|Malabar chicken curry|
Like many students, I travelled in India when I was at uni, but I didn't get down to the south. In fact, the furthest south I got was Agra, to see the Taj Mahal, which truly does have to be seen to be believed. I also visited Kashmir, spent a week staying on a houseboat on the Dal Lake, and stepped back into the 1930s, when the English would go to Kashmir to escape the extreme heat of the summer on the plains. I walked in the foothills of the Himalayas, before taking the train east to Simla, another former English hill-station. Sadly, it is now impossible to visit this beautiful region due to the ongoing conflict between India and Pakistan. The food that I ate in India was very different to the kind of Indian food I'd eaten in restaurants and cooked at home in the UK: it was largely very simple, though no less flavoursome. Some of the best food was eaten straight from a vast vat of boiling oil down a narrow street in Simla: vegetables samosas and pakoras, and onion bhajis cooked to order. I would love to return to India one day, to visit the southern states (Kerala and Madras): I found it a fascinating country, not least because it seems familiar in many ways because of the enduring influence of the Raj.
South London is blessed with a number of excellent south Indian restaurants, particularly around Balham and Tooting, which is home to perhaps the most famous of them all, the Sree Krishna. Never mind the brown interior, the dim lighting, and the rather grubby jackets of the waiters, the food is superb. Here you can try the Masala Dosai, a crisp giant pancake made from a batter of fermented rice flour and filled with spicy potatoes, or an Uthappam, a southern Indian 'pizza' with a topping of chopped onions, tomatoes, coriander leaves and green chillies. This is not the sort of food you will find on your average British tandoori restaurant menu (which is, generally, northern Indian food).
The following recipe is adapted from Jamie Oliver's Malabar Prawn Curry, and, in fact, the only adaptation is that I use chicken instead of prawns. I have also made this with fish (salmon or cod works well). This curry comes from Kerala, the southernmost state of India, and it is the combination of fenugreek and mustard seeds, curry leaves and coconut milk that gives this aromatic dish its distinctive fragrance and flavour. It is not hot (some southern Indian curries are very hot indeed!), but has instead a pleasing warmth. The coconut milk gives the sauce a wonderful richness: creamy and slightly sweet. This is an elegant curry, and I would not hesitate to serve it for a dinner party. I like to serve this with plain Basmati rice and a vegetable accompaniment; Madhur Jaffrey's simple fried aubergine slices
Malabar Prawn Curry
4 tbsp coconut oil (or vegetable oil)
½ tsp black mustard seeds
¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
1 tbsp chopped fresh ginger
12 curry leaves, fresh or dried
3 small red onions, finely chopped
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp ground coriander
¼ tsp ground turmeric
150g tomato, chopped
1 tbsp kokum (or 20ml tamarind pulp)
6 chicken thighs, skinned
400ml coconut milk
Basmati rice, to serve
Heat the oil in a deep frying pan and when it starts to smoke, add the mustard seeds, fenugreek and curry leaves. Cook for a few moments and then add the onion. Cook until it is slightly golden. Add the other spices, chopped tomato and kokum or tamarind, then add the chicken pieces. Pour over the coconut milk and give everything a good stir. Simmer for about 30 mins, or until the chicken is cooked through.
Fried Aubergine Slices
This recipe, from what I regard as my Indian food 'bible', Madhur Jaffrey's 'Indian Cookery', is very simple and, as Ms Jaffrey herself says, can be served with any Indian meal. Sometimes, I serve this with a garlic-spiked yoghurt sauce or raita (Ottolenghi Yoghurt Sauce works well). It's best made just before you want to eat it, but you can make it in advance and reheat.
1 aubergine, halved down the middle and cut into half-moons
Sunflower oil, or similar, for frying
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cayenne pepper
A good grind of fresh black pepper
Sea salt (Maldon is best)
Put the aubergine slices in a large bowl. Mix the spices, pepper and salt together, pour over the aubergine, and give it a good stir to ensure each slice is well coated. Heat the oil in a large pan and fry the aubergine slices until soft and slightly brown.