delve in so keep the dish by your side and only offer to share at the risk of missing out 😜

Advertisements

Chickpea & Rocket Salad

I just love this salad as a healthy, high protein, low-fat zingy variation of a desi chaat. Completely versatile as either a quick lunch or a starter dish, you can be as imaginative with the ingredients as you wish!

Prep time: 10 mins

Serves 4-6

Ingredients

  • 480g chick peas (2×400 tins, drained)
  • 1 medium or large tomato, diced
  • 2 spring onions, finely chopped
  • Large handful of rocket leaves
  • 1 tsp amchur (mango powder)
  • 1 tsp coarsely ground black pepper

How to prepare

Simply mix all ingredients together in a bowl. Chill if desired and serve!

Gluten-free Besan (Gram Flour) Rotis


Prep time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 30 mins

Serves 4

Posting on demamd, this is a healthy,  gluten-free easy alternative to regular chapatis which I have adapted from the mum-in-law – the inspiration behind much of my creative cookery 😊

A runny batter ensures the rotis are spread thinly and cook inside out without burning.

Enjoy with your tea as breakfast or some yogurt and any side dish of your choice as a complete meal.

Ingredients 

  • 3 cups gram flour
  • Handful fresh baby spinach, roughly chopped
  • 1tsp cumin seeds or carom seeds
  • 1/2 tsp garlic granules
  • 1/4 tsp ground ginger
  • 1tsp crushed red chilli
  • Pinch of turmeric
  • Salt as needed
  • 2.5 – 3 cups water (enough to make a runny batter)

Method

  1. Mix all the ingredients to make a runny batter.
  2. Gently heat a tava or wide shallow frying pan. Spray with oil – to ensure the roti does not stick.
  3. Pour enough mixture to fill the base of the tava or pan in a thin layer.
  4. Cook over a low heat until the mixture has set – about 6-7 mins.
  5. Flip the roti with a slotted spoon and cook the other side until completely cooked – another 5-6 mins.
  6. Repeat steps 2-6 until all the mixture has been used.

Note: The number of rotis this recipe yields will depend on the size of your pan. I used a pan with a 21cm wide base and made 4 rotis.

Achari Chicken

Good to be back here! It’s a long shift in my kitchen tonight as I prep for a private catering event later today. Christmas parties everywhere! The biriyani masala mix is well under way, wafting its aromas at this rather ungodly hour 😳

While I wait, having of course done all my chopping, I thought a bit of blogging wouldn’t go amiss given it has been a while…

Last week I cooked this flavoursome traditional dish which, as the name suggests, does not use archar (pickle) in the recipe at all! No, no no. The achari tanginess is created with my favourite good old Bengali ‘five spice’ mix. I still remember the flavour created by this incridble concoction of five seeds when my grandma made her delectable chicken curry during our rare visits to see her in Bangladesh.

So this is how it goes:

Prep time: 10 mins
Cooking time: 40 mins
Serves 4

Ingredients

  • img_27091 medium chicken or 2 chicken breasts cut into curry pieces
  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 heaped teaspoon panch phoron (five spice mix)
  • 1 large onion, diced
  • 1 tbsp ginger purée
  • 1 tbsp garlic purée
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 200g chopped tinned tomato
  • 1 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 3/4 tsp roasted ground cumin
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • Salt to taste
  • 1/2 hot cup water
  • 2 green chillies (optional)
  • Handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped (optional)

How to cook

  1. Wash and drain the chicken well (although it’s best not to wash the chicken to prevent campylobacter cells from spreading – the most common cause of food poisoning; cooking the chicken thoroughly will remove this as well as other bacteria – read NHS article here).
  2. Heat the oil gently and add the five spice mix. Wait until the seeds sizzle.
  3. Add the onions and cook over a medium flame until golden brown (up to 10 minutes).
  4. Stir in the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute.
  5. Add the tomatoes, cover and cook until soft and pulpy.
  6. Mash down the tomato mixture with the back of a wooden spoon. Add the turmeric, ground coriander, cumin, chilli powder, salt and garam masala. Add a splash of water if the mixture becomes dry. Stir well and allow to ‘bhuna’ (i.e. the oil should separate from the spices and float to the top).
  7. Stir in the the chicken pieces ensuring they are well coated with the spice mixture. Cook for 5 minutes over a medium-high flame, ensuring the spices do not stick to the bottom of the pan.
  8. Add the water and bring to boil. Simmer for 2 mins, then drop in the green chillies, if using.
  9. Cover and  cook on a low flame until the chicken is thoroughly done.
  10. Garnish with coriander leaves, if using, just before serving.

Enjoy 😊

 

Cauliflower and Lentil Curry tempered with Fennel, Cumin and Mustard Seeds

Where do I even begin! I have been run down most of the week struggling to teach my yoga class on Wedneaday and not able to go to the gym since Monday 😱 I was determined to make the day count so at the first sign of recovery I felt my creative juices flowing again. So here we are, a popular vegetarian curry which I have just added a bit of this and that to and adapted to my own liking; gluten-free, sugar-free, vegan, low fat and rather delicious 😜 Perfect for my yoga students 🙏🏼

Rich in protein with a good balance of veg and just a tablespoon of oil this is a nutritious meal in itself. Of course if you need your carbs just pour two generous dollops over some boiled rice.

I actually made it to the gym this afternoon and helped myself to two bowlfuls upon my return. Guilt-free pleasures of my simple life 😊🙏🏼

Prep time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 30 mins

Serves 4-6

INGREDIENTS

2 cups red lentils

6 cups water

2 tbsp ginger purée

1 small cauliflower, separated into small florets

1 medium onion, chopped

1 large tomato, chopped

2 green chillies (optional)

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

1/2 tsp ground cumin, roasted

1/2 tsp chilli powder

Salt to taste

Handful fresh coriander leaves, chopped (optional)

For the Tempering

1 tbsp veg oil

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp mustard seeds

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp dried curry leaves

HOW TO COOK

1. Wash the lentils and place in a medium saucepan with the water.

2. Add the ginger, onion, dry spices and salt.

3. Stir well and bring to boil.

4. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes until the lentils are soft.

5. Strike in the cauliflower, tomato and green chillies, if using).

6. Cover and cook on medium heat until the cauliflower is tender – about 10 minutes.

7. To prepare the tempering, gently heat the oil in a small wok or frying pan.

8. Add the cumin seeds, fennel seeds and mustard seeds. Allow them to sizzle.

9. Stir in the garlic and cook until browned.

10. Mix in the curry leaves.

11. Pour this mixture over the curry. Stir in and cover the pan to allow the flavours to infuse through the dish.

12. Garnish with coriander leaves before serving.

Fish Kofte


These super healthy, gluten-free Fish Kofte taste delicious with a fresh mint raita and can be served either as an appetiser or a side dish with any meal.

Prior to cooking, the fish balls were rolled in rice flour and then coated very liberally with olive oil to give a light golden and slightly crispy outer finish. They were then cooked in my air-fryer for 15 minutes. Equally they can be oven-baked at 180 degrees.

Here is the recipe, but feel free to try combining any vegetables – just steam and mash first before mixing into the fish and spices.

Prep time: 15 mins

Cooking time: 15 mins

Serves: 4-5 (makes approx. 18 golf-sized kofte)

Ingredients

160g tuna chunks in brine, drained

6-8 new baby potatoes, steamed and mashed

2 handfuls baby spinach leaves, roughly chopped

2 tbsp olive oil

1/2 rice flour + 3 tbsp more for coating

1 medium onion, finely chopped or minced

1 heaped tsp garlic granules

1 tsp ground ginger

1 tsp roasted ground cumin

1 tsp coriander powder

1 heaped tsp paprika

1 tsp anchor (mango powder)

1 level tsp garam masala

1/2 tsp ground black pepper

1 tsp chilli flakes

2 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped or 1 tsp dried mint

1 tsp salt or to taste

Method

  1. Place all the ingredients, except the oil and the 3 tbsp rice flour, in a medium bowl and mix well.
  2. Knead until it all comes together into a smooth mixture.
  3. Work 1/2 tsp of the olive oil well into the mixture.
  4. Take a small bowl of warm water and moisten the palms; divide the mixture into the desired size and shape (I made golf-sized balls). Keep moistening the palms to prevent the mixture from sticking.
  5. Place the remaining rice flour on tray or large platter and roll the fish balls in the flour until evenly coated.
  6. Place the remaining oil in another bigger bowl; transfer the fish balls into this bowl and swirl the bowl until they are all coated in the oil.
  7. Cook in an air-fryer or heated oven for 15 mins at 180 degrees.
  8. Serve with your preferred dip with pride 😊
Aside

Our blessed month of fasting instils upon us a calm and discipline like no other time of the year. In the UK, our fasting days are nearing 19 hours as we endeavour to go about our everyday lives to the best of our ability, whilst abstaining from all food and water. During this time we also engage in increased activities of prayer and recitation of our Holy Quran with the aim of receiving more spiritual reward and enlightenment.

Our preparation for ‘iftari’ forms a significant part of the day where we lovingly prepare our evening meal to break our fast at sunset. Much thought goes into the menu which traditionally comprises a variety of offerings, differing widely in the various regions across the globe, but typically including dates, fruit, intricately prepared savoury and sweet snack items together with a main dish and side.

I am no exception to this tradition. Each day I look forward to lovingly planning and preparing an iftari treat for my family. One such dish made earlier this week was this Nando’s style chicken based on a recipe I was introduced to by Cucina Restaurants whom I was employed by as the Cook in a primary school, responsible for feeding 200+ hungry little bellies each day.

I chose to serve the dish as an entrée fusion platter-for-four where tender strips chicken breast were laid on a bed of fragrant pilau rice with steamed herby potatoes.


Here is the basic recipe for the chicken which can of course be presented in any way you feel inspired 😊

Nando’s-style Chicken

Prep time: 10 mins

Cooking time: 60 mins

Serves: 4

Ingredients

2 chicken breasts, approx 250g each

4 tbsp olive oil

4 tbsp lemon juice

1 large onion, cut into eighths

2-3 cloves garlic

2 tsp paprika

1.5 tsp salt

1.5 tsp sugar

1.5 tsp ground cumin

1.5 tsp crushed chilli

3 tsp mixed herbs

1/4 cup tomato purée
How to cook

1. Place all ingredients except the chicken into blender and blend until you have a smooth marinade.

2. Score the chicken and then coat well with the blended mixture. Cover and refrigerate for an 1-2 hours.

3. Heat the oven to a low temperature. Cover tightly with foil and cook for 40 minutes.

4. Turn the heat up to medium and cook for another 15-20 minutes and the chicken is cooked through.

5. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before slicing.

Serving suggestion: Serve with roast potatoes or on a bed of lemon couscous or pilau rice. Top with fresh, chopped coriander.

Ramadan Inspirations

Chef Talk

Arguably the best job I ever took took on, albeit a short lived one, was the role of a chef in a school, much to the chagrin of my father. Having himself been a chef for 40 years, to this day my father fails to see the logic in my so-called ‘madness’.

I was hired by Cucina Restaurants who provide contract catering services for schools and the Head Chef who interviewed me, now some two years ago, said to me at the time, “If you can cook Indian, you can cook anything!”

So armed with Cucina’s recipe folder and a whole load of enthusiasm I embarked on what was to be the most enlightening three months of my life. Working with a small team of catering assistants, I had the privilege to delve into a diverse range of cuisines, including Italian, Mexican, Asian, and of course, British and the inevitable Indian where undoubtedly I came into my own.

Cooking for over 200 covers a day, looking back now, the experience seems almost surreal, given the circumstances under which I worked at the time. With a shortfall of staff, I was not only prepping and cooking, but also cleaning up with my team which meant I always stayed back in the kitchen long after my staff had departed in order to prep for the next day.

Now, those who know me will understand my physical limitations – hence my father’s objections – at least in part. Being of a very petite frame (in both height and width!) my will often outweighs my physical capabilites. So I persisted with the job, chopping relentlessly, stirring 7 kilo curries in the deepest pans, lifting enormous mixing bowls, lugging hefty serving dishes and flitting between steamers and ovens at light speed. Needless to say, it wasn’t long until the physical injures afflicted took its toll and I felt compelled to call it a day. NOT because I didn’t like the job.

What I did take with me from those few intense months was some invaluable learning. Catering for large numbers has never been a daunting thought since then and I am always cooking up different dishes for my family as in last night’s Chicken Arrabbiata. The chicken was prepped similarly to how I used to make Wednesday’s Roast Chicken, with of course a few added ingredients. It wouldn’t be Najma’sotherwise 😊

 Chicken Arrabbiata 

Curried Red Lentil Stew

A simple, nutritious protein rich dish to be enjoyed as a meal in itself or served over a bed of rice. 

 Prep Time: 10 mins

Cooking Time: 40 mins

Serves: 4

Ingredients

1.5 cups red lentils

1 red onion, diced

1 clove garlic, minced

1″ root ginger, minced

1 tomato, chopped

2 celery sticks, diced

2 carrots, diced

1 tsp turmeric

1/4 tsp grounded cumin, preferably roasted

1/4 red pepper flakes or chilli powder

Salt to taste

2-3 cups water

For the tempering

2 tbsp olive oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

2 cloves garlic, finely sliced

1 bay leaf

6-7 curry leaves

How to cook

  1. Wash and drain the lentils and place in a medium saucepan with the water.
  2. Add the vegetables, garlic, ginger, onions and spices.
  3. Stir well and bring to boil.
  4. Cover and simmer over a low flame for 30 mins or until the lentils and vegetables have softened.
  5. Gently mash using a wooden spoon, add the chilli and salt.
  6. Cook uncovered for another five minutes or until the desired consistency is reached. Remove from the heat.
  7. Place a small non-stick pan over a medium flame and heat the olive oil.
  8. Add the mustard seeds and allow to sizzle.
  9. Stir in the garlic and cook until slightly browned.
  10. Add the bayleaf and curry leaves and stir through.
  11. Pour the tempered spices over the cooked stew and cover immediately to seal the frangrance.
  12. Stir well before serving.