Lessons in Curry III

This is the third in a series of articles on preparing Curry. This month, the focus is on how to make a traditional yogurt-based curry and accompanying dishes. These three dishes together, Pakora Curry, Black Chana with Mustard Oil, and Lemon Rice are one of my favorite meals. Some sliced cooked beets with a little lemon juice make a perfect color, flavor and texture accent.

Pakora Curry
The gingery masala simmers with yogurt or buttermilk, filling the air with the most sumptuous and exotic aroma. This curry sauce can be served as is over rice, or as a nurturing and invigorating soup. The pakora “dumplings” are made from a spicy besan batter, deep-fried by the spoonful, and then added to the sauce. Freshly grated nutmeg gives just the right flavor accent. If you are pinched for time or want something a little simpler, omit the pakoras. Serve this dish with Lemon Rice or plain steamed long-grain rice.

The recipe below calls for many spices. If you find this a bit intimidating, or you do not have all the ingredients on hand, you can very safely eliminate any of the spices and still have a good result. You must at least include the onions, ginger, and turmeric.

For the Curry Sauce:
1 1/2 quarts buttermilk or plain yogurt
1/2 cup besan (fine garbanzo flour available in Indian and Mid-eastern markets)
1 cup water
1/2 cup ghee or olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped or thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped, peeled gingerroot
2 tsp. poppy seeds
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 Tbsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 ripe, firm tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped in 1/2″ dice
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (or nutmeg powder)
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. garam masala

In a small mixing bowl, combine the besan with just enough yogurt/buttermilk to make a smooth paste. Add remaining yogurt and water, mixing well. Set aside.

Prepare the Pakora Batter (see below).
Heat ghee or olive oil in a large heavy fry pan or sauce pot over medium-high flame. Add chopped onions, ginger and a dash of salt, and sauté until onions are beginning to brown. Add poppy seeds, cayenne, turmeric, salt and cumin seeds. Sizzle for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Now add the chopped tomatoes. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes are soft and saucy. Add the remaining ingredients and a little water as needed to prevent scorching. Stir and simmer for about 8 minutes. The key to a really great masala is to cook it long enough. This takes patience!

On a separate burner, heat a wok or heavy frying pan with 2 cups of vegetable oil for frying the pakoras.

Add the yogurt-besan mixture and mix well. Keep the heat medium-high until the mixture is heated through and starts to bubble. Then lower heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the curry sauce is simmering, cook the pakoras. Add the cooked pakoras to the curry sauce during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.

Pakora Batter
1 1/2 cups besan
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. cayenne (more to taste)
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup water (approximate)
1/4 cup grated or finely chopped, peeled gingerroot
2 cups vegetable oil for frying

Combine besan and spices in a medium mixing bowl. Add just enough water to make a smooth paste. Gradually add more water until it is the consistency of a thick pancake batter. Add gingerroot and mix well.

Drop by teaspoonfuls into hot oil (350-375°) and fry until golden brown on all sides. When done, remove with slotted spoon and set to drain on absorbent paper towels. Let oil heat up again between batches. For a nice variation, chop an eggplant into 1/2″ dice, coat with batter, and fry as above. Now add the pakoras to the cooking curry sauce and simmer for 10 minutes.

Black Chana with Mustard Oil
Also called “black garbanzo” beans, chana is actually dark brown, and much smaller than the yellow ones you are probably familiar with. For this recipe, there is no substitute! Chana is available in Indian markets and can also be ordered online (along with black salt and mustard oil) from Namaste.com.

1 lb. (about 2 1/2 cups) whole chana
2 quarts water
1/3 cup olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped
8 cloves garlic, finely chopped
1/3 cup chopped, peeled gingerroot
2-3 serrano chilies, chopped (or use 1 jalapeno chili)
1 tsp. ground black pepper
2-3 tsp. black salt
1-2 Tbsp. mustard oil

Pick through beans for debris and rinse well. Soak beans overnight (or several hours) in water. Drain beans and discard water. Place beans in 4-quart pot and add enough water to cover by 2 inches. Bring to boil, and simmer for at least 2 hours. In the alternative, you can cook them overnight (or all day) in a crock pot/slow cooker and have excellent results. They do take a long time to cook. They must be tender! When beans are done, let them sit in their liquid until the masala is ready:

For the masala, heat olive oil in a wok or heavy fry pan over high flame. Add onions and fry until becoming soft and lightly golden. Now add garlic, ginger and chopped chilies. Stir and add pepper and 1 tsp. of black salt. Add 1 cup of liquid from the cooked beans. Lower heat and simmer for about 8 minutes, until the masala is very well done and saucy.

Drain the beans and mix with the masala. Add remaining black salt and mustard oil. Cook together for about 5 minutes. If you like a stronger mustard flavor, add more mustard oil in small amounts. Cooking the mustard oil reduces its flavor.

For a saucier version, reserve 1-2 cups of the bean broth. Blend the broth with 1 cup (or more) of cooked beans until a smooth puree. Combine this with the chana-masala mixture.

Lemon Rice
A lively tangy dish that makes a wonderful complement to Pakora Curry and Black Chana. I also enjoy Lemon Rice with the simplest steamed or sautéed veggies.

1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium onion, sliced in thin crescents
1 tsp. lemon zest (or thin slices of lemon rind)
1 1/2 tsp. turmeric
1 1/2 cups basmati rice (or other long-grain rice), carefully cleaned, rinsed and very well drained.
2 3/4 cups water
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
1/2 tsp. salt

Heat oil in 2-quart sauce pan. Add onion and lemon peel and sauté over high heat until onion is browning. Add turmeric and sizzle, cooking another 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly. Now add rice and continue to cook, constantly stirring and scraping bottom of pan to prevent scorching, until rice is lightly toasted (2-3 minutes). Add water, lemon juice and salt. Bring to boil. Cover and turn heat to very low. Let rice steam, undisturbed, for 8 minutes. Remove from heat (keep lid on!) and let sit another 5-8 minutes. Remove lid and lightly break apart rice with fork.

For variety, when rice is cooked and still hot, add any of the following:
1/4 cup of finely chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup diced roasted red peppers
1 cup cooked peas

© 2001 Siri Ved Kaur Khalsa

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Written by Siri-Ved Kaur Khalsa

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