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Ruth Wallsgrove - 21 Feb 2018
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Dishes can use really quite a lot of cumin, cardamom and coriander seeds

My brother – along with all my male relatives older than me – has type 2 diabetes. He also lives in America, which means he has problems with food. The portions there are ridiculous, and they add sugar to everything including meat.

Trying to help him eat more vegetables and less sugar, I am encouraging him to turn to the cuisine of his youth – curries. Rice is much better for him than pasta because of its lower GI, and you can sneak an awful lot of vegetables into curry without him complaining.

It’s also so easy to eat vegan with Indian food. My favourite recipe book is the one I relied on as a young adult, Jack Santa Maria’s Indian Vegetarian Cookery (we all had it as students). Here are a couple of fool proof and delicious vegan dishes adapted from that for him.

Spices

To make it easy for him, I made him a basic spice mix: basically cumin, coriander and cardamom.  I like them all whole, but cardamom pods are chewy, so you can de-seed them; cumin doesn’t lose a lot in being used ground.  I would always use coriander seeds whole, since they are small and crunchy.  Dishes can use quite a lot of all of them. 

Don’t overdo nutmeg or cloves, on the other hand, but a bit of both are great.  Turmeric has a strong impact in colour and taste, so don’t use more than half a teaspoon in anything.  Whole or lightly crushed black peppercorns are also very good – crunchy rather than hard after a bit of cooking. My brother has developed a dislike of cinnamon because it’s overused in the USA, so I left it out, but an inch smashed up also adds to this.

Garam masala is a very useful mixed spice to add at the end, but I recommended he use powdered cumin than bought mixes to avoid cinnamon. A little mix of ground cumin acts like salt or general savoury addition.

I cook without any chilli, since our spouses don’t like it, and I have to say we don’t miss it in curries. Anyone who wants it hot can add lime pickle themselves – and I personally don’t use any salt in cooking, and lime pickle is also a hit of saltiness. Hot or unhot mango chutney is also very good with a pilau, especially if the latter doesn’t have a bit of sweetness (sultanas) in it.  Both are terrific along with raita served in little bowls with poppadums as a starter.

Pilau

1.5 cups basmati rice, ideally rinsed and soaked beforehand – drain well

3 cups hot water

A little plain oil

1 large onion chopped

Inch of fresh ginger finely chopped

Several cloves of garlic finely chopped

Ruth’s pilau spice mix – cardamom seeds removed from their pods, cumin seeds or powder, coriander seeds, others such as cloves and a little grated nutmeg

Turmeric if you want it yellow

Toppings: more fried onions, almond slivers, sultanas, chopped tomatoes, frozen peas to taste

Coriander leaves – I cut mine into fine pieces with scissors

Fry the onion in a large frying pan until just beginning to brown, then add ginger and garlic and a dessert spoon of the pilau spice mix. Once it smells good, add the rice and gently fry until rice is opaque. Add the hot water, bring to boil and then cover and simmer on a very low heat until the rice is cooked. Don’t stir the rice more than you need to get it all mixed together.

Mix in your toppings just before the end to heat them up. Chopped coriander leaves go on top last thing. 

Note: basmati rice requires 2:1 water to rice in general. Don’t stir if you can help it – it makes it soggy.

You can used ready minced garlic and ginger, but don’t be tempted to use powdered ginger.

Basic curry

A little plain oil

1 large onion chopped

Inch of fresh ginger finely chopped

Several cloves of garlic finely chopped

Ruth’s pilau spice mix

Turmeric if you want it yellow

A couple of chopped tomatoes

Mix of fresh veg – eg chopped carrots, potatoes, squash, green beans, spinach, added in that order

Water to make thick cooking sauce.

Coriander leaves cut fine

This is the same procedure as for pilau – fry the onion until very soft, then ginger, garlic and mixed spices.  Add tomatoes when it all smells fragrant.

Vegetables plus a bit of water to be added in order of cooking time – carrots and potatoes take longest.

Cook until done and sprinkle the coriander leaves on top just before you serve.

Note: a Southern India touch is to use coconut (I use a block or can) as a sauce. Also southern is tamarind – a little goes some way, but it’s a typical Southern flavour.

Potatoes

90% boiled and then cubed and fried in a bit of turmeric and cumin powder, these make an authentic-ish Indian potato side dish.

Dhal

Red lentils or yellow split peas cooked with chopped tomatoes, chopped garlic and ginger, and a bit of spice – try a little turmeric and mixed pilau spice to taste.

Raita

Full-fat yoghurt whisked with finely chopped cucumber, salt and pepper, plus a very little cumin powder. This would look fancy with a bit of paprika and chopped coriander leaves as a garnish.

3 Comments

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Kimm Fearnley

Love Indian cooking @Ruth Wallsgrove and always interesting to learn other methods.
My go to Indian base is either dry toasted cumin seeds crushed and set aside. Then onion gently cooked in rapeseed oil until golden and soft, grated fresh ginger, garlic cloves and fresh chilli cooked for a further 5 mins or so on a med heat. Then turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, chilli powder and a little salt cooked into a paste-like base.
Then I add veg, water etc.
At the end I sometimes add garam masala or just the toasted cumin. Plus fresh chopped coriander.
It can be used for fish too. X

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Ruth Wallsgrove

Kimm, just about identical to my thoughts! The Santa Maria book turned me on to whole spices: I always use whole cumin seeds too, but I also love cardamom pods, cloves and whole peppercorns myself. Especially in pilau -

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Ralph Pettingill

Thanks @Ruth Wallsgrove I'm really enjoying campfire encouragement to eat more veg..and Tasty Vegan is a lovely way to go..so I'll try this...

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