Cooking for foodies

What to cook for foodies who have eaten everywhere?  When we get together with my brother and his partner here in Sydney we generally go out one night and then have a night at our place – cooking, drinking, eating, drinking.  A lot of drinking.

Generally we confer on a menu and then all pitch in to cook.  Food is most often Asian – Vietnamese or Thai – and always lots of little dishes.  It’s a lot of work.  I usually begin a few days in advance, making lists, shopping, preparing rubs and marinades and then on the day I’m generally in the kitchen chopping, mixing, etc while everyone else is either sitting reading papers or standing around chatting to me.  Its a small kitchen so more than two people gets a bit, well, let’s just say it cramps my style.

This time, celebrating three birthdays we decided that we would do low-key and simple.  And just for a change: Indian.  My husband is a great South Indian cook, having lived in India for seven years – he make fantastic dishes including lots of vegetarian ones as well as delicious fresh chutneys. One of his most outstanding dishes is a chicken liver curry.  Sounds weird but it is to die for.  Its very rich and very hot (lots of green chillies) so we don’t have it often (maybe just once a year). For anyone who is a fan of chicken liver this is a must try dish.

For entree I made crab and prawn cakes wrapped in banana leaves with a coriander and mint chutney.  M made a coconut and red chilli chutney to go with the curry as well as a vegetable dish with zucchini and carrot cut into matchsticks and then  tempered with traditional South Indian spices:  mustard seeds, cumin seeds, black gram dhal, asafoetida, split red chillies and curry leaves.  To temper: heat a tablespoon of ghee and when hot throw in a tspn of mustard seeds, cumin seeds, the black dhal, half a teaspoon of asafoetida (this is very strong smelling) 2 split red chillies and a handful of fresh curry leaves.  When the leaves begin to split and the seeds pop add the raw vegetables and a few tablespoons of water, put a lid on the pan and turn the heat off.  The vegetables will steam and absorb all those wonderful flavours. Its quick and easy and incredibly delicious.  You  can add shredded coconut over the top.

 

Although none of us are really dessert people it never feels right to me not to make something.  But it has to be light and not overly sweet and not complicated.  So I thought a coconut panna cotta would be the go – rounding out the flavours of cardamon etc in the previous dishes, I roasted some peaches with cinnamon, cardamon pods, rosewater and a dash of wine.  It was the perfect ending to a flavour packed meal.  And to top it off:  coconut vodka!

Poriyal anyone? Joys of South Indian cuisine

So what’s a poriyal you’re all thinking. Essentially its a vegetable dish tempered with spices. It’s South Indian – which is a much lighter and fresher than the heavily sauced, rich northern Indian food.
A lot of the food in the south of India is vegetarian. But it’s the blend of spices that really differentiates it from its northern counterpart.

We tend to eat a lot of spicy food but I was never a fan of Indian food until I discovered south Indian cuisine. My preference is for light and fresh. So I was very surprised when I first came across it (thanks to my husband who lived in India for many years and spent much time holidaying in Goa – then a somewhat rustic haven for poor travellers and locals. Sadly now taken over by too many Israeli and Russian tourists with their demands to have it all). 

Usually I cook Thai and Vietnamese style foods while my husband cooks Indian. However we recently come across a couple of great cook books with more contemporary adaptations on traditional food and I decided to learn the basics. In fact we first came across the modern incarnation at a fabulous resort restaurant in Kerala – but that’s another story.

So back to the poriyal. It consists of a basic tempering spice mix:

  • 1 tspn cumin
  • 1 tspn black mustard seeds
  • 1 tspn urud dhal
  • 1/2 tspn asafetida
  • Curry leaves
  • Red chilli split lengthways but still intact.

Heat a pan until hot and add a tablespoon oil or ghee.
Once the oil is hot throw in the spice mix but stand back – the mustard seeds pop as do the curry leaves. You need the oil to be hot enough to do this otherwise the spices just steam and don’t release their flavours.
Then add the roughly chopped zucchini (you can use any vegetables for this, e.g. green beans, or a mixture of finely chopped, beans, carrots and capsicums) and stir to mix the spices through. Then add a splash of water and let it cook – briefly – until the zucchini is just cooked but still firm. Stir through a tablespoon or so of shredded or grated coconut. And you’re done. Easy.
And to go with that poriyal? We had a spice-crusted fillet of beef (seared and then cooked on the BBQ for 15 mins) and a tomato relish (tamatar ka kut) which is east Indian; but its also good with fish, dhal, rice – the possibilities are endless.