India Express – Fresh & Delicious Recipes for Every Day – As any regular reader will know, I’m a great fan of Rukmini Iyer and her fabulous Roasting Tin series of cookbooks. (Apparently, in just five years, she’s sold over 1,500,000 copies globally – I’m not surprised!) She’s just published her most personal book to date: India Express – Fresh and Delicious Recipes for Every Day. It’s published by Square Peg at £22, hardback – perfectly timed for people to add to their festive gift lists.
Inspired by a conversation with her parents, who used to take mega train journeys when courting in India, talking about the amazing food they’d eaten on these trips, Rukmini went to India with them, recreating the journey from her mother’s hometown Kolkata (formerly Calcutta) to her father’s native Chennai (formerly Madras). Eating almost everything in sight and learning family recipes from east to south, the ‘Express’ in the title reflects the original train journey inspiration for the book (as well, of course as the speed and ease of the recipes). In keeping with her ethos of ‘minimum effort – maximum flavour’ Rukmini has created an amazing variety of Indian weeknight meals and weekend projects that need just a few store cupboard spices. The book contains one-pan curries, snack and brunch ideas, and a weekend project section for more ambitious cooks. The recipes are largely vegetarian and vegan, but that shouldn’t dissuade meat eaters from buying the book – and there are some authentic Bengali recipes including prawn and fish dishes, all woven through with family stories, adding a lovely personal note to this gorgeous book.
Here’s a tasty and easy recipe for cheese straws with an added flavour dimension, from the Snacks section of the book, followed by an all-in-one curry from the One-Tin Dishes section. Do try them; I’m sure it will inspire you to buy the book!
Cheddar, Cumin & Nigella Seed Straws
Makes: lots Prep: 15 minutes Cook: 15 minutes
“If you keep puff pastry in the fridge or freezer, you’re never more than 30 minutes away from a trayful of these excellent cheese straws. The shape is reminiscent of my favourite South Indian snack, murukku, which my grandmother could hand-twist and shape perfectly from scratch. But the flavouring reflects my all-time favourite Bengali snack, nimki – addictive little puff pastry-ish diamonds flavoured with nigella seeds. These cheese straws include nigella seeds, cheddar, and cumin seeds for an even more addictive snack – try to ignore plaintive looks from any resident canines.”
1 x 400g sheet of ready-rolled puff pastry
75g grated mature cheddar
1 medium free-range egg, beaten
1 heaped teaspoon of cumin seeds
1 heaped teaspoon of nigella seeds, plus a few extra for scattering
Preheat the oven to 200°C fan/220°C/gas 7 and line a baking tray with baking paper.
Place the puff pastry sheet on a lightly floured surface. For the flakiest cheese straws, you want the pastry to be a little thinner than how it comes pre-rolled from the packet, so use a rolling pin to roll it out evenly so it’s about 5cm larger on each side, and just under 2mm thick.
Scatter half of the pastry rectangle with the cheddar, cumin, and nigella seeds, then gently fold the other half over the top and press down at the edges. Roll the pastry briefly so it’s flat, then cut it into 1cm strips. Gently twist each strip several times before pressing the edges together in a bangle shape, and transfer to the lined baking tray.
Continue with the remaining pastry strips, and once they’re all on the baking tray, gently brush with the beaten egg wash. Scatter with a few more nigella seeds, then transfer to the oven to cook for 15 minutes until golden brown and crisp.
Cool for a few minutes on a wire rack and serve warm. Let any leftovers cool completely before storing them in an airtight container for up to 2 days.
All-in-one Aubergine, Tomato & Nigella Seed Curry
Serves: 4 Prep: 15 minutes Cook: 45 minutes
“This is my version of a spectacular Madhur Jaffrey dish that my mother makes: ‘aubergine in a pickling spice’. The original calls for the aubergines to be deep-fried before making the spiced tomato sauce – my mother has long since roasted off the aubergine pieces in the oven, but in this version, I go one step further, cooking down cherry tomatoes under the aubergine. I was delighted to find that this makes for an extremely low hassle, but no less beautifully balanced dish. “
6 baby aubergines, halved (or 2 large aubergines, thickly sliced)
2 teaspoons nigella or black onion seeds
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds, lightly crushed
1⁄2 teaspoon ground turmeric
1⁄2 teaspoon mild chilli powder
2 teaspoons sea salt flakes
3 tablespoons neutral or olive oil
Preheat the oven to a 180°C fan/200°C/gas 6.
Tip the cherry tomatoes, ginger, garlic, spices, salt and oil into a roasting tin or oven dish just large enough to hold the tomatoes in one layer, then add the aubergine pieces.
Mix everything well, then arrange the aubergine pieces on top of the tomatoes. If you like, use a sharp knife to gently score a crosshatch pattern into the cut side of the aubergine pieces and then gently rub in some more of the spice mixture. Transfer the tin to the oven and roast for 40–45 minutes until the aubergine is cooked through. Serve hot.