I simply could not live without Indian food - I cook it at least once a week. I grew up in (Northern) Germany when and where Indian food and spices were completely unheard of. The first time I was introduced to Indian cuisine was in the UK in 1988 when my then boyfriend (now husband) took my for my first meal at "an Indian" - and I was completely blown away by it! (I did try to eat the potpourri at the counter as well though - but we all learn from our mistakes...) So the next 12+ years in London were a culinary orgy of bhajis, brinjals and baltis - happy times! However this turned to a barren wasteland once we moved to Brussels - because there is not even a single HALF-DECENT Indian restaurant in the whole of Brussels - a city that is brimming over with numerous wonderful Thai, Vietnamese and Japanese restaurants and take-aways... (I would SO love to be proven wrong on this - so if any Brussels-dwellers have found "the mother lode", please let me know!) And that's why I love to serve Indian food to friends - especially non-English ones: it's just lovely to hear them exclaim: "Wow - I've never tasted anything like this before!"
Today I cooked one of my "usual" Indian lunch buffets for six: poppadoms with pickles and a lime-drenched salad, cauliflower pakoras, lamb rogan josh, pumpkin, red lentil and spinach dhal, naan breads and coconut and pineapple ice cream (all recipes to follow another time) - and my absolute long-time favourite: my version of chicken biryani. It's simply fantastic - and actually really easy: don't be put off by the (quite) long list of ingredients - everything can be done in stages: for example, I make the chicken curry at least a day in advance, then during the day I assemble the spices for the sweet and savoury liquids and let them steep at leisure. So here goes:
3 tbs of vegetable oil
thumb of ginger
3-4 cloves of garlic
300 – 450 g of cubed chicken (breast/thigh)
4 tbsp tomato puree
2 tsp tumeric
2 tbsp garam masala
Fry off the chicken in a bit of oil. Remove from pan/casserole.
Blitz the onions, ginger and garlic into a rough paste in a food processor. Fry in oil until soft, then add the spices for a few minutes. Add the tomato puree and simmer for a few more minutes. Add chicken and a few tablespoons of water and simmer again for 8 - 10 mins. The curry will smell quite “raw” and unrefined at this stage – that's perfectly normal as it will get finished off in the oven!
3 black cardamom pods (bruised)*
1 large stick of cinnamon
1 tsp fennel seeds
4 bay leaves
750 ml chicken stock
Put all the spices into sauce pan with the chicken stock and bring to the boil. Turn off the heat and leave to infuse.
4 tbsp milk
5 green cardamon pods (bruised)
saffron (I use two of the tiny little red containers of the powder – fine for this)
2 tbsp of rosewater
Mix together with a whisk.
300g basmati rice
Preheat the oven to 200°. Reheat the savoury liquid until hot. Sweat off the rice in your casserole dish until opaque. Add the chicken curry, then pour over the savoury liquid (you can pass it through a sieve but I like to leave the spices in). Pour over the sweet liquid into the middle, bring up to boil, seal with tin foil and lid and cook in the oven for 40 – 45 mins.
* I used to make this with the usual green cardamon pods which are perfectly fine – until I found the black ones one day in a Chinese supermarket and they do add another musky/earthy dimension to the dish!
Don't be alarmed when you pour the liquid into the casserole - it will look like a soup with no rice but trust me: it will absorb all the liquid!