Toasting and grinding spices

Two ingredient posts in one day!!!!

Whenever I watch Indian chefs on tv, they always bang on about toasting and grinding their own spices. I don’t remember my mum ever doing it and so I don’t do it either. In my cooking I use a combination of whole spices and ready ground ones.

Whole: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, carraway seeds, cardamom, cinnamon bark, cloves, dried peppercorns etc.

Ready ground: cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder, turmeric, salt, asafoetida, paprika etc.

I like to have the whole spices in the dish when I eat (though I don’t actually bite on them as they are really strong!). It adds a dimension to my dishes that I enjoy. I have tried to toast my whole spices before grinding them in my coffee mill. The benefit being not having to pick out the whole spices when eating. But I found the ground spices all melding together and lost something. I think it’s a matter of individual preference. 

But then I was watching Saturday kitchen – a segment with the gorgeous Spice Men and my man, Tony Singh. He showed me the way! He lightly toasted some spices, not too hot as he was able to continue handling them (though bear in mind, chefs have asbestos hands), in this way the spices release their flavour. And then after they had cooled he gently pounded them in a pestle and mortar.

So if gave it a go and wowsers, what a difference. I added these to a mung dal that night and it was delicious. So there you go, I’ll toast and pound from now on.

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Ingredients: Bay leaves

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The picture above shows two types of bay leaf. The large one on the left is the Indian bayleaf (tej patta) and can range in colour from dark green to brown. It has long stem lines along its length. The flavour is a subtle one, almost cinnamon like and it’s what I prefer to use for cooking dals or rice dishes, tearing the leaf to release the flavour before adding it to the dish.

It has been incredibly hard to come by in Scotland and all the Indian shops I tried didn’t know what it was, didn’t stock it and frankly looked at me as if I’d gone insane which was a bit extreme if you ask me. Instead they have had packets and packets of the mediterranean version and have confusing labelled that as tej patta too.  Luckily, it’s finally back in stock on the online stores such as asiancookshop or spicesofindia.

I have been making do with the mediterranean bay leaf which has stronger herby smell / taste. There is nothing wrong with using it but it does give a harsher taste to the dals compared to the Indian bayleaf. The med version however, is fabulous in cheese sauces (such as my mac and cheese) or when I am making a tomato based pasta sauce such as my quorn Bolognese.

One thing both have in common as that they are pretty strong if you bite into them, so if you are going to serve out your food, pick the leaf out before hand. 🙂

 

Home made paneer (curds and whey)

That little Miss Muffet knew a thing or two having a bowl of curds and whey. But if I was her, I’d have discarded the whey and just made use of the yummy curds. Curds are what Indian people called paneer and is used for both savoury and sweet dishes. It’s been years since I made my own paneer which is a sign of pure and utter laziness as it’s so very simple to make*.

I had a surplus of semi-skimmed milk (thanks to an online shop I had forgotten about and had added a huge amount of milk to!). With a bag of fresh baby spinach in the fridge, I wanted to make saag paneer.

Ingredients:

  • 6 pints semi-skimmed milk
  • 1-2 tablespoons white vinegar or fresh lemon juice

Cooking

  • Put the milk into a heavy based pan and bring to the boil. Keep stirring to ensure the milk does not stick or burn as this will ruin the taste of the paneer
  • It had boiled when the surface of the milk makes a mound
  • Take the pan off the heat
  • Add the vinegar or lemon juice a little at a time until the milk separates. (I ended up using almost a whole unwaxed lemon – turns out fresh lemon is not as acidic. So if you have an older lemon, or are using vinegar then you won’t need too much)
  • The separation is pretty obvious so if the whey still looks milk, keep going with the vinegar/juice
  • The next stage involves removing the curds from the whey – put a muslin or J-cloth over a large bowl then pour the mixture in to strain the whey out. Bring the edges of the cloth together and squeeze. Now put a weight on and leave for an hour or more to squeeze even more liquid out.

This recipe yielded 262g of paneer from 6 pints of milk. I believe that full fat milk would produce more curds.  I’d probably left the weighing a bit long as the paneer was hard. It can also happen if you use lemon juice rather than vinegar. I would not squeeze as much to use the paneer to make a dessert (like rasmalia….oooooh RASMALAI).

I cut the paneer into cubes and fried in a shallow pan a little bit before added to my saag paneer. All in all, a very easy ingredient to use.

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*My most distinct memory of making paneer was when we lived temporarily in East Barnet. Mum was ill  and would only live for a few months more. We lived in a maisonette with the most racist man living above us who regularly slashed our car tyres – doubly painful when we had to rush mum to hospital appointments. That day was lovely and sunny. I used the home made paneer to make a delicious rasmalai. Years on, now in my frozen Scottish kitchen I’m making paneer again, still thinking of Mum but very happy that with my daughter and husband I’ll do not have to deal with slashed tyres. Happy days.

Curry leaves

Just a quick post about one of my favourite ingredients – curry leaves (limda in Gujarati). A wonderful aromatic herb which add a distinctive flavour to dhals and when fried to bombay mix type concotions. I’m hoping to grow some and have tracked down two nurseries that supply plants in the UK: Old hall plants and Poyntzfield herb nursery.

Now before we go on, let’s get one thing clear – I am not talking about the curry plants that are sold in some garden centres which have a very strong curry like smell Heichrysum italicum. I bought a bunch of these to keep the cats out of my garden. The plants that grew very well only succeeded in being cat barriers when they had grown so big the cats couldn’t get in. As far as I know, the leaves aren’t edible.

I am talking about Murraya koenigii. If you go to an asian supermarket, they are easy to find. They will be in the fresh herb section next to the coriander (another fave). The leaves should be glossy green and attached to their branches. You can pick each one off individually, or be lazy like me and just run your fingers down the stalk and just pull them all off in one go. Wash them well in cold water. Chuck out any bruised/black ones and freeze the rest. They last for ages (which is my way of saying, I don’t know how long you can freeze them but it’s ages)

 

 

London’s best Asian supermarkets

This is an article from last year but I’m sure many of the shops mentioned are still there. I like how the distinguish the different types of food.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/lifeandstyle/2011/sep/05/londons-asian-supermarkets

Generally, if you are looking for a specific type of food e.g. Gujarati, then head to an area that has many Gujaratis. Wikipedia supplies this breakdown of where each different group are mostly found.

If you are looking for Gujarati vegetarian sweets and snacks (like chevda, ghatia etc) then I wholeheartedly recommend Gayatri which is in Kingsbury – be prepared to queue on festival days. Oh damn, now I’m hungry and missing London :S

Bark as good as my bite

Often in my recipes I include cinnamon. I use the alternative which is known as cassia bark or chinese cinnamon for most of my cooking as it’s more robust in a sauce or when being boiled as part of a pilau. The usual amount is a 2inch piece of the bark. It is  cheaper, stronger tasting and less sweet than cinnamon – IMHO the latter is better suited to sweet dishes or for hot chocolate/mulled wine drinks.

There are some health concerns with cassia having large amounts of coumarin which can affect the coagulation of blood so if you are worried, use true cinnamon instead. For this reason, I only use Schwartz’ powdered cinnamon for my daughter’s food.

How to tell the difference: Cassia is bark like – dark, very thick and when in a tube, it is hollow

     

Cinnamon – a very pretty reddish brown. True cinnamon is shaped as quills and will cost a lot lot more than cassia.

 

Too hot to handle

Woooohooooo I am back to cooking on gas. I cannot tell you how much of a relief it is to have left our last house with it’s annoying induction hob and move to a place with a 5 ring gas hob. So now I’m back to proper cooking I  have an issue to overcome – all the spicy food I cook lately is too spicy. This might sound odd but I have never enjoyed food that is all heat – I like to taste the vegetable that I am eating and also some of the other ingredients in the dish. If a dish is too spicy all you get is pain (both on the way in and on the way out).

I have tried changing from the  4 rated finger chili to the 2 rated green chili (aka as an Indian Hot Pepper) from Tescos. In truth I prefer using bullet chilies from an Asian grocers but there aren’t any around here.  I just had a quick look on a chilli site which mentions a Jinta chilli that looks similar to ones I’ve used before so maybe I will order some.

In addition, I’ve just chucked all my Natco chili powder. The package is marked Very Hot which made me wonder if that was the cause of the heat in my food. Unfortunately, the TRS chili powder I found in a local supermarket is Extra Hot – what a shame they don’t sell the normal TRS chili powder. I’ve bought it for now though as I have to have chilli powder in my kitchen.

So I’m turning into a  Heston B here and experimenting with different amounts of fresh chilli and the chilli powder as there seems to be a point where too little is just so bland but a few grains more and I’m back to burning my head off. I would love to buy all the different versions of chillies and chilli powders (see the site Spices of India …there are loads and loads). And in the meantime, I’m going to start growing some at home using this pack that I was give for Christmas 🙂