Cabbage with five spices
(I'm not that wild about cabbage, but the spice mixture might be good with other vegetables.)
This recipe can also be made with cauliflower or red cabbage. Always use black mustard seeds in curries and stir-fries. Split mustard seeds, without their skin, are creamy in colour and are used in savoury pickles such as hot mango chutney.
• 1 tsp black mustard seeds;
• 2 tsp shredded ginger;
• 4 dried red chillies, deseeded, soaked in water and drained;
• 3 tbsp sunflower oil;
• 1 large onion, finely sliced;
• 300g cabbage, finely shredded;
• 2 tsps panch phoron (Bengal's equivalent of Chinese five-spice powder, which is used to flavour lentils, pulses or vegetables - to make it, mix equal quantities of cumin seeds, fennel seeds, fenugreek seeds, black mustard seeds and nigella seeds)
Put the mustard seeds, ginger and red chillies in a blender along with five tablespoons of water, then whizz to a fine paste. Set aside.
Heat two tablespoons of the oil in a pan and add the onion. Fry until golden, then add the cabbage. Stir-fry for a couple of minutes, until translucent, and sprinkle in the spices and salt. Add four tablespoons of water and cook, uncovered, until the cabbage is done but still crisp. Take off the heat and reserve.
Heat the remaining oil in a separate pan and add the panch phoron. When it crackles, pour the oil and the seeds over the cabbage. Mix well. Serve with luchis (fried puffy bread) or with rice and Bengali dal (sweet-and-sour lentils).
Spinach with cottage cheese
Indian cottage cheese is known as paneer. It is made at home by curdling full-fat milk and hanging up the milk solids in a piece of muslin to drain off all the whey. This dish can be found on the menu of most north Indian restaurants all over the world.
• 500g fresh spinach, washed and drained;
• 3 tbsp sunflower oil; 1/2 tsp cumin seeds;
• 150g onions, grated;
• 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste (made using equal quantities of each, whizzed in a blender until smooth - reserve some slivers of ginger for the garnish);
• 2 large tomatoes, chopped;
• 1/2 tsp chilli powder;
• 1/2 tsp garam masala;
• 225g paneer, cubed;
• 2 tbsp single cream
Put the spinach with some water in a heavy pan and cook, uncovered, on a high heat for about five minutes, until done. Cool slightly and whizz in a blender along with enough of the cooking water to make a thick purée. Set this aside.
Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed pan and fry the cumin seeds until they turn dark. Add the onions and fry until soft.
Stir in the ginger-garlic paste and tomatoes and cook on a low heat for about five minutes, until the tomatoes turn mushy.
Pour in the spinach purée, sprinkle in the spices and salt and stir well. Bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and gently add the paneer. Simmer for one minute and take off the heat. The paneer will soften in the heat.
Serve hot, swirled with the cream and sprinkled with slivers of ginger. This is great with a paratha (an Indian garlic bread) and slices of fresh tomato seasoned with salt and pepper.
Roti/chipati (everyday bread)
This is the most commonly made bread all over India. It is flaky and bland and makes a wonderful accompaniment to all the spice and herb flavours of a main dish. The art of making rotis is in getting the dough right and in the rolling out of perfectly round discs that are ready to roast.
• 450g wholewheat flour or atta;
• 2 tsps sunflower oil;
• warm water as needed;
• ghee or sunflower oil for brushing, if desired
Combine the flour and oil in a mixing bowl. Using your fingers, mix into a pliable dough with warm water. Knead for five minutes (the more you knead, the softer the rotis).
Divide the dough into portions the size of a lime. Coat lightly with flour, shape into a ball in your palm and flatten slightly.
Roll out into flat discs, 10cm in diameter, flouring the board as necessary.
Heat a griddle or shallow pan. Cook the discs on the griddle until the surface appears bubbly. Turn over and press the edges down with a clean cloth to cook evenly. As soon as brown spots appear, the roti is done.
Make sure that the roti is cooked evenly all over. Remove from the griddle and smear with ghee or oil, if using. Enclose the roti in foil to keep it warm. Cook all the rotis in the same way.
Serve warm - if serving later on, reheat them for a minute or so in a microwave or re-roast on a griddle just enough to heat them through.