For many of us, Indian food conjures up images of a naughty but nice takeaway with all the trimmings, or a quick and calorific curry ready meal.
But chef Dipna Anand is determined to prove that there are healthy ways to enjoy all your favourites, from tandoori dishes to Bombay potatoes, without sacrificing flavour.
“A lot of people think Indian food is oily and greasy, and it can’t be made without a lot of butter and ghee, but that’s not the case at all,” says the 30-year-old, whose family has run the award-winning Brilliant Restaurant in Southall, West London, since the Seventies.
“You can still make, for example, a fantastic chicken tikka masala without using the butter and oils and fats. As long as you balance the spices, that’s what gives the dish its flavour and taste.”
Anand was inspired to research low-fat Indian cuisine as a schoolgirl after her father, Gulu, had a wake-up call after suffering a heart attack.
“He was eating a lot of oily, greasy food, so I wanted to do something aimed at people who were controlling their weight but still loved Indian food,” she explains.
After landing top marks for an A-level project on the subject, the low-fat options were added to the Brilliant menu and, says Anand, “they took off”.
She’s now written her first cookbook, Beyond Brilliant, which features healthy dishes among its more than 40 recipes.
“Some of the recipes in the book date back 65 years, they were passed from my grandfather to my dad and now passed on to me,” says Anand, whose favourite inclusion is the tandoori lamb chops.
The Brilliant restaurant has welcomed its fair share of famous faces over the years, from Sir Cliff Richard to the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall.
TV chef Gordon Ramsay also featured the eatery in his 2010 series Ramsay’s Best Restaurant, and spent a day learning how to cook on the clay oven.
“It’s not the easiest station to work on in the kitchen, he left here with blisters on his arms, but he still did a fantastic job and he grafted,” reveals Anand, who insists the notoriously fiery chef wasn’t at all scary.
“He’s very passionate and very funny as well. He was swearing at times, but when it came to work, he was getting the orders out.”
When she isn’t working in the restaurant or running cookery courses, Anand plays cricket and indulges her other passion: shopping.
“I’m a compulsive shopaholic,” she confesses. “I love shoes, handbags, shirts, earrings, bangles, jewellery, everything!”
Anand’s family is at the heart of what she does, and there are photographs of them throughout her book.
“For the last 10 years my dad’s been saying, ‘Dipna you should write a book’,” she reveals. “There were tears in his eyes at the book launch - his dream was accomplished. Just to see that smile on his face, there can be nothing more rewarding than that.”
Want to try some of Anand’s dishes at home? Here are three recipes from Beyond Brilliant.
TANDOORI LAMB CHOPS (makes 12 pieces)
10 lean lamb chops
3 green finger chillies, made into a paste
1tbsp ginger/garlic paste
75g raw papaya (or unripe pineapple), made into a paste
11/2tbsp white vinegar
1tsp salt or to taste
3tbsp chopped fresh coriander for garnish
Spices: 1tsp cumin powder
3/4tsp turmeric powder
3/4tsp red chilli powder
1/2tsp white pepper powder
1/4tsp nutmeg powder
1/4tsp green cardamom powder (ground cardamom seeds)
Lightly slit the lamb chops on either side (three gashes on each side, not too deep).
Mix all the other ingredients together into a bowl thoroughly using a whisk.
Once the ingredients are completely combined together, add the lamb chops to the marinade and coat, using your hands to mix.
When the lamb chops are coated, leave in the refrigerator to marinate for at least 30 minutes, or preferably overnight for the meat to soak up the flavour better.
To cook the lamb chops, lightly grease an oven tray, lay the lamb chops flat on the tray and cook for about 25 minutes at 180C. Turn the chops over half way through cooking to cook evenly on the other side.
Serve and get stuck in.
CHICKEN BIRYANI (serves 4-5) 350g boneless chicken, cut into small tikka-sized pieces
300g basmati rice (washed, soaked for 30 minutes and drained)
1 medium-sized onion, finely sliced
4 green finger chillies, finely chopped or made into a paste
1 whole green chilli, cut into julienne strips
2tbsp ginger/garlic paste
125g Greek yoghurt
10 ginger julienne strips
2tbsp fried onions
1tsp red food colouring (liquid)
1tsp green food colouring (liquid)
2tbsp chopped fresh coriander
8tbsp vegetable oil
15g salted butter, cut into cubes
2tsp salt or to taste
1tsp kewda water (optional) - sprinkle as garnish at the end
1tsp rose water — sprinkle as garnish at the end
Spices: 8 cloves
6 black peppercorns
5 pods whole mace
4 green cardamoms
4 black cardamoms
3 small cinnamon sticks
3 dried bay leaves
11/2tsp garam masala
11/2tsp cumin seeds
1tsp red chilli powder
Finely slice the onion and leave to one side. Next, evenly coat the chicken with the yoghurt, ginger and garlic paste, red chilli powder, chopped green chillies, salt, garam masala, black peppercorns, mace, cloves, green cardamom, black cardamom, cinnamon and bay leaf. Leave to one side.
In a saute pan on a medium heat, add the oil and once heated add the cumin seeds, fry the cumin seeds for one minute in the oil and then add the sliced onions.
Cook the onions in the oil for about three minutes until golden. Add the marinated chicken spiced yoghurt mixture to the saucepan and cook for about four minutes.
Add the water to the saute pan, cover the saucepan and bring to the boil. Once the water is boiling, add the drained rice to the saute pan. Stir to even out and put the lid onto the pan.
After a minute, take the lid off, stir gently and put the lid on again. After another minute, do the same again. After another minute or so, the water will have been absorbed quite a lot. At this stage, lower the heat and slow cook for about 3-4 minutes with the saute pan lid on (gently stirring twice during this time).
Then sprinkle the ginger juliennes and green chilli juliennes on the top of the biryani, together with the fried onions and three cubes of butter and also the liquid food colouring (red and green of each colour, drops in random parts of the of pan) and cover the biryani with foil and saute pan lid (still on a low heat). Let the biryani steam cook for another two minutes. Do not stir.
Switch off the heat and leave in the pan for another five minutes
Remove the lid and the foil from the saute pan and add the final touches to the biryani: fresh chopped coriander and sprinkles of kewda and rose water.
Finally, gently lift the rice from sides of the saute pan to combine, using a flicking motion with a wooden spoon to open up and separate the rice grains. Be careful not to break the rice grains, then serve.
SPICED MANDARIN CHEESECAKE (serves 6-8)
2 x 298g tins or cartons of mandarin segments
For the base: 190g digestive biscuits
90g unsalted butter
Butter for greasing
For the filling: 400g cream cheese
120g icing sugar
300ml double cream
Zest of 1 orange
Spices: 1/2tsp green cardamom powder (ground cardamom seeds)
1/4tsp fennel powder (ground fennel seeds)
1/4tsp star anise powder (or some grated nutmeg)
1 whole star anise for garnish (optional)
Grease a 20cm spring-form cake tin with the butter.
Drain the mandarin segments and pat them dry lightly with kitchen paper. Leave to one side.
To make the cheesecake base, place the biscuits into a food processor and blend to form fine crumbs. Alternatively, crush in a clear plastic bag using a rolling pin to bang and crush. Melt the butter in a medium saucepan, add the biscuit crumbs and stir to combine. Cook for about two minutes.
Transfer the mixture into the cake tin and press over the base to spread evenly. This works best using the back of a dessert spoon to fill up the edges of the entire tin. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes to set, or the fridge if you don’t wish to eat the cheesecake straight away.
Beat the cream cheese in a large bowl and add the green cardamom, fennel and star anise powders. Sift in the icing sugar and grate in the orange zest.
In a separate bowl, whisk the cream until you reach soft peaks, and then fold it into the cream cheese mixture to combine.
Spread the mixture on top of the biscuit base using a palette knife to level out. Chill in the freezer for about 10 minutes.
When ready to serve, arrange the mandarin segments on top of the cheesecake in a pattern, moving around layer by layer.
Carefully remove the cheesecake from the tin and serve.