9 October 2013

GUEST BLOG: Spice age

By guest blogger SIOBHAN KELLY

The group who had booked onto Harjinder’s Vegetarian Punjabi Extra session at Chorlton High School last Saturday got to make a feast of fabulous dishes. On the menu was Smoked Aubergine (Bhartha), Lentil Tarka Dhal, Paneer and Spinach Curry (with a pea variation), and rotis (using atta dough).

The session started with Harjinder’s now famous Spice Tin (pictured) talk - it has been featured on national television: BBC's Hairy Bikers Mums Know Best and ITV's Cook Me The Money. We spent a lovely 10 minutes listening to Harjinder’s tales of childhood cooking, her family history, the values of certain spices: paprika, tumeric, red chilli flakes, kala masala (you won’t find this in the shops) and a very special garam masala mix, and we had a chance to smell and taste some of these.

Next, Harjinder demonstrated how to make atta dough for the roti later on, then the aubergines were prepared for the Bhartha: rubbed with oil and put on the hot tavas to cook, giving a smoky flavour, then dropped into cold water so the charred skin could easily be removed. The flesh was then cut and mashed into pieces and set aside before being added to the flavours: cumin was fried in hot oil, before onion was added, then ginger, tomatoes and chillies, and it was all finished off with fresh coriander.

The room was now a hive of activity! For the Paneer and Spinach Curry, diced paneer was added to fried cumin and put to one side. Onion was fried, then garlic and ginger were added, followed by fresh tomatoes. The paneer, green chillies and spices were added, before freshly chopped spinach and bay leaves (picked fresh from my garden that very morning), completed the dish.

The Lentil Tarka Dhal was made by first preparing the dhal with red lentils, water and tomatoes, plus a mix of spices: fresh ginger, chilli, fenugreek leaves and fresh coriander. As it was covered and left to cook, we made the tarka by toasting cumin seeds, adding oil, frying onions and asafoetida powder and adding to the lentils. This is one of my favourite recipes, and is always in my freezer, so it is ‘on tap’ in my house.

Harjinder demonstrated roti-making with such ease - but, as she says, she has been practising this skill since she was a small child! It is a work of art to watch. Tables were then cleared and set for lunch - it was time to relax, chat and reflect while enjoying the products of a busy morning and afternoon in the kitchen. It was a real feast of colour, flavour, and taste, with dishes which complement each other perfectly. This combination of dishes was a delight to eat - I never tire of Tarka Dhal and Harjinder's magical Garam Masala mix really makes the dish. Recipe sheets were then given out for the participants to take home and share with friends and family. 

There will soon be a complete photo album on the official Cracking Good Food Facebook page. 

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