Forget ringing for a takeaway or grabbing a jar of ready-made sauce, and try cooking Indian grub from scratch. It can be a lot easier than you think, as TV chef Anjum Anand tells Lisa Salmon.
Most of us love Indian food, but cooking it from scratch - well that just seems like too much hard work. But, it doesn’t have to mean hours in the kitchen, mixing and marinading, promises Anjum Anand.
The British-born TV chef and cookery writer - who was taught to cook authentic Indian food by her mother and many aunts, and whose passion for her family’s cuisine inspired her to launch The Spice Tailor range - is on a mission to bring dishes from the subcontinent up-to-date by making them easier to prepare while retaining their rich, spicy flavours.
As a busy working mum-of-two, Anand (42) is well aware that although many people love to cook, they don’t have limitless time to do it — and that’s the theory behind her latest book, Anjum’s Quick & Easy Indian, which is packed with the recipes she regularly cooks at home for her own family.
“The meals I cook are often simple, with lots of one-pot recipes, easy street foods, spice-laced sandwiches, salads and quick curries,” she says. “This book is a reflection of those meals.”
She doesn’t shy away from cheating.The book features a detailed list of time-saving ingredients, ranging from ready-cooked rice and pre-prepared crispy fried shallots or onions, to ready-made tamarind and date chutney and pani puri packets and kits.
“There are so many products you can buy that will help you cut down on time spent in the kitchen. The only question, really, is how much do you want done for you?”
She does as much as she can herself, she says, but admits to using time-saving ingredients all the time - but there’s no compromising on flavour.
“I think it’s better to cheat a little than not cook at all, and find myself turning to easier recipes with a possible cheat thrown in every now and then — life is busy,” she adds. “I imagine most people aren’t that different and look for decent and acceptable shortcuts.”
While Anand can, of course, cook a mean but quick curry, many of her dishes aren’t what you’d imagine typical Indian fare to be, and while spices are usually involved — although not so much in the desserts — the recipes often feature ingredients that aren’t especially traditional, such as ricotta, brioche, creme fraiche and chorizo.
“Ricotta is my quick and easy take on paneer — they are both fresh white cheese with little added external flavour or salt,” she explains.
The Italian cheese is softer than Indian paneer and contains more liquid, but can sometimes be used, particularly in baked recipes, instead of very fresh paneer that hasn’t been set. And, crucially, ricotta is much easier to find in supermarkets.
As for her dishes that contain the Portuguese sausage chorizo, like her Goan Chicken And Chorizo Stew, Anand points out: “Chorizo was first brought to Goa with the Portuguese many hundreds of years ago, and the Indian, slightly spicier version is used extensively in Goan food.”
Many of the ingredients used are, however, traditional spices and Indian mainstays, like tomatoes, garlic and onions, and she says she always has those, plus ginger, in her vegetable basket, as well as yoghurt, a block of creamed coconut and fresh coriander in the fridge.
“My larder has lots of spices, but really, if you have cumin seeds, coriander seeds or powder, turmeric powder, garam masala and red chilli powder, you can make a good curry.”
For those who don’t like spicy food, Anand stresses that the beauty of Indian cooking is in the flavours, rather than the heat, so you can simply make them as mild or hot as you like.
She’s particularly keen on keeping her dishes fresh and healthy, without compromising on flavour: “Most of us don’t cook with a lot of fat any more, and leave it to the restaurants to do heavier curries,” she says.
“This book is for everyday food for family and friends and most things are naturally healthy without being diet food. Even at mine, when we have friends over, I’m mindful that no one wants to leave feeling heavy, so don’t use too much oil, or I cook dishes where some are healthy if others are indulgent, so there’s a balance.”
She says it should probably take around 20-25 minutes longer to make a good chicken curry from scratch, with boneless cubes of meat, than to prepare one with a ready-made sauce.
“But it’s worth the effort in my opinion, as the resulting tastes are so much better,” Anand insists. “I do find once you’re used to the flavours of a well-made curry, you can’t go back.”
And to prove her point, here are three recipes from her new book for you to try.
Baked ricotta with chard (serves 5-6)
Softened butter, for the tin
2tbsp olive oil
1 1/2tsp cumin seeds
1 largish onion, finely chopped
5 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
150g chard, coarsely shredded
1/2tsp garam masala
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 egg, lightly beaten
500g ricotta cheese
Handful of pine nuts
Preheat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5 and place a baking tray on the middle shelf. Butter a 20cm round cake tin with a removable base.
Heat the olive oil in a large non-stick saute pan. Add the cumin seeds and, once browned, add the onion and cook until golden on the edges.
Add the garlic and cook for a minute or so. Stir in the chard, garam masala and some salt and cook for eight to 10 minutes, or until the chard has wilted. Remove from the heat.
Beat the egg into the ricotta until well blended, then stir in the vegetable mix. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding half a teaspoon of black pepper, or to taste. Pour the ricotta mixture into the tin, sprinkle over the pine nuts and place on the hot baking tray. Cook for 35 minutes, or until golden and set.
Goan chicken and chorizo stew (serves 4-6)
2tbsp vegetable oil
4 links fresh chorizo sausages, sliced
1 large onion, finely chopped
15g root ginger, peeled weight, grated
4 large garlic cloves, grated
1-2 green chillies, pierced with the tip of a knife
1 1/2tsp ground coriander
1tsp garam masala, or to taste
1tsp ground cumin
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 rounded tbsp plain flour
6 large skinless bone-in chicken thighs, trimmed of excess fat
250ml chicken stock or water
1/4-1/2tsp tamarind paste, to taste, dissolved in hot water
Heat the oil in a non-stick saucepan and add the chorizo. Cook gently on both sides until the slices release their oil into the pan. Remove with a slotted spoon or fork and set aside.
Add the onion and cook for six to seven minutes, or until soft and golden on the edges. Add the ginger, garlic and chillies and cook for one minute until the garlic smells cooked, adding a splash of hot water from the kettle if it starts to stick.
Add all the ground spices, seasoning and a small splash of water and cook for 40-50 seconds. Stir in the flour and, after a minute or so, add the chicken and stock or water and return the chorizo.
Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the joints are cooked through: pierce the largest chicken thigh at its thickest point, the juices should run clear. If not, cook for a few minutes longer, then check again. Uncover after 20 minutes and cook off excess liquid if it’s a little thin, or add water from the kettle if it’s a bit too thick.
Add the tamarind solution, taste and adjust the seasoning. I like to take the meat off the bone and stir it back in, but I leave that up to you. Serve hot.
Coconut souffle (makes 6)
375ml creamy coconut milk
3 rounded tsp salted butter, plus more for the ramekins
70g desiccated coconut, plus 25g more for the ramekins
60g caster sugar
5 level tsp cornflour
3 large egg whites
Good-quality coffee ice cream, to serve
A little ground cinnamon, to serve
Preheat the oven to 190C/gas mark 5.
Put the coconut milk, butter, the 70g of desiccated coconut and 30g of the sugar into a saucepan. Place over a medium heat and bring to the boil, then cook for a few minutes, stirring all the time.
Meanwhile, stir two tablespoons of cold water into the cornflour until smooth. Add this to the pan and return to the boil, stirring. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for five to seven minutes, or until the coconut mixture is thick. Leave to cool.
Place the egg whites in a food mixer and whisk until they hold soft peaks. Add the remaining 30g of sugar and whisk until the peaks are firm and glossy.
Quickly dry-toast the 25g of desiccated coconut in a small, dry frying pan until golden, watching carefully so that it doesn’t burn.
Butter six 150ml ramekins and spoon in the toasted coconut, tipping the ramekins to coat all sides. Tip out the excess.
Stir one quarter of the egg whites into the cooled coconut mix. Then add the coconut mix to the remaining egg whites and really gently fold the whole thing together with a large metal spoon.
Spoon the mixture into the prepared ramekins and level the surface with a palette knife. Run your thumb around the inner edge of each, making a small shallow indentation all the way round, then place on a baking tray and swiftly put into the hot oven, shutting the door quickly but gently.
Cook for 16-18 minutes, or until well risen and golden on the top. The souffles will rise before this time, but need the extra few minutes to cook through. Don’t open the oven door to check on them earlier, or they may sink.
Remove from the oven, place on plates and serve immediately with a small scoop of coffee ice cream and a dusting of cinnamon.