Posted 10th October 2014
Oh if I had a penny for everyone who asks me whether Indian food can be healthy and easy to cook. I’d be pretty rich by now.The answer is YES. But it’s easy to see why anyone would think differently. Take the humble Onion Bhaji/Onion Pakora. Delicious? Yes. Deep fried? Oh yes. Not quite the poster child for Generation Type 2 Diabetes.
And then there’s the healthier evils. Like chappatis. Wholewheat flour, roasted and puffed nicely enough with a nutty aroma and soft texture, with not a smidgen of oil in sight. Your inner self is likely to feel better than your aching arms and doughy fingernails though. Unless you are lucky enough to have a dough hook and someone to do your washing up.
It is easy to see why anyone would think differently. Here are some common mistakes I’ve found people make with Indian cooking at home:
Blending your own spice powders:
There is no need. Unless you really fancy a bit of a kitchen experiment. In which case invest in a good mini coffee grinder, with a removeable bowl in it. It is perfectly acceptable to use ready ground spices. I prefer to add them in individually rather than use the all encompassing (and slightly one-dimensional) curry powder
Making your own Indian breads:
Again, why? Most Indian kitchens are a hotbed of activity with several dishes being prepared by several people. This a lovely thing to do if you have the time and the assistance in the kitchen. Or, if you are a seasoned cook with lots of time on your hands. (In which case, what on Earth are you doing reading this?). Store bought packs of chapattis, parathas as just fine.
Laying on a three-course meal:
I mean, seriously. You don’t have to get the deep fat fryer out to make your own Onion Bhajis for starter. Dal, roti, sabzi form the basis of every day meals. And then you can add raita, a meat/fish dish, and rice (plain or pulao). What you usually see offered as starters in restaurants are snacks. These are often just bought in from the shops. Or else, cooked at snack time. Desert, too, is usually a little (store bought) something sweet. The more lavish sweet treats are reserved for important occasions.
Cooking, and then cooking again:
I have watched many home cooks fry a vegetable, remove, make a masala, then add said vegetable back. That’s a very dead vegetable. Cooked in twice the amount of oil, with twice the effort. Why? Think about how your main ingredient can be cooked in one go. Unless you’re making paneer, which usually tastes much better in dishes once sealed first.
Any others you can add?
My mantra is everything in moderation. And I refuse to spend more than an hour dishing up everyday family meals. These days, the kids get stuck in too. Chopping herbs with butter knives, peeling ginger and garlic, mixing and rolling said rotis. Apart from the ever popular 30 minute meals, my favourite killer dishes are the ones where I slather meat in marinade and cook in the oven while the chaos of bathtime, bedtime ensues.
Like this baked Goan Chicken Cafreal in a Coconut Vinegar marinade. A shallow-fried spicy sour chicken that is usually marinated for a few hours, I find cooking it in its own juices in a tightly sealed foil parcel gives it a lovely depth without the need for efficiency or planning.
Mopped up with a simple dal and steaming hot basmati rice, it’s an easy and healthy way to get a masala kick.
4 Chicken leg quarters, skinned
8 cloves garlic
2 inches ginger
4-6 green finger chillies (based on your tolerance level)
1 tbsp each of coriander seeds and cumin seeds
Half inch cinnamon
Quarter cup Coconut Vinegar (substitutes: Cider Vinegar, White wine vinegar)
100g fresh coriander
4 salad onions/spring onions
1 tbsp vegetable oil
Salt to taste
Bring the oven to preheat at 180 degree centigrade. Make two incisions on each chicken leg quarter. Peel the ginger and garlic, chop roughly, and taken the hard stalks off the coriander bunch. Then puree with all the ingredients, bar the spring onions in a blender. Add salt to your taste.
Place the chicken legs in a shallow overproof dish, and spoon over the marinade. Chope the spring onions finely and scatter them on top. Then cover and seal the dish with kitchen foil tightly and bake for a hour. Serve your baked chicken cafreal like I did, or with rotis, or, with salad and fries.