Archive for the 'Entertaining' Category

The Big 8 – The only curry recipes you’ll ever need!

More Spices

Been a bit quiet on the blogging front lately… I really must get more “Oirish” recipes on here, but I’ve been on a serious Indian buzz lately. Cooking Rick Stein/Mumrez Khan’s Lamb Karahi has taught me some great lessons about making curries. It’s taught me that if you have a good base recipe of onions, garlic, ginger and tomatoes, you can create many different Indian dishes. Using the “Rick Stein” base, I’ve been reading up and experimenting with many different dishes, tweaking ingredients along the way.

I’ve come up with a “Big 8” list of curries – all the curry recipes you’ll ever need. I’ll post each of the following dishes over the next few weeks. These are all dishes which I’ve cooked many times over, all of the time making improvements here and there.

I don’t strive for complete authenticity with these recipes, but these recipes are close enough to what you might find on the sub-continent. Believe me, these recipes are vastly superior to most of the rubbish you get in Indian restaurants – pre-cooked meat swimming in oil and vast pots of “base” sauce which they ladle with abandon into nearly all of their dishes. This “base” is the reason nearly all of their dishes taste the same. Forget them – once you see how easy it is to cook delicious Indian curries at home, you’ll never visit the “Star of Bengal” again.

Here are the recipes, stay tuned over the coming weeks:

  • Tadka Dal buttery and delicately-spiced lentils with tomato, lemon and fresh coriander.
  • Chicken Korma a rich curry with dried fruits, toasted nuts and lots of fresh green chillies.
  • Kashmiri Lamb Rogan Josh a traditional gravy with highly aromatic spicing – cardamom, fennel and saffron.
  • South Indian Lamb Curry robustly flavoured with mustard seeds, fresh curry leaves and coconut. If you only try one of these dishes, make it this one.
  • Goan Beef Vindaloo a traditional Goan specialty – sour & fiery hot – for chilli aficionados only!
  • Vegetable Makhanwala a rich, creamy gravy flavoured with kasoori methi, similar in flavour to the Butter Chicken recipe.
  • Chicken Saag chicken cooked in a lightly-spiced spinach sauce, makes a great contrast to tomato-based curries.
  • Butter Chicken (Murgh Makhani) based on a Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall recipe, this is a rich and spicy sauce enriched with butter, honey and cream.

Here are some general curry-making tips you might find useful:

  • Casserole – I treat all my curries like stews or casseroles – long, slow braising in the oven. I cook all meat curries in a large, deep cast-iron casserole (Le Creuset). This means I can use one pot for frying onions and spices, then I can transfer the entire dish to a low-moderate oven (about 160°C) where it cooks slowly. Cooking in the oven gives a more even result and reduces the risk of burning or boiling over.
  • Meat – When cooking lamb curries, I nearly always use shoulder cut. I find it takes about 2½ hours cooking to achieve the texture I want – very tender, able to break a cube of meat with a spoon.
  • Masala – I prepare all masalas/ingredients in advance. These curries take very little time to prepare so it’s best to have everything ready to hand. I generally mix two masalas for each curry – one made from whole spices and one comprising ground spices. The whole spice masala requires prior frying in oil, the ground spice masalas can be added directly to the gravy.
  • Caramelised Onions – I start off each of my sauces in the same way. Fry onions. Whizz browned onions along with garlic, ginger and tomatoes. Fry whole spices before adding gravy. Add ground spices and meat along with any other flavourings.
  • Sugar – tinned tomatoes (and some fresh varieties) tend to be rather sour, so I like to sweeten the dishes slights with a little palm sugar (available from Asian food stores). Light muscovado sugar would make an acceptable substitute if palm sugar is unavailable.
  • Oil – ignore any assertions that you have to use huge quantities of oil or ghee (an Indian clarified butter). While not exactly health food, these recipes contain relatively small amounts of oil and taste great.

Leek & Potato Soup with Truffle Oil

This is a thick and rich soup, perfect for winter. It also makes a great starter for a dinner party; just serve it in small portions as it is quite rich. The truffle oil makes this soup even more luxurious, but you can easily leave this out. You can also use less cream if you prefer a lighter soup.


  • 50g butter
  • 3 large leeks
  • 2 white onions, chopped
  • 3 large potatoes, cubed
  • 2 sticks celery, chopped
  • 1 litre chicken stock
  • 200ml single cream
  • ½ tsp truffle oil (optional)
  • salt & pepper


  1. Remove the green portion of the leeks and wash thoroughly. Slice the white part of the leeks.
  2. Heat the butter in a large saucepan and add the sliced leeks, along with the potatoes and celery. Add a good pinch of salt and cover the saucepan. Cook on a low heat for 10 minutes until the vegetables have softened completely.
  3. Add the chicken stock and whizz using a stick blender. Simmer gently for 5 minutes then stir through the truffle oil and cream. Season to taste with salt and plenty of freshly-ground black pepper. Garnish with a drop of truffle oil or a blob of cream and some finely chopped chives.

Serves 4.

Gin & Cranberry Fizz


Here’s a great cocktail to serve at Christmas. I made this recently after discovering the recipe in GoodFood magazine. I like to serve cocktails in pitchers – it saves all that faffing around with measures and cocktail shakers.  Put plenty of ice in a pitcher and add 150ml gin, 300ml cranberry juice, some mint leaves and a bottle of sparkling wine (or champers if you’re feeling flush). Add some mixed berries for an attractive garnish. Very tasty and no fuss.

Chai – Masala Tea

At the beginning of the twentieth century, the majority of Indians did not know how to make a cup of tea and were reluctant to drink one. Now that India is both the world’s major producer and consumer of tea, this seems incredible. It confounds the myth that the British acquired their love of tea from their Indian subjects. In fact, it was the British who introduced tea to the Indians. Although they barely changed the way Indians eat, the British radically altered what they eat and drink.  While the introduction of a wide variety of European and American vegetables to India was an inadvertent by-product of British rule, the conversion of the population to tea-drinking was the result of what must have been the first major marketing campaign in India. The British-owned Indian Tea Association set itself the task of first creating a new habit among the Indian population, and then spreading it across the entire subcontinent.

Extract from “Curry – A Biography” by Lizzie Collingham.

If like me, you tend to “over-indulge” when you eat Indian food, chai is a great option for dessert when you’re too full, but you still want to satisfy that sweet tooth. The fragrant spices are infused in boiling water and milk before the tea is steeped. Chai is also believed to be great for tummy upsets and generally aiding digestion.

Even if you’re not accustomed to taking sugar in your tea, don’t skip on the sweetening. You need it to bring out the warmth and flavour of the spices.


  • 350ml water
  • 100 ml milk
  • 5 cardamom pods, lightly crushed
  • 5 black peppercorns
  • 3 cloves
  • ½ tsp fennel seeds
  • piece of cinnamon stick (about 5cm)
  • slice of ginger root (about 2cm thick)
  • 1 tsp tea leaves (black tea)
  • 1-2 tsp sugar


  1. Heat the water, milk, ginger and spices in a saucepan and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and leave simmer gently for 15 minutes.
  2. Take off the heat and add the tea leaves. Leave to stand for 3 minutes before straining into a mug and sweetening to taste with a little sugar. A teaspoon or two should do it.

Serves 1.

Salse Verde

Salsa Verde

Salsa verde makes a great accompaniment to fish or chicken. Absolutely addictive. Just blitz the following ingredients (apart from the grain mustard) in a food processor and season to taste with salt and freshly ground black pepper.


  • ½ clove garlic
  • 1 tbsp capers
  • 2 handfuls flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 handful fresh mint
  • 1 handful fresh basil
  • juice of ½ lemon
  • extra-virgin olive oil (enough to give a sauce consistency)
  • 2 tsp grain mustard

Cheese & Pineapple Sticks – The Comeback

I’ve been doing some googling on Cheese & Pineapple Sticks, you remember those? They were trendy in the 80s, before we all discovered Nigella and disappeared up our own arses.

I found a good article printed in The Independent (UK) where chef Mark Hix,executive chef of Le Caprice and The Ivy, offers some trendy updates on the cheese and fruit theme. Suggestions include “Manchego with Membrillo paste” and “Stilton with Port Jelly”. Check out Mark’s suggestions here.

Tom Kha Gai

Let’s just say there’s a lot of basil being used in the “Toasted Special” kitchen these days. I’m trying to cope with my first ever glut, and I’m not having a great deal of success. Like I said in a previous post, I sowed a generic variety of basil because it was too late in the year to sow the Genovese variety, at least according to the instructions on the packet. The basil I have is very different, probably closer in flavour to Thai basil, than Italian. It’s got a distinct citrus flavour, so I figured it would work nicely in some Thai influenced dishes. I’ve been making this soup for a few years now, it’s the classic example of how “hot, salty, sour and sweet” work together in South-East Asian cooking. It’s purely a matter of taste, so adjust the lime juice, sugar and fish sauce as you see fit.

I make no apology for using a bought Thai curry paste. I use an authentic brand from Thailand called “Mae Ploy”. If you’re in Dublin, you can get it the Asia Market or Fallon & Byrne. (No prizes for guessing where it’s cheaper!) They contain only natural ingredients and if it’s good enough for Thai people, it’s good enough for me!

Tom Kha Gai


  • 2 free-range chicken breasts
  • 750ml chicken stock (cube is fine)
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 1 small courgette, chopped
  • 2 sticks celery, finely chopped
  • 2 tbsp Thai green curry paste
  • 400ml can coconut milk
  • 1 red chilli pepper, thinly sliced
  • 1-2 limes, juiced
  • 2 tsp sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce
  • fresh coriander
  • fresh basil


  1. Bring the chicken stock to the boil, then add the chicken breasts. Cover the saucepan, reduce the heat and leave to simmer very gently for about 10 minutes while you get on with making the rest of the soup.
  2. Heat some oil in a heavy saucepan and fry the onion until it’s just starting to colour. Add the rest of the chopped vegetables and stir-fry for another 3 minutes.
  3. Add the green curry paste and stir-fry for a minute or two to coat the vegetables in the paste.
  4. Remove the chicken breasts from the hot stock and add the stock to the spicy vegetables. Slice the chicken breasts thinly and add to the soup along with the coconut milk.
  5. Add the red chilli, lime juice sugar and fish sauce then simmer for 2 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning if necessary. You probably won’t need any salt because the curry paste will be salty enough.
  6. Chop a handful of fresh coriander and basil and mix into the soup, then serve.

Serves 2.