Tuesday, 29 March 2011

The daily grind

No not a blog about going to work- this is instead about what a difference a pestle and mortar can be as an addition to any kitchen.

Now, as with most things, it is better to invest in a good pestle and mortar that will be durable and last rather than go for a cheaper version that you will need to replace more often. Ceramic ones will do the job but are easily breakable. A good granite one will last and means you can really put your weight into grinding!

Ones such as this one that you can buy through amazon are good and look nice:

Now the thing I use my pestle and mortar for the most is grinding herbs and spices together for all sorts of recipes including marinades and sauces. Spices can be bought in a ground form or in its raw state, for example as a seed, nut or leaf. Most of the time a spice in its raw state will keep its flavour and freshness for longer than the ground form (particularly once the container it is in has been opened). Similarly fresh herbs will keep their flavour much better than the dried versions that can lose some of their aroma during the drying process. As discussed in my last blog Spring has Sprung growing your own herbs is something you can do even on your windowsill giving you a constant supply of fresh herbs whenever you require them.

When using raw spices a lot of recipes will advise you to toast them gently for a couple of minutes in a dry pan. The smell is amazing since the warmed spices since it releases their essential oils and adds more flavour to the final dish. Then they can be crushes to add to your cooking. They will smoke, pop/sizzle and darken when they are ready.

Now an obvious use for crushed herbs and spices is for making a curry. Now some people are put off by curry thinking that they have to burn your mouth off. This is not the case- a good curry doesn't have to be hot- instead the spices are used to make the create a fanstastic flavour without burning your mouth off (of course you can make it hot if that is how you like it!) They also do not need to be unhealthy. A lot of people associate a curry with a takeaway- these often contain a lot of fat but if you make them yourself you can cut right back on this. Also it is often the sides (poppadoms, onion bahajis, naan breads) that add to the calorie count. If you have a fairly dry curry with a rice on the side it can be a lot healthier than you think.

The following curry recipe is a favourite in our house and relatively easy to do.It is great if you want something that you can prepare in advance and then cook when you want it- great if you have friends or family coming over for an informal meal.

Baked Chicken Curry

2 heaped tsp cumin seeds
2 heaped tsp coriander seeds
1 heaped tsp fennel seeds
2 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsp ground fenugreek
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 large garlic cloves, roughly chopped
1 large green chilli, roughly chopped
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
3-4 tbsp sunflower/groundnut oil
6 skin-on, bone-in pieces of chicken (around 1.5kg in total) or a whole chicken of that size jointed
400g tin of tomatoes
400ml tin of coconut milk
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1. Put the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in a dry frying pan for a minute or two and toast. Put in a pestle and mortar and grind the spices to a rough powder then mix with the turmeric and fenugreek.
2. Put the onion, garlic, chilli and ginger in a food processor or blender. Blitz to a coarse paste. You may need to stop the processor and scrape down the sides a few times to make sure everything is included.
3. Heat 2 tbsps of the oil in a large frying pan over a medium heat. Add half the chicken pieces, season well and brown them all over, making sure you get the skin a good colour. Transfer them to a large roasting dish, skin-side up. Repeat with the remaining chicken pieces.
4. Reduce the heat, add the spice mix and fry for a minute or so, then add the onion paste. Contine frying for about 5 minutes stirring frequently until the paste is soft and reduced in volume. Add a little more oil if it seems to be sticking.
5. Put the tomatoes and coconut milk into the food processor (you don't need to worry about washing it out first) and blitz to combine. Pour into the frying pan and bring to a simmer, stirring constantly. Add 1 teaspoon of salt and a grinding of pepper, then pour the sauce over the chicken pieces. Coat the chicken all over but keep most of the sauce off the top of the chicken- if there is too much on top of it the skin won't brown when they are cooking.
6. Place in an oven preheated to 180 degrees C. Bake for 1 hour or until the chicken is cooked through and nicely browned on top, turning and basting it a couple of times. Serve with basmati rice.

You can buy poppadoms so easily now that you just need to heat up but as with everything it is fun to make your own. You need Urad flour which is a type of flour native to India and is now widely available in supermarkets. It is made by grinding black gram pulses or lentils into a fine powder which is pale white in colour. The following recipe works well:
2 cups urad of Urad flour
0.25 tsp ground black pepper
0.25 tsp ground cumin
0.25 tsp salt
0.25 cup water
2 cups oil (if frying)
Put the flour, black pepper, cumin, and salt in a bowl and mix everything together. Add the water and knead until the dough comes together. Flour your working surface, and put your dough on it. Take a walnut-sized piece of dough, roll it between your hands. Place it on your counter and roll it out with a rolling pin into a circle. To make a nice even shape take a saucer and put it facedown on the dough. Cut round the saucer with a knife and discard the extra dough. 

You can cook poppadom by microwaving, baking or frying. 

To fry pour in two cups of oil. Put the pan over a medium heat. Put in one poppadom and let it cook for 2 minutes on one side then turn it over and cook it on the other side for 30 seconds. They will crisp and brown quickly so keep a close eye on them.

Put on a plate lined with a paper towel to absorb the extra oil and another on top to keep warm and repeat with remaining dough.

As with anything you can adapt the curry recipes to your taste- enjoy adapting it to your family's taste.

Til soon.....

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