My colleague Antje loves Indian food. And the source of this love are her student years in Bradford and Norwich in the UK. And since I have been hearing, for a couple of years now, about these spectacular curries she learned to prepare, we finally set a cooking session. Well, I was totally redundant in the kitchen, as usual. But I was also very excited because I usually shy away from Indian food. For me that means spicy. Hot food and I don’t get along very well.
But Antje knows this so I trust her to do her magic in the kitchen. We picked out a recipe from a cookbook – she wanted to try something that we both think sounds nice. The cookbook was German, like Antje herself.
We start with boiling tomatoes for a few minutes, peeling the skins off thereafter, and cutting them in big chunks. Nice trick – make a cross on the butt of the tomatoes for easy peeling afterwards.
In the meantime, some eggs are swimming in hot water (according to the recipe, they must be hardboiled so we give them a good 10min swirl).
Indian food is all about the spices. And Antje has a lot of them. My favourite jar contained all kinds of herbs and spices whose names I don’t know, apart from good old bay leaves. What a beauty.
Antje takes out a package of garam masala, whole, which we need to grind. Did you know that coffee grinders have only two blades, while grinders for spices have four? Well, now you know.
And here comes Antje’s favourite pan – an authentic “karahi”. This is a traditional cast-iron wok (with very particular handles), which is specifically meant for cooking curries. And because iron tends to get rusty, before each use, oil needs to be rubbed onto the pan.
Then a few more ingredients – a couple of small onions, a skillet of garlic, and the hardboiled eggs rubbed with curcuma (also known as turmeric).
And we’re ready to start up the heat and pour some butter ghee (a special kind of Indian butter). Eggs go in first for a couple of minutes, then they are taken out to make room for the onion, garlic, a bay leaf and the garam masala.
Before I arrived, Antje had already prepared a very particular part of this recipe – ricotta cheese, baked in the oven for 30min. According to the picture in the cookbook, the pieces, when added to the pan, should remain consistent (as in, not melt). To be confirmed.
In went the tomatoes and some yoghurt, as well as salt.
Get those eggs back in. And add some colour. Beautiful green (frozen) peas.
As she was cooking, Antje was telling me that in her student days, cooking together was a big thing. Since a few people would share a dorm kitchen, they would often get together to feast. She was particularly famous for her German potato salad. As for Indian food, “the first time I tried Indian curry, it was disgusting,” she muses. “Because I hated coriander. But within a month I was addicted to curry.” Preparing curries had been mostly trial and error, she said. Sometimes they would ask in the Indian or Pakistani restaurants how to cook a particular meal or how to handle a specific product. “You cannot really get curry wrong. A bunch of ingredients go in and a bunch of spices, and something will come out of it. And it’s usually good.” Fair enough, I’d say!
Heat on low and it was the moment of truth – nice pieces of ricotta cheese or just a cheesy soup?
You may wonder, what about the rice? Yes, the rice. Antje is very practical and has a rice cooker which does real magic. However, not of the visually appealing kind, so I skip it for now.
In the meantime, as an added perk to our Indian meal, Antje prepared Lassi – a typical yoghurt-based drink. Her version included mango. Sweet, sweet mango.
With some water and through the mixer, and we got these beauties.
And it was time for our late lunch! The curry looked amazing.
Here’s the rice, for those of you who were worried.
This was a delicious meal. Antje spared me by adding just a bit of her extra hot chilli powder and it really was just the perfect amount of spicy for me. Evidently, that’s really not spicy for curry lovers.
As we eat, I ask Antje if she would like to visit India some day. “No, I’m terrified of snakes,” she says and her direct and very practical answer makes me laugh. Even so, for me her curry was a wonderful introduction to British-inspired Indian cuisine and Asian culinary practices in general. There is a whole world of food yet to be properly discovered. I feel like I started today.