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Entries in spices (2)

Wednesday
Feb262014

Roasted aubergine curry (Bhagare baigan)

My mum who happens to be 3,850 miles away, was advising me over the phone on how to cook mild curries to introduce Pakistani food to the bland palate of my 6 year old. Little did she know, that Chicken curry is at the top of his favourite foods list. But I didn't tell her the whole truth. That curry comes from a Lloyd Grossman's mild korma curry jar. Some secrets should really go with you to your grave, and this one certainly would, unless I wish to be burnt live at the stake.

I am a bit impartial to cooking curries at home; even when I have spent most part of my life in Pakistan, cooking all kinds of curries and rice under the watchful eyes of my mother. Learning to cook is pretty much a part of growing up in our culture as a girl. No sooner than you are 10, it's time to get started with over-cooked and unsalted rice or misshapen chappatis (flat-breads) which are compared to maps of various countries at the dinner table.

After moving here some 12 years ago, being jobless, I ended up watching a lot of day time television and evening soaps, as you do!  I once heard one of the characters in one of the dramas mentioning her Indian friend, saying she is nice and that her house does not smell of curries like they normally do. Shock and horror! I have been obsessed with this concept ever since and try and avoid this eventuality at all costs. Though I must admit, it is harder to achieve in houses and flats built for winter, where exhausts hardly function properly compared to large open houses with open doors and windows, and exhaust fans loud enough to render you deaf and powerful enough to  power a boat.

Anyways, I think that is just a lame excuse. Cooking for me is all about sharing and with a busy lifestyle it is much easier to resort to jacket potatoes, soups and pasta for my dinner. That is- if it's not left over fish fingers and onion rings. On some weekends, nothing gives me more pleasure than to temper spices, whilst keeping my kitchen door closed and the window open, and sharing it with friends. Alternatively, there is always that jar of Lloyd Grossman's curry and my little monster to share it with.

Aubergine or Brinjal (baigan in Urdu/Hindi)

This fruit, which is used as a vegetable, originated in India and you can find many different varieties there, including smaller green, white or stripy round shapes which resemble an egg and hence the more popular American name-eggplant.

Traditionally they are salted to get rid of the bitterness but this is not necessary with the varieties available in the UK. The aubergines are spongy in texture and notorious for soaking up oil. There is a famous Arabic dish by the name of Imam Bayildi (the priest fainted) and the rumour has it that he fainted when he heard how much oil his wife had used for the recipe. Or was it because it was so delicious?

One of my most favourite dishes featuring this humble vegetable is Baba Ghanoush (smoked aubergine with garlic, tahini, lemon, parsley and yoghurt). I think it is the whole experience of charring aubergine, peeling the burnt skin which can be very messy that makes the whole experience so enjoyable.

IMG_6655

Roasted Aubergine Curry (serves 6)

Being home sick, the only connection, left to my homeland was food. I had come here with a journal of recipes which provided comfort in many dark cold winters. Bhagare Baigan was one of them. This recipe originates in Hyderabad, India and is traditionally eaten as an accompaniment to Biryani. My mum loved cooking and was always on the hunt for new recipes. If it wasn't the many cookery shows on the satellite channels, it was through friends that she introduced us to all sorts of international and new recipes. She came home with this recipe from work one day and set to grinding and roasting all the spices and we instantly fell in love with it.

You wouldn't find this recipe in your typical take away as it is quite time consuming and a unique blend of spices. After my research, I have pretty much stuck to my mom's recipe with some additional spices for tempering. The recipe usually calls for frying the aubergines twice in buckets of oil but I have opted to roast the aubergines, rather than fry them to make it a little healthy.

IMG_6752

Ingredients:

  • Aubergine (small tubular or round) 8-10
  • Sunflower oil 1 tsp
For tempering:
  • Mustard seeds: 1/4 tsp
  • Cumin seeds: 1/4 tsp
  • Fenugreek seeds : 1/4 tsp
  • Nigella seeds: 1/4 tsp
  • Curry leaves: 4-6
  • Sunflower oil 2 tbsp

For curry paste:

  • Poppy seeds 1tbsp
  • Dessicated coconut 2tbsp
  • Raw peanuts 2tbsp
  • Sesame seeds 2tbsp
  • Tamarind paste 1tbsp
  • Chopped Onion 2 medium
  • Sunflower oil 2tbsp
  • Chilli powder 1tsp
  • Cumin powder 1tsp
  • Turmeric powder 1tsp
  • Coriander powder 1tsp
  • Garlic paste 1tsp
  • Ginger paste 1tsp
  • Water 250ml
  • Green chillies 2
  • Salt 1tsp

Garnish:

  • Chopped fresh green coriander 2tsp
  • Dry (or fresh) red chillies 2

roasted aubergine curry1

 Method:

  • Pre-heat the oven to 180C fan assisted (200C).
  • Wash and then slit the aubergines in half lengthwise whilst leaving the stalks on.
  • Coat them with a teaspoon of oil and roast in the oven for 20 minutes. 

roasted aubergine curry3

  •  Dry roast the peanuts, poppy seeds, sesame seeds and coconut till it is light brown in colour.
  • Constantly keep stirring when doing this otherwise it will brown unevenly as evident from the picture at the bottom.

roasted aubergine curry2

  • Fry the onion in the oil till they are translucent and brown.
  • Mix all the dry roasted ingredients with fried onions and tamarind paste and grind to a paste.

roasted aubergine curry4

  • Temper the curry leaves, fenugreek seeds, nigella seeds, mustard seeds till they start crackling.
  • Add the green chillies and fry for one minute.
  • Add all the dry spices along with ginger and garlic paste.
  • Add little water if necessary to prevent them from sticking to the pan or burning. Fry for 3-4 minutes.
  • Add the paste and fry till it becomes dry and then add one cup of water.
  • When it starts to boil, add the aubergines and simmer with the pan covered for 10 minutes.

roasted aubergine curry5

Garnish with green coriander and serve with rice or naan. 

IMG_6766

 

Friday
May182012

Baked Falafel

How many times have you heard American TV make a reference to this popular street food in their shows? I personally have lost count! I don't remember the first time I tasted falafel but it certainly wasn't love at first bite or sight for that matter. I didn't like the look of shrivelled oily balls that looked burnt in heavy supermarket packaging. 

My husband used to work near the Marble Arch and that opened up his world to the Mediterranean foods on Edgware road and his lunch included things like falafel wraps, kibbeh and shawarma, while I sulked in my office over a soggy sandwich or a half cold bowl of soup. As if he wasn't tired of travelling there everyday on an hour long tube journey, he used to take me there for lunch on some weekends. Now having falafel freshly fried for you as a starter with many dips was a completely different experience. This is how my love affair with the Middle Eastern food and this particular treat started.

Falafel

Needless to say the origin is disputed, although most sources point to Egypt where it is also called Ta'amia. It is a popular street food that is made with chickpeas and fava/broad beans. The recipes differ from region to region and include different proportions of fava beans and chickpeas, or just chickpeas.

Many recipes call for tinned chickpeas and you will find that the end mixture is quite watery and can break easily when frying or baking. Traditionally, it is made with soaking dried chickpeas and fava beans overnight and then grinding them up with spices and herbs. I also found that most recipes called for only tinned chickpeas without any mention of broad/fava beans. I couldn't find any dried fava/broad beans in any superstore and hence resorted to fresh frozen broad beans. 

This recipe is adapted from The Arab Table by May Bsisu. I love this book, mainly because it is properly researched with details of traditions and stories about Arab food; their origin, uses and authentic recipes.

Ingredients: (see tips for substitutions)

Dried chickpeas 300gm (soaked overnight)

Broad beans (tinned or frozen) 200gm

Garlic 6 cloves

White Onion (medium)1 

Parsley (small bunch) 1

Green Coriander (small bunch) 1

Ground Coriander 1/2 tsp

Ground Allspice 1/2 tsp

Ground Cumin 1 tsp

Cayenne Pepper 1/2 tsp

Ground Cinnamon 1/2 tsp

Salt 1 tbsp

Black Pepper 1/2 tsp

Baking soda 1 tsp

Baking powder 1 tsp

Method:

Soak the chickpeas overnight.

Drain the water next morning and let them get as dry as possible before use.

Thaw frozen broad/fava beans or use equal measure tinned broad beans.

Pulse the beans in the food processor and you might have to scrape the sides of the bowl a few times with a wooden spoon. You are aiming for something that feels like cooked couscous or similar to fresh bread crumbs.

Add the onion, garlic and herbs. Grind till they are well incorporated and finely chopped.

Throw in all the spices, salt, baking powder and bicarbonate and pulse one last time.

Rest the mixture for 2 hours for the flavours to develop.

Shape them into balls. Here size doesn't really matter but I aimed for something a little bigger than 1 inch.

Pre-heat the oven to 220C (200C fan assisted). Line a tray with baking paper. Spread the balls on the sheet and bake for about 25 minutes. Till they are nice and brown.

Or......

Dare I say, fry them for the best taste. It takes about 5 minutes in medium hot oil.

You can see the difference between the final texture of fried (top) and baked (bottom) falafels in this picture. They taste absolutely delicious both ways.

Tips:

  • Use chilli pepper instead of cayenne and skip allspice, but these are bith easily available in most local supermarkets.
  • I freeze them after making balls and leave them to thaw overnight in the refrigerator before baking or frying them.
  • I will try to find dried fava/broad beans in Middle eastern shops which will again need soaking overnight before being used.
  • You can serve it as a salad for a low carb lunch over a bed of fresh leaves, with olives, red onion, tomatoes and feta.
  • You can use the tinned chickpeas and broad beans for convenience but remember the mixture the mixture becomes squidgy and might fall apart while frying so best bake it and reduce the salt in the recipe to compensate for the salted water in the tinned beans.

Do try it and let me know how it goes. I'd love to hear from you.

I'm entering this in @KarenBurnsBooth May's Herbs on Saturday challenge. Have a look there for some more delicious herby recipes.