Ramadan Inspirations

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…

Source: Ramadan Inspirations

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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.

Mattar Pulao (Peas Pilau)

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 35 mins
Serves: 4


IngredientsMattar Pulao

  • 2 cups Basmati Rice
  • 1/2 cup frozen peas
  • 4 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1″ root ginger, minced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1″ stick cinnamon
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 3 cups hot water
  • salt to taste

How to cook

  1. Rinse the rise and drain thoroughly. Set aside.
  2. Heat the oil over a medium flame and the cook the onions until softened and only slightly browned.
  3. Add the bay leaf, cinnamon and cumin seeds; allow the seeds to change colour.
  4. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for 2 mins or until slightly browned.
  5. Stir in the peas and cook for 3-4 mins.
  6. Add the rice and stir fry for 20-30 secs.
  7. Add the water with the salt and bring to boil.
  8. Seal the pan with foil and cover with the lid and cook on low heat for 25 mins (use a heat diffuser beneath the pan if it is not a non-stick pan).
  9. Remove from the heat and allow to settle for 5 mins before serving.

Chinese Fusion Vegetable Curry

Once you have prepared your curry sauce, shop bought or homemade, making this dish is so very quick and simple; deliciously satisfying too. I of for one knocked this up in less than 30 minutes on a Sunday morning to take over to my in-laws for lunch where my father-in-law had prepared his awesome egg fried rice special 🙂

Prep Time: 5 mins
Cooking Time: 20 mins
Serves: 4

Chinese Veg Curry

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 12-15 fresh broccoli florets
  • 1 cup frozen peas
  • 1 cup chestnut mushrooms, sliced
  • 1 read pepper, chopped into chunks
  • 1 medium onion, cut into chunks)
  • 1 tsp mild Madras curry powder
  • 1 batch homemade curry sauce or shop bought curry paste (made up to 1 pint sauce)
  • cup water or as needed
  • salt to taste

How to cook

  1. Heat the oil over a medium flame the cook the onions until softened.
  2. Meanwhile wash the broccoli florets and drain. Place in a microwaveable bowl with one tablespoon water. Cover with cling film and pierce twice. Cook on high power for three minutes.
  3. When the onions have softened, add the brocolli and stir fry for 2-3 minutes.
  4. Add the mushrooms, peas and peppers. Continue to stir fry for another 2-3 minutes.
  5. Stir in the curry powder and cook for another minute.
  6. Slowly add the pre-prepared curry sauce and stir well.
  7. Cover and cook until the vegetable are cooked through with the sauce but not mushy.
  8. Add a little water if the sauce appears to be too thick and simmer for 2-3 minutes.
  9. Adjust seasoning as needed.

Serve with simple Jasmine Rice or Egg Fried Rice.

Aside

 

Curry pastes are readily available in the ‘World Food’ isles in most large supermarkets nowadays or from food retail wholesalers. They are easy to use as the paste simply needs to be dissolved and cooked to your desired consistency. The sauce can then be used to create a variety of meat, poultry, vegetable or seafood dishes.

However, if you are having trouble sourcing the paste or would simply rather make your own, this simple recipe guides you through the steps for making a batch of Chinese Curry Sauce for up to four portions.

Prep Time: 5 mins
Cooking Time: 15 mins
Serves: 4

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil or coconut oil (if obtainable)
  • 2 tbsp plain flour
  • 1 medium onion (cut into chunks)
  • 2-3 cloves garlic (depending on size)
  • 1 star anise
  • 1/2 tsp chilli flakes
  • 1/2 ground cumin
  • 1/2 ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp Chinese five spice powder
  • 2 tsp mild or hot Madras curry powder
  • 1 tbsp soya salt
  • 2 ½ cups water
  • salt and pepper as needed

Chinese Curry Sauce

How to cook

  1. Gently heat the oil and cook the onions until slightly browned.
  2. Add the garlic, star anise and chilli flakes. Stir fry until the garlic is slightly browned.
  3. Add the flour, cumin, ginger, five spice powder, curry powder, salt and pepper and cook gently for 30 secs until a paste starts to form.
  4. Gradually add the water whilst stirring to make a lump free sauce.
  5. Bring to boil and simmer until the mixtures has thickened slightly (no more than 10 minutes).
  6. Remove from the heat and blend the mixture with a stick (hand) blender. If the sauce it too thick, add a little boiled water and simmer for another 1-2 minutes.
  7. Adjust the seasoning to taste.

Your sauce can now be used immediately or cooled and refrigerated for up to three days or stored in the freezer for 3 months.

Chinese Curry Sauce

Couscous with Roasted Bell Peppers

This is my ’15 minutes at 6 am’ recipe which I throw together and leave to cook while I indulge in my early morning yoga practice.

Making the couscous is mere child’s play and preparing the peppers is equally simple. Pan roasting the peppers brings out their natural sweetness and by the time I am halfway through my practice, I have perfectly cooked, fluffy couscous with deliciously fragrant, roasted peppers!

Cooking Time: 15 mins

Serves: 1-2

Ingredients

  • 100g couscousCouscous
  • 1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
  • 1/2 orange or yellow bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 tbsp olive oil + 1 tbsp extra for the peppers
  • 240 boiled water ml water + 1 tbsp extra for the peppers
  • 1/4 tsp crushed or flaked red chilli
  • 1/4 tsp garlic powder
  • 1/4 tsp ground pepper
  • 1/2 tsp dried basil
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp tsp lemon juice
  • extra seasoning for the peppers

How to cook

  1. Gently heat 1 tbsp olive oil in a small frying pan and saute the peppers for 1-2 minutes. Add 1 tbsp water, season, cover and allow to steam.
  2. Place all remaining ingredients in medium bowl, mix well, cover and leave to stand for 10 minutes.
  3. Fluff up the couscous with a fork.
  4. When the peppers are ready (after another 5 minutes) mix well into the couscous.

All you now need do is transfer your beautiful work of art into a suitable container to take to the office and you would have saved £2-£3 on your lunch!

This will make two small portions or a single larger portion.

Mackerel with Spinach (Macher Chorchori)

mackerel_with_spinach.jpg-pwrt3Based on the traditional Bengali dish known as ‘chorchori’ (medley) this is variation which I learnt to cook from my father, a master of culinary creativity. An easy to cook recipe bursting with flavour and goodness.

Prep Time: 10 mins
Cooking Time: 30 mins
Serves: 2

  • 3 tbsp oil
  • 1 tin mackerel fillets in brine, drained
  • 1 small onion, sliced
  • ½ tbsp garlic paste, or 1 fresh clove garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp ginger paste or 1” piece fresh ginger, grated
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 6-7 blocks of frozen spinach
  • ½ tsp turmeric powder
  • ½ tsp coriander powder
  • ½ tsp chilli powder
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp salt or to taste
  • 1 green chilli, chopped (optional)
  • handful of fried fenugreek leaves (optional)

Method:

1. Heat the oil and add the bay leaf.

2. Add the onions and cook on medium heat until transparent.

3. Add the garlic and ginger and stir for 1-2 mins.

4. Add the dry spices and sauté for 2 mins with 2 tbsp water.

5. Add the mackerel and stir well to cover with spices, using a wooden spoon to break up the fillets.

6. Add the spinach and green chilli (if using), stir a little and cover; leave to cook on low heat for 10-15 minutes.

7. Stir the spinach well to blend in with the fish mixture. Cover and cook again, if necessary, until the spinach is cooked through.

8. Remove the lid and turn up heat to evaporate any excess liquid.

9. Continue stirring and remove from heat when the dish is completely dry and begins to come away from the sides of the pan as you stir.

10. Stir in the dried fenugreek leaves, if using, and remove from heat.

As published in the Wimbledon Guardian, 12 December 2013

Aloo Bharta

Aloo (ka) Bharta (spicy mashed potato) is a timeless comfort food which can be enjoyed equally with rice or rotis. As a Bengali, my staple meal growing up consisted of boiled rice and my mum often prepared this bharta in traditional Bengali style, either using mustard oil as a base or ghee; the latter treating one’s sensory palette to the ultimate taste experience which I dare not replicate for obvious health reasons!

Aloo Bharta, a dish of Bihari origin, has many variations. My recipe is based on a Pakistani version which I have adapted from my mother-in-law and is very different to the Bengali method of preparation and personally, best enjoyed with handmade rotis 😀

Feel free to replace the tomato purée with fresh tomatoes. I only used the purée as I was out of tomatoes 😱

Ingredients

  • 750 g potatoes, boiled and mashed with a tsp salt
  • 3-4 tbsp oil
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 11/2 tsp curry powder
  • 1/2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tsp tomato purée
  • 4 spring onions, chopped
  • Green and red chillies, chopped
  • Coriander leaves

How to cook

1. Heat the oil gently and add the cumin seeds. Allow seeds to sizzle.

2. Add the onions and chillies. Cover and cook until softened.

3. Stir in the spices and cook for 1 minute over a medium flame.

4. Add the tomato purée and mix well. Cook until the oil separates from spices. Stir in the salt.

5. Turn down the heat and add the mashed potato. Mix well until the spices is evenly distributed throughout the potato.

6. Stir in the chopped coriander and transfer to a serving dish.