Archive for the 'Kitchen' Category

Chicken Tikka Masala

This is a cheats version of the classic Anglo-Indian dish, Chicken Tikka Masala. It’s cheaty because it doesn’t involve the separate preparation of chicken tikka. Nor is the chicken marinated in yoghurt and spices, it’s simply added to the finished sauce. This version is highly spiced and quite intense, almost veering into “Murgh Makhani” territory.

Essential to the success of this dish is the preparation of fresh garam masala. My own garam masala recipe leans heavily on the clove and green cardamom and the intense fragrance is ideal for this recipe. You’ll also need to source dried fenugreek leaves, often sold under the name “kasoori methi”. They have a very distinctive flavour and are an essential component to this sauce.

Fresh green chillies, whether whizzed up in the sauce or cooked whole in the sauce add a really vibrant flavour to the sauce, as does the inclusion of fresh coriander at the end of cooking. Health food it ain’t, with all that butter and cream, but it’s great as an occasional treat.


  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 3 tbsp garlic-ginger paste
  • 400g canned tomatoes
  • 3 tbsp yoghurt
  • 1 tbsp tomato puree
  • 1/2 tsp chilli powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 5 free-range chicken breast fillets, cubed
  • 400ml water
  • 80g butter
  • 100ml single cream
  • 1 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp fenugreek leaves, ground into powder
  • juice of 1/2 lemon


  1. Grind the cumin and coriander seeds to a fine powder and set aside.
  2. Heat the oil in a large casserole or pot. Cook the onions gently until soft and golden. This should take at least 20 minutes.
  3. Now add the garlic-ginger past and fry for another minute or two. Add a splash of water if the mixture is sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add the canned tomatoes and tomato puree and increase the heat slightly. Add the reserved cumin and coriander powders, paprika, chilli powder, yoghurt and stir-fry for about 5 minutes, adding a little water if necessary. This step is essential to cook out the raw flavour of the tomatoes and spices.
  4. Now remove the pot from the heat, add 400ml of water and whizz the sauce to a fine consistency using a stick blender.
  5. Return the pot to the heat and add the diced chicken. Allow to simmer gently for 25 mintes.
  6. Now time to finish the sauce – add the sugar, butter cream, lemon juice and fenugreek leaf powder. Simmer for another 10 minutes and check the flavour and consistency. If the sauce is took thick add another splash of water. I might add a little extra lemon juice, salt or sugar at this point – just adjust it to your own taste.

Serves 5-6.

Cashew Nut & Onion Paste

This paste is traditionally used to thicken and sweeten Indian curries. I originally made it to use in my Bombay Pantry Chicken Curry “clone”, but it could be used in any curry you wish, whether tomato-based or cream-based.

Just chop 1 medium-sized onion into large chunks and drop them into a pot of boiling water, along with 150g raw cashew nuts. (Don’t use the KP, roasted variety!) Cover and boil for 20 minutes. Drain the cashew nuts and onion and run under cold water until completely cooled. Then liquidise with 150ml of fresh water until you have a smooth paste. Add a little extra water if you need.

All-Purpose Garam Masala

Garam Masala is literally translated as “hot spice mix”, but the “hot” refers to the intensity of the spices and the heat they generate in the body – not the pungency we associate with chillis. The spice mix can be bought pre-prepared and there’s absolutely nothing wrong with it, but you should prepare your own if you’re doing a special dish. The flavour is so much better.

This is a more all-purpose spice preparation, a little less intense the the roasted version which I think it is better suited to meat curries like vindaloo or rogan josh. I orginally made this recipe for my Bombay Pantry Chicken Curry but it’s so good I now always keep this in my masala dabba. The addition of half a teaspoon of this masala at the end of cooking really brightens the flavour of any Indian dish.


  • 1 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tsp green cardamoms
  • 2 tsp cloves
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 brown cardamoms
  • 2 dry bay leaves
  • 3-inch piece of cinnamon stick

Grind the spices using a coffee/spice grinder and store in an airtight jar. The mixture will stay fresh for a couple of weeks, but freshly ground is always best.

Bombay Pantry Curry Sauce

Regular readers of the blog will be well aware of my obsession with Indian food. I’ve also previously declared my fondness for Dublin’s “Bombay Pantry” chain of Indian takeaways. It’s quite different from your regular curry takeaway – the sauces are lighter, fresher and much more fragrant than their competitors. I suspect the reason for this is the use of freshly ground spice and the absence of ghee in the cooking process. Ghee is an Indian clarified butter, widely used in North Indian cuisine, and although authentic, it does make sauces quite heavy. I also has quite an assertive flavour of its own when used in quantity.

The “Bombay Pantry Chicken Curry” is definitely their signature dish. I’ve been ordering this curry on-and-off for several years now and I love it’s flavour. I previously tried to reproduce the sauce with my South Indian Lamb Curry but the flavour was quite different. This recipe is a much closer copy of Bombay’s sauce. As a starting point, I made a list of observations about the sauce, based on years (!) of tasting experience:

  • judicious use of a flavourless oil (such as sunflower or groundnut), and definitely no ghee.
  • freshly-ground spices which have not been toasted, leaning heavily on the coriander, clove and cardamom.
  • deep-red colour suggesting the use of paprika or possibly Kashmiri chillies.
  • a nice coarse texture, careful use of the liquidiser needed.
  • use of whole spices (mustard seeds, coarsely ground coriander seeds) in the finished sauce.
  • liberal use of fresh curry leaves to provide that signature flavour.
  • deep tomato flavour and not too sour. Tomatoes also seem to provide much of the sauce’s consistency.

I then used the ingredients listing on the container of their curry sauce, currently available in Superquinn (and other outlets). The ingredients list provides the following information:

  • “Plum tomatoes” are the primary ingredient in the sauce. The inclusion of “Acidity Regulator” alongside the tomatoes tells us that BP use a commercial tinned tomato product.
  • The sauce appears to be thickened and sweetened with cashew nut paste. The sub-ingredients for this item are listed as “water, onions, cashew nuts”. So I would need to make a version of this. And here it is.
  • Vegetable oil is used, as I suspected.
  • “Ginger and garlic paste” again suggests the use of a commerical product and in in the volumes Bombay Pantry would be producing their curry sauce, this seems to make sense. Imagine peeling all those cloves of garlic?!
  • Garam masala is the first spice in the list, which could mean anything. Garam masala is a blend of fragrant spices which is typically used to season food at the end of cooking. The garam masala could include any combination of the standard spices. I opted to make my usual garam masala with more emphasis on the clove and cardamom. After some trial and error, I also reduced the amount of black pepper in the recipe as it was giving the sauce an intense heat which was not quite right. I ended up with a new garam masala recipe, prepared specifically for this sauce.
  • the inclusion of “dessicated coconut” in the ingredients is an odd one. There is no perceptible coconut flavour in the finished sauce but it’s is probably there to provide texture and maybe a little sweetness.
  • Some more species listed: “coriander seeds”, “paprika powder”, “mustard seeds”, “turmeric powder”, “chilli powder” and “curry leaves” in that order. I assumed a large amount of freshly ground coriader seeds and smaller amounts of the other spices. The curry leaves lend the sauce a very distinctive flavour, so generous use of these required.

After a few attempts, a bit of trial and error, I’ve settled on the following recipe. One day I’ll get around to doing a side-by-side comparison, but for the moment, I think it’s spot-on.

One unusual ingredient which may or may not be in Bombay Pantry’s curry is “bicarbonate of soda”. A small amount of this helps neutralise the acidity in the tomatoes and is essential to getting the right flavour. There is practically no acidity in the BP sauce which really helps to bring out the flavour in the spices. I tried several methods to balance the acidity including sugar, more caramelised onion, more cashew nut paste but they all took the flavour of the sauce in a different direction. I use 1/8 of a tsp of bicarbonate of soda as a guide, but if you decide to use more, remember to use tiny pinches.

Finally, here are some further tips for achieving success with this recipe:

  • you must use fresh curry leaves. The dried variety are completely tasteless and you will not give you the flavour this sauce requires.
  • the coriander and garam masala spices must be freshly ground. I’d highly recommend investing in a coffee grinder. A mortar and pestle will work in an emergency but requires a lot of elbow grease and will not give you the fine grind you’re after.
  • if you don’t want the bother of making cashew new paste, use 2 tbsp of ground almonds. It will make a pretty good substitute.


  • 2 tbsp sunflower oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 2 x 400g cans peeled plum tomatoes
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ¼-½ tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tbsp paprika
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 3 tbsp ginger garlic paste
  • 3 tbsp dessicated coconut
  • 1/8 tsp bicarbonate of soda
  • 2 tbsp cashew nut paste
  • 15 fresh curry leaves
  • 1½ tsp brown mustard seeds
  • 500-750ml water


  1. The first step, as always, is to brown the onions. Heat the oil in a large pot or casserole and fry the onions gently until they’re brown and completely soft. This should take about 20 mins.
  2. In the meantime, grind the coriander seeds using an electric coffee grinder or mortar and pestle, but leave a tiny bit of texture in the powder.
  3. When the onions are browned, add about one-third of the tomatoes and increase the heat slightly under the pot. Add the freshly ground coriander, garlic-ginger paste, garam masala, chilli powder, turmeric, paprika and salt. Stir-fry (called the “bhuno”) for around 2 minutes before adding the rest of the tomatoes.
  4. Add about 500ml water, then remove from the heat. Use a stick blender to blend the sauce to the desired consistency. Remember to leave a little texture in the sauce.
  5. Add the dessicated coconut, cashew nut paste, bicarbonate of soda, mustard seeds and curry leaves and leave to simmer gently for around 30 mins. Add extra water if the sauce is reducing too much. The sauce is now done, but the flavour improves greatly if allowed to cool overnight.
  6. At this point, you can add some diced chicken breast (or vegetables) and simmer gently for around 20 mins or until the chicken is cooked through. You may need to add a little extra water to prevent the sauce becoming too thick. Remember to taste before serving and adjust the seasoning with extra salt or garam masala.

I believe that covers everything… 🙂

Base Curry Sauce

Masala Dabba

There’s an enthusiastic bunch of curryholics over on whose passion is reproducing the kind of curry dishes you’d find in a common-or-garden British Indian Restaurant (BIR). It’s a great website, containing recipes and discussions for the full range of BIR dishes. You name it, it’s there: onion bhajis, chicken tikka masala and saag aloo. The hottest topic on the website, however, has to be the creation of a “base” sauce. Indian restaurants in Britain will not typically cook their sauces (or gravies) freshly with each order. Preparing a curry from scratch would be too time-consuming. Instead, they will use a ladle or two of “base” and add extra ingredients to customise the dish: pre-cooked meat, tomatoes, extra spice, lentils etc. Indian gravies need to cook for some time in order to develop their flavour, but the use of a base sauce allows the restaurant to produce curries in no time at all.

While I admire the dedication of these enthusiasts, I can’t help chuckling at the lengths they go to in order to replicate dishes at home which are designed by restaurants to made as quickly and cheaply as possible. Surely all of their curries must taste the same? For me, the appeal of Indian food is the diversity of dishes available to the adventurous diner. Having said that, I understand the appeal of having producing some sort of basic curry sauce as it allows you to freeze or refrigerate portions for convenience. After a busy day at work, all you need to do is add some chicken or vegetables.

The difference between my curry “base” and those used by “The Star of Bengal” is that my sauce is delicious on it’s own. But you can still customise your curry depending on the style you prefer. Some variations are given in the notes below. This recipe will make enough for 12-15 servings.

I’ve found that when scaling up a dish, it’s not a case of simply multiplying all ingredients by “x”. There are some special considerations. Salt and any of the stronger spices (such as black pepper, chilli and garam masala) need to be added judiciously or else they may dominate the base sauce. I find it best to tread carefully with these items and adjust the flavours before serving the finished dish.


  • 3 tbsp sunflower/groundnut oil
  • 2 tbsp butter
  • 1kg onions, chopped (about 4 very large onions)
  • 16 large cloves garlic, peeled
  • 100g root ginger, peeled
  • 2 tbsp of each of the following: ground cumin, ground coriander, turmeric, paprika,
  • 1 tbsp of each of the following: garam masala, dried fenugreek
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns, ground
  • 15 green cardamoms, crushed
  • 10 cloves
  • 4 black cardamoms
  • 6 x 400g canned tomatoes
  • 1 litre water
  • 1½ tsp sea salt


  1. Place a deep cast-iron casserole on the hob and heat the oil and butter. Cook the onions gently for around 30 minutes until soft and brown in colour. In the meantime, pre-heat the oven to 190°C.
  2. Chop finely or grate the garlic cloves and ginger. I use a mini-food processor for this.
  3. When the onions are brown and caramelised, add the garlic and ginger mixture and fry gently for a minute or two until softened. Add the ground spices and one can of tomatoes and stir-fry for a few minutes.
  4. Now remove the casserole from the heat and add the rest of the canned tomatoes. Using a stick blender, whizz the sauce until it’s very smooth.
  5. Put the casserole back on the heat and add the whole spices. Bring back up to a gentle simmer before covering the casserole and putting it in the oven for 1½ hours. I simply turn off the oven and leave the casserole in there overnight. Your reward is a sweet, deeply flavoured sauce. If you require a thinner consistency, just add some extra water.

Variations – Chicken and vegetables work best when de-frosting this curry sauce for a quick evening meal. Lamb and beef will take a little longer to cook, though that depends largely on the cut of meat you’re using. In my opinion, if you prefer meat curries it’s best to cook the sauce from scratch along with the lamb. Here are few of my favourite variations on restaurant and homestyle favourites.

  • Vegetable – my favourite because it’s so easy to prepare. Add two handfuls of diced fresh vegetables for each portion of sauce. Finish the dish with a dollop of natural yoghurt or some lemon juice.
  • Chicken – add a diced chicken fillet to each portion of sauce and simmer very gently until the chicken is cooked. Finish with a good sprinkle of homemade Garam Masala and a handful of chopped fresh coriander.
  • Coconut – you can make a creamy chicken or vegetable curries can by adding 200ml coconut milk 5 minutes before the end of cooking.
  • Saag – Make a spinach and chilli purée. Put 300g of spinach leaves in a large saucepan along with a splash of water. Place a lid on the saucepan and steam until the spinach has wilted down. Transfer the spinach to a liquidizer along with 2 chopped green chillies and any residual water from the spinach. Blend until smooth and add to the curry sauce. Add some dried fenugreek leaves and simmer gently for a few minutes. This makes an excellent addition to a chicken curry.
  • Madras – Add some extra chilli powder and the juice of half a lemon and simmer for 5 minutes.
  • Vindaloo – Adding lots of dried chillies, a slug of red wine vinegar and some cubes of fried potato. (Highly inauthentic of course, but delicious. Try this for a more authentic take on vindaloo.)
  • Dhansak – Add a portion of tarka dal, brown sugar, lemon juice and some cubed pineapple.

Serves 12-15.

Dal for Babies

Coconut Dal


  • unsalted butter
  • 1 medium onion, finely chopped
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • ½ tsp turmeric
  • ½ tsp ground cumin
  • ½ tsp garam masala
  • 225g red lentils
  • 2 tomatoes, chopped
  • 750ml water
  • 1½ tsp low-salt stock granules
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • fresh coriander (optional)
  • black pepper


  1. Rinse the lentils in plenty of cold water and drain in a sieve.
  2. Heat a knob of unsalted butter in a large saucepan. You can add a little oil to stop the butter burning. Add the onion and fry gently for about 10 minutes or until the onion is softened. Add the garlic and spices. Reduce the heat and fry for another minute.
  3. Add the drained lentils and stir to combine. Add the water, tomatoes and stock granules. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat. Simmer gently for around 25 minutes, stirring frequently.
  4. Add a little chopped fresh coriander and black pepper to taste.
  5. Allow to cool, then split into portions and freeze.

Jamie Oliver – Peter’s Lamb Curry

Curry & Rice

I take my hat off to Jamie Oliver. I’ve never tried a recipe of his where I wasn’t pleased with the outcome. His first book, The Naked Chef, has to be one of the most useful cookery books available. It’s worth the price of admission for the bread and pasta recipes alone. The curry recipes in Jamie’s latest books do tend to use ready-made curry pastes for speed and convenience. Nothing wrong with that, of course, I just prefer to make a ruby from scratch.

This recipe is extremely good, worthy of Camelia Panjabi herself. It’s adapted from his second book, “Return of the Naked Chef”. I thought it looked interesting and was tempted enough to try it last weekend. It’s quite similar to the base lamb curry I normally use, so I thought I’d adapt my own recipe to include Jamie’s “fragrant spice mix”. I’ve upped the amount of green cardamom in the recipe, as I love the flavour so much. The whole spices are toasted in a dry frying pan before being finely ground and added to the curry. I also cook the entire dish in the oven rather than cooking the lamb on the hob. It requires less babysitting, as I can just throw the casserole in the oven and forget about it.

Serve with some pilau rice and naan bread. Jamie recommends adding paneer to the curry, a type of Indian cottage cheese. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Jamie Oliver recipe without a final flourish of “fresh ‘erbs”, would it?

Masala Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp fennel seeds
  • 2 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tbsp cumin seeds
  • ½ tbsp fenugreek seeds
  • ½ tbsp black peppercorns
  • 1 clove
  • small piece of cinnamon stick
  • 10 green cardamoms

Curry Paste Ingredients

  • thumb-sized piece of ginger, peeled
  • 2 large red onions, peeled
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 2 red chillies

The Other Ingredients

  • fresh coriander & fresh mint
  • 2 tablespoons butter/oil
  • 2 x 400g tins of chopped tomatoes
  • 300ml stock
  • 1.5kg lamb, diced
  • fresh mint, handful
  • fresh coriander, handful
  • 300ml natural yoghurt
  • salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • lime juice
  • salt and black pepper


  1. Toast the whole spices for a minute or two in a dry frying pan until they release their aroma. Transfer to a spice grinder (or mortar) and leave to cool. Grind to a fine powder and set aside.
  2. Put the curry paste ingredients in a blender and process until you get a smooth paste. Add a little water if you wish.
  3. Heat a large casserole and add the oil/butter. Gently fry the curry paste and ground spices, stirring regularly.  Add the tomatoes and the stock and bring to the boil. Cover the casserole with a lid and place in the oven for one and a half hours to intensify the flavour.
  4. Fry the lamb pieces in the oil until coloured before adding to the curry sauce. Return the casserole to the oven and cook for around 2 hours or until the lamb is tender.
  5. Stir in the chopped fresh coriander and mint, then stir in the yoghurt.  Season to taste with some freshly ground black pepper and some lime juice.

Serves 6.


  • If you’d like take try some different curry recipes, I’d recommend my South Indian Lamb Curry as a good starting point. After that, try your hand at these! 🙂