Spice Up your Culinary Repertoire – Mridula Baljekar is the best-selling author of numerous, award-winning, Indian cookbooks. She’s appeared as a guest chef on Channel 4, BBC2, UKTV Food and Sky One, has her own product range of award-winning chutneys, and set up Mridula’s Cookery School, in partnership with the Berkshire College of Agriculture, (offering the public the opportunity to learn the secrets involved in creating delicious Indian cuisine).
Her latest book, Indian Vegan & Vegetarian, (recently published by Lorenz Books £20, hardback) draws on the very best plant-based recipes from around the country, many of them naturally vegan anyway. She introduces the different regions of the continent, then takes the reader through the wide range of components and utensils, group by group: it’s a veritable encyclopaedia of Indian recipe ingredients. She then takes one on a journey around the different regions presenting a mouth-watering array of dishes: lentils cooked a myriad of ways from mustard with cumin to spiced butter; kebabs made from lotus roots, coconut, and wild fig; spiced yam fingers and plantain curry; all manner of stuffed vegetables and breads. And, of course, there are pilaus, bhajiyas, samosas and chutneys bursting with flavour.
At a time when we are all being urged to eat more plant-based foods, this book will inspire even the most hardened carnivore! Here are some of her recipes to inspire you to invest in the complete book.
Bread Fritters Double Roti Ke Pakore
Sold by street vendors in north India, these vegan fritters are an ideal way to liven up stale bread and are irresistible eaten hot, straight from the pan. Store-bought sauces are used to make a quick and easy snack or appetizer, but you can vary the fillings.
45ml/3 tbsp chilli sauce
5ml/1 tsp mint sauce
15ml/1 tbsp mango chutney, mashed to a pulp
6 large slices of slightly stale white bread, crusts removed
115g/4oz gram flour (besan)
2 fresh green chillies, finely chopped (seeded if preferred)
1 Mix together the sauces and chutney in a bowl. Spread the mixture evenly over 3 slices of bread. Top each slice with the remaining bread to make 3 sandwiches. Cut each sandwich into 4 triangles or squares.
2 Combine the remaining ingredients, except the oil, in a mixing bowl and gradually add 175ml/6fl oz cold water. Stir until you have a thick batter of coating consistency.
3 Heat the oil in a wok or other suitable pan for deep-frying over a medium heat. Test that the temperature is right by dropping a little batter into the oil. If it floats quickly to the surface without browning, it is ready.
4 Dip a triangle into the batter, using your fingers or two forks. Make sure it is coated with batter all over, including the edges. Lower the triangle into the hot oil and fry for 3–4 minutes, until crisp and browned. Lift out using a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper.
5 Repeat the dipping and frying process with the remaining sandwich triangles. Serve immediately with sauces of your choice.
Leeks with Bell Pepper, Chilli and Gram Flour Jhunko
Traditionally, in this recipe, a large amount of sliced onion is sautéed with spices and chillies, and gram flour is added at the end to soak up all the juices. The mixture is then stir-fried until the gram flour releases its nutty, toasted aroma. I have used leeks instead of onions for a slightly more subtle flavour, although both work very well.
60ml/4 tbsp vegetable oil
2.5ml/½ tsp black mustard seeds
5ml/1 tsp cumin seeds
450g/1lb young leeks, finely sliced
1 small red bell pepper, cut into 2.5cm/1in strips
1 Heat the oil in a heavy pan over a medium heat. When it is smoking hot, throw in the mustard seeds, followed by the cumin seeds.
2 Add the leeks, red pepper, turmeric, chilli powder and salt. Increase the heat slightly and stir-fry the vegetables for 4–5 minutes.
3 Sprinkle the gram flour into the pan and stir-fry for a further minute. Remove from the heat and serve.
Baked Cashew Nut Diamonds Kaju Burfi
An extremely popular sweet dish found all over India, these tasty cakes are flavoured with delicate cardamom. Kaju Burfi is very simple to make: a soft dough is formed from a mixture of ground cashew nuts, sugar, and ghee, then flattened and baked in the oven. They are delicious served at teatime or after dinner with coffee or tea.
225g/8oz raw cashew nuts
100g/3¾oz/ caster/superfine sugar
15g/½oz/1 tbsp ghee or unsalted butter, or a vegan alternative
2.5ml/½ tsp ground cardamom
1 Put the cashew nuts in a small heatproof bowl and pour over enough boiling water to cover. Soak for 20 minutes.
2 Drain the cashew nuts and place in a food processor or blender. Blend until a smooth paste forms, then transfer the paste to a large mixing bowl.
3 Add the remaining ingredients to the bowl and knead the mixture carefully, until it becomes smooth and buttery in texture.
4 Preheat the oven to 160°C/325°F/Gas 3. Line a baking sheet with well-greased baking parchment and spread the mixture on it to form a 20cm/8in square. Bake in the middle of the oven for 35–40 minutes, until lightly browned on the surface.
5 Remove the baking sheet from the oven and allow the mixture to cool for 15 minutes. Remove the burfi from the baking sheet and cut it into 16 diamonds or squares.
Cook’s Tip: Ghee is the Indian version of clarified butter (i.e., butter that has had its moisture and milk solids removed, making it clear) and is traditionally made with buffalo rather than cow’s milk. It has a nuttier flavour and darker colour than standard clarified butter and a higher burning point, which means it is good for frying. It is available in tins or jars and should be stored in the refrigerator, where it will keep for up to 6 months.