Mum’s vegetable kurma

Here in the UK, pretty much any “Balti”, “Tandoori” or “Indian” restaurant will feature a “Korma”. My general reactions to this word are (a) spelt wrong (b) wrong colour (c) tastes nothing like I remember it (if I decide to try it) (d) not coming back here again.

The kurma (right spelling) I do remember is my mother’s one and she often made it with chappati (unleavened whole wheat flat bread). As a child I remember not liking it very much – there was some flavour/spice in the dish I didn’t like.  It was only when mum gave me the recipe for kurma did I realise what it was – aniseed/fennel seeds. It is the same reason I don’t like Sambuca or liquorice. Yucky aniseed! There are always ways about things you don’t like – my solution here has been to use the smallest amount of fennel seeds I could get away with. And this time, I did like my mum’s kurma.

The recipe falls in the category of  “Over-the-phone” recipe which is more accurately an “over-SKYPE” recipe these days. The way it goes is this.

Me: Hi mum, I was thinking of Dish-blah that you used to make and wanted to make it.

Mum: Oh that – easy peasy (when you have made it for more than 30 years, sure)

Me: So, how do I make it ?

Mum: Chillies, coconuts, 10 more ingredients ………Got it ?

Me: Sure.

Mum: Do you want to write it down ?

Me: No, it’s all in my head

Growing up, mum always said to me that no one taught her how to cook. She just watched and learned. When it comes to recipes, I’ve never seen a single one written down by either my grandma or my mum. It is something that is communicated by word of mouth and remembered purely by repetition. So it is some sort of false pride deep inside me that says that if gran and mum can remember recipes, so can I. I try my best but in some cases, I have to resort to the neatly typed up recipes on my laptop. More recently of course, I have this blog to jog my memory. Enough blah,blah and now for the recipe.

Mum’s vegetable kurma

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Quick and dirty saffron pulao

I’ve been travelling for work and pleasure and hence my absence from the blog. I will post a couple of recipes to make up for my absence. The first of these was inspired by the Spanish saffron I got my hands on during one of my recent trips. Beautiful, long strands of saffron that impart a mild, yellow colour to rice and a wonderful and unique flavour too. For those of you who are unfamiliar with saffron, it is the most expensive spice in the world. Each saffron plant has upto 4 flowers and each flower has 3 strands of saffron and each strand has to be hand-picked from a flower. So when you go to the supermarket and see that 1gram of saffron costs 7 GBP, try not to balk.

Growing up, I almost never saw saffron until the time dad went to the Middle east for work and came back with some saffron. Mum used it mostly in desserts but it is also commonly used in flavouring and colouring savoury rice dishes. This pulao is no Spanish paella (pronounced pa-aye-ya) but there is taste in its simplicity. Also, it goes very well with a lot of curries – be they mild or potent. I’m afraid I don’t have a picture of the final product as we were really hungry and ate it pretty quickly. Hope you try this easy recipe and like it!

Strands of saffron on a bey leaf

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Cheat’s vegetable Malaysian curry laksa

Notice I say “vegetable” and not “vegetarian” laksa ? Well, there’s a reason for it and I wouldn’t want to lie. While I am a full-time vegetarian, there are some things for which I shift the Vegetarian line a little. Fruit jubes are one such item – it is a well known fact that they have gelatine in them but they are so yummy I cannot resist. My mother who is quite often a proselytizing (ha ha , big word ! It means the act of trying to convert others) vegetarian has a soft spot for fruit jubes. Of course, these days, pectin is used as a substitute but a couple of decades ago, it wasn’t so common, not even in India.

Curry laksa is another dish for which I slightly modify the definition of “vegetarian”. Those who have eaten laksa will agree with me that it is this amazing taste explosion. Once you’ve had a good laksa, you will crave for more. One of our favourite hangouts in Melbourne was a place called “Coconut curry house” that made some pretty awesome curry laksa. If you are ever there, you must try some. More recently, a Malaysian colleague of mine brought us over some authentic curry laksa. Her mum made the paste and she put it together. We thought it was super fantastic  and ever since that day, I’ve been wanting to make some myself. I am currently working on getting her to give me her mum’s recipe but it isn’t so straightforward. In a desperate attempt, I went to the one Malaysian store in this town to buy some laksa paste.

Turning the packet over for ingredients is something I do out of habit. Sure enough, in decent sized letters were the words “shrimp paste”. Of course, I went through the internal dialogue and emotional turmoil of “should I, shouldn’t I” and did look for a vegetarian version of the paste. I had no luck finding a vegetarian version and my craving won so I came back with the paste, some fried tofu, slender eggplants, bean sprouts and bok choy (Chinese cabbage). If I have offended you at this point, please don’t read on. My next recipe will be a 100% vegetarian I promise.

For a packet laksa, it turned out pretty well but given it is from a packet, it is a “cheat’s” laksa. The paste make a LOT of laksa sauce so be willing to share with friends and neighbours. I have two boxes frozen down for a rainy day. The current English summer is giving us plenty of rainy days so it shouldn’t be hard to find an occasion to eat more laksa.

Vegetable Malaysian curry laksa

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Carrot cake : Soft, moist, idiot-proof and almost vegan

I’d like to dedicate this recipe to Aunty K. She was the awesome-est neighbour ever. When we first moved to New Zealand, she was one of the first few people to befriend us. With 2 lovely kids and one more on the way, she welcomed us to the neighbourhood in more ways than one. She was an amazing cooking and of the ilk that everything should/can be made from scratch at home. From Malaysian chilli sauce to steam dumplings to cakes and cookies, we got to try them all.

I’ve always liked cooking and once I started baking, mum left it to me to do so. However, she didn’t like it very much when I spent hours in her kitchen baking a cake which I’d usually take into work as no one at home (but for me) really enjoyed cake that much. So, more often than not, all my baking adventures would move to Aunty K’s house. She was definitely my baking guru. Not only did I watch her and learn but she held my hand through many a disaster. I got a lot of recipes from her that I use 8 years on and will continue to do so. Unfortunately, they had to move so we no longer had them as neighbours.

This carrot cake recipe is Aunty K’s and every time I bake it, it gets eaten within a very very short interval of time, at work and at home. Most recently, my partner’s friend was having a birthday dinner to which we were invited. I decided to take a carrot cake along as a surprise. The original recipe calls for a lemon-cream cheese icing which is delicious but I was trying to be healthy. I used lemon yoghurt instead and served it with the cake. The birthday girl was very pleased and the 10 of us polished it off in a matter of minutes. Unfortunately, I didn’t have a camera to take pictures of the cake while we were eating it. I promise you it was good!

Do try it and tell me how it goes!

Three step carrot cake

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Watermelon and kefir cooler

I didn’t know what “kefir” was until recently. When I read the ingredients of it, it sounded very much like yoghurt or buttermilk. So I thought if smoothies worked with yoghurt and buttermilk, then they should with kefir.

The word “kefir” is Turkish in origin and it refers to a fermented milk drink. The fermentation came from these things called “kefir grains” which were essentially a combination of bacteria and yeast – the good kind of course. Don’t be grossed out because the commercially available kefir is made under controlled conditions and will feature acidophilus, bifidus and other probiotics. All these are jargon for the good bacteria that reside in your gut already and help you digest many foods. Without them, we cannot survive for long. The main visible difference between yoghurt and kefir is that kefir is a lot more watery and it has more of a tang to it that yoghurt. All the same, I find it rather refreshing.

Enough biology and onto the drink. It was one of those rare summer days in England and I had some watermelon that needed eating and a tub of kefir out of curiosity. So came about the watermelon kefir cooler.


Freshly made watermelon and kefir cooler

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