Mauritian Butter Bean Curry

I’ve been away for a while, enjoying the summer, but I haven’t been idle. I’ve been living in a camper van for most of the last two months so I have been experimenting with cooking with limited resources, as well as over coals (when the weather permitted). The break from the norm has led to some new ideas, some new discoveries, and has definitely made me a better cook.

My big discovery of the summer has been Mauritian cooking, courtesy of Shelina Permalloo (shelinacooks.com), winner of UK Masterchef in 2012, and her wonderful book ‘Sunshine on a Plate’. As she puts it: “Mauritius is a melting pot of cultures and [the] food reflects that, encompassing Creole, French, Indian, African, British and Chinese influences.” It’s also delicious!

I first made this curry eight weeks ago, and since then I have made it at least another dozen times. Everybody who tastes it, swoons. The difference is in the spicing, rather than use an Indian curry powder blend, the Mauritian version of curry powder is subtly but discernibly different. I have included a recipe for it, just click here.

It’s quick to make (though it does benefit from being left all afternoon to steep, or overnight if you can manage it), low calorie and filling. Did I mention that it’s delicious? It’s delicious!

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RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp ghee (or rapeseed oil)

1 large onion, finely chopped

3 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a fat, 3cm thumb of fresh ginger, grated

5-10 curry leaves

3 tbsp Mauritian curry powder

2 red birds-eye chillies, seeds in, chopped

2 medium, ripe tomatoes, roughly chopped

2 tbsp tomato puree

400ml chicken stock (or vegetable stock)

1 tin of butter beans, including the water from the tin, OR 200ml dried butter beans

flaky sea salt

the stalks from a bunch of coriander, finely chopped

the leaves from a bunch of coriander, to garnish


METHOD

If you are using dried butter beans, soak them overnight then cook them before doing anything else, they take a lot of time. To cook: place the beans in a large pan covered with 2cm of water. Bring to the boil over a medium heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until the beans are tender and creamy, checking after 1 hour and adding more water as necessary to keep beans submerged. They should be cooked within 1.5 hours.

Personally, I use a pressure cooker, which cooks them perfectly in around 20 minutes. However you do it, retain the cooking water to use in the dish itself.

To make the curry: melt the ghee in a large, heavy-bottomed pan over a medium heat then gently fry the onion until it is translucent.

Meanwhile, add some water to the Mauritian curry powder to make a loose paste. This will stop the powder from burning when it is added to the pan.

When the onions are ready, add the garlic, ginger and curry leaves and saute for a further 3 minutes.

*Tip: It seems that every time I read a recipe that calls for finely chopped or grated ginger it tells you to peel the ginger first. That is a huge waste of flavour. All I do is cut off any rough and dry bits on the outside and make sure that it is clean, then chop or grate it finely, skin ‘n’all.

Now add the curry paste, chillies, tomatoes and tomato puree, and cook for a further five minutes, stirring frequently.

Add the chicken (or vegetable) stock, and the butter beans together with their water. Simmer, uncovered, for a further 15 minutes until the sauce has thickened.

Now begin to season the curry with flaky sea salt. Do this properly and it will be transformed from excellent to mind-blowing. Add a small pinch of salt at a time, stir thoroughly and cook in for a minute or so. Taste, and repeat, until the flavours are jumping in your mouth. Turn off the heat and add the finely chopped coriander stalks.

If you can now leave it to steep for a few hours, or overnight, it will be even better. You can serve it immediately though, if you wish.

Garnish with the coriander leaves, alongside Basmati rice and a few simple roti.

To make this suitable for a vegetarian or vegan, use rapeseed oil instead of ghee, and vegan vegetable stock instead of chicken stock.

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Mauritian Curry Powder

The Mauritian version of curry powder is subtly but discernibly different from an Indian curry powder blend. Freshly made is always best, but this will keep in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place for a month without losing its vitality.

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RECIPE – Makes 10 tablespoons

40g coriander seeds

40g cumin seeds

20g fennel seeds

10g fenugreek seeds

1/2 small cinnamon stick

15 dried curry leaves

3 tsp dried chilli flakes

20g powdered turmeric


METHOD

Add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fennel seeds and fenugreek seeds to a very large, unheated frying pan (NOT non-stick). Over a medium-high heat, dry toast the seeds until they are aromatic. Keep a close eye on them, the line between toasted and burned is a fine one.

Tip the seeds onto a broad plate and allow to cool.

Using a coffee grinder (one set aside exclusively for grinding spices) grind the toasted seeds with the cinnamon stick, curry leaves and chilli flakes; you will probably have to do this in batches. Add the turmeric to the ground spices and mix thoroughly.

Store in an airtight jar in a cool, dark place.

Simple Roti

These simple, unleavened flat breads have no business being as delicious as they are. They are extraordinarily filling as well.

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RECIPE – Makes 10

300g plain flour

4 tbsp vegetable oil

1 tbsp fine sea salt

150ml water


METHOD

Combine all the ingredients in a large mixing bowl to form a soft dough. You may need to add a little more water, or a little more flour; the dough should be pillowy and slightly (but not excessively) sticky.

Leave it to rest in a lightly oiled bowl, covered with a damp cloth, for 30 minutes.

Divide the dough into ten equal balls, and on a lightly-floured surface press the balls into rounds as thin as you can make them.

Cook them, one at a time, on an extremely hot skillet very lightly brushed with oil, for 1 minute each side.

Keep warm, wrapped in a tea towel, in a very low oven until they are all cooked and you are ready to serve.

Chunky Butternut Mulligatawny

It may seem odd to make a hearty winter soup in the middle of summer, but the truth is that some things taste great all year round. This hearty one-pot supper is something I often make when I yearn for some spice but I’m short on time. It’s also an easy go-to when I am on a 5:2 diet day and need something filling and delicious in the evening; on those days when I limit my calorie intake, food like this makes them something to look forward to rather than a trial.

The nigella seeds are the ingredient that really elevates this dish, they are readily available in larger supermarkets or Asian shops so please don’t be tempted to leave them out. Also, please, please please make up your own curry powder, it makes an unbelievable difference. My recipe for curry powder is linked from the ingredients list below.

This recipe is suitable for vegans, in fact it makes a persuasive argument for embracing veganism.

Ostensibly, this recipe will feed four people, but very often I will make it for my wife and myself and we will polish off the lost between us. At only 212 calories per serving it is guilt-free gluttony!

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Picture Credit: BBC Good Food

RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

2 onions, finely chopped

2 apples, peeled and finely chopped

3 celery sticks, finely chopped

a small butternut squash, peeled, seeds removed, chopped into small pieces

3 heaped tbsp curry powder

1 tbsp ground cinnamon

1 tbsp nigella seeds

2 x 400g cans chopped tomatoes

1½ litres vegetable stock

150g basmati rice

small pack of coriander, leaves and stalks, chopped

zest and juice of a lemon


METHOD

Heat the oil in a large, heavy bottomed pan. Add the onions, apples and celery with a pinch of salt and cook gently for 10 mins or so under a lid, stirring occasionally, until softened.

Add the butternut squash, curry powder, cinnamon, nigella seeds and a grind of black pepper. Cook for 2 mins more, then stir in the tomatoes and stock. Cover with a lid and simmer for 15 mins.

By now the vegetables should be tender but not mushy. Stir in the rice, add the chopped coriander stalks, pop the lid back on and simmer for another 12 mins until the rice is cooked through. Taste and add more seasoning if needed.

Finely grate the lemon zest over the top, then squeeze the lemon juice over that, scatter the chopped coriander leaves over everything (don’t stir it!) and bring to the table to serve in bowls.

Roasted Red Pepper Chana Masala

I seem to have had no time at all to enjoy cooking for the past few weeks, it has been a steady diet of ‘what can I make quickly?’ without the pleasure of actually enjoying the process. Yesterday was no less busy but, starved of inspiration and looking for something satisfying for a 5:2 diet day, I stumbled across this forgotten gem in one of my notebooks.

Please forgive me, but it was stunning. It had all the freshness and vibrancy of the best restaurant dishes, and I put that entirely down to fresh ingredients and the use of appropriate garnishes. I made up a fresh batch of Masala paste for this, and I also used a generous amount of chaat masala sprinkled over the top at the end. Links to my recipes for both are in the ingredients list, please try them, they turn a great dish into a magnificent one, and all for around 400 calories per serving (using rice as an accompaniment adds more)

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RECIPE – Serves 3 

1 tbsp rapeseed oil

3 fat garlic cloves, finely sliced

3 tbsp masala paste

2 tsp nigella seeds

1 400g tin of chopped tomatoes

1 400g tin of chick peas

2 roasted red peppers (good quality from a jar is fine), in bite-size pieces

200g piquante peppers (from a jar)

a small bunch of coriander, stalks finely chopped, leaves picked

the zest and juice of half a lemon

1 tbsp chaat masala


METHOD

Place the oil and garlic in a large, cold pan and cook over a medium heat for a few minutes until the garlic has been gently fried to a light golden brown.

Add the masala paste and nigella seeds and cook out for a minute or two until deeply aromatic, then add the tomatoes, chick peas (including the water from the tin, it acts as a great thickener) and both kinds of peppers. Simmer for twenty minutes until the nigella seeds are soft. Add the chopped coriander stalks.

If you have the time, leave this to sit for a few hours while the flavours get to know each other. Otherwise, just before serving, finely grate the zest of half an lemon over the top, then drizzle the juice over the top. Evenly scatter the chaat masala over everything, then dress with the coriander leaves.

DO NOT STIR! Bring it to the table and lift up each spoonful from underneath to serve, by doing so you will preserve the intensity and integrity of each flavour. It makes a real difference.

Serve alongside plain boiled or steamed Basmati rice, an onion salad and a carrot and ginger salad.

Lighter Butter Chicken

I picked out Bill Granger’s book ‘Easy’ a few weeks ago, intending to cook just one dish, but I ended up making twenty and I could have cooked the entire book. The first and most important consideration whenever I cook is flavour, and Bill’s recipes deliver flavour in spades.

This dish is one that I have cooked a couple of times for lunch, though it is hearty enough to make an excellent dinner, and is definitely elegant enough to serve to guests. It’s quick and simple to make as well.

Traditional butter chicken is made with lashings of butter and cream, all that fat is what delivers the sumptuous flavour. Here, Bill has used cashew nuts and Greek yogurt to deliver the unctuousness. The man is a genius.

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RECIPE – Serves 4 

2 tbsp ghee (or groundnut oil)

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp masala paste

750g boneless chicken thighs, chopped into bite-sized chunks

1 tin of chopped tomatoes

125ml chicken stock

100g cashew nuts, ground into a fine powder

125g Greek yogurt

1 tbsp freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 tbsp caster sugar

To serve:

Basmati rice

naan bread

To garnish:

coriander leaves, chopped

Finely chopped onion

Lime wedges


METHOD

Heat the ghee in a large pan, then saute the onion over a medium-high heat for 6-8 minutes until soft and just starting to colour.

Add the masala paste. While stirring constantly, cook it out for a couple of minutes until aromatic, then add the chicken pieces and stir thoroughly so each piece is well-coated in the masala paste, then cook for a couple of minutes, stirring often.

Add the tinned tomatoes and chicken stock, stir to combine and bring to the boil. Reduce the heat and simmer gently for around  10-15 minutes until the chicken pieces are just cooked.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t already done so, blitz the cashews in a food processor (or bash down in a mortar and pestle) until they are a fine powder. Add to the simmering sauce and cook for at least 5 minutes; the sauce will thicken.

When you are ready to serve, remove from the heat and stir in the lemon juice, yogurt and sugar.

Garnish with finely chopped onion, chopped coriander leaves and lime wedges, and serve alongside Basmati rice and naan bread.

Indian Spiced Potatoes with a Crispy Fried Egg

Eggs and potatoes, yum. Eggs and curry, yum. Eggs and potatoes and curry, yum yum yum!

I made this for the first time last Sunday for lunch, then again on Monday, and yet again last night (Tuesday) as a side dish with a curry feast. I think it’s fair to say that I love it, that my family loves it, and I bet you will too.

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RECIPE – Serves 4

800g floury potatoes (Maris Piper, Roosters etc) peeled and diced into 1cm cubes

6 tbsp rapeseed oil

1 tsp black mustard seeds

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

a fat thumb of ginger, finely chopped

1 tbsp curry powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

25g unsalted butter

6 spring onions, trimmed and finely chopped

1 long green chilli, finely chopped

1/2 tsp coarse sea salt

1 tsp nigella seeds

4 large eggs

a small handful of curry leaves


METHOD

First, prepare the potatoes: bring a large pan of salted water to the boil, add the diced potatoes and simmer gently for 13 mins or until just soft. Drain in a colander and set aside while you prepare the spice base.

Mix the curry powder and turmeric with a little water to make a paste. This will prevent the spices from sticking and burning when added to the pan.

Heat 2 tbsp of the oil in a large frying pan then add the mustard seeds. Cook over a medium heat until they just start to pop then add the garlic, ginger and curry powder/turmeric paste. Cook for 30 seconds or so, stirring constantly until aromatic, then add the butter.

When the butter has melted, add another tablespoon of oil and the potatoes. Fry for 5 mins, turning often and taking care not to allow the potatoes to disintegrate.

Add the spring onion, chilli and salt top the pan, stir and toss together for a minute or so then scatter the nigella seeds over the top, mix and transfer to warmed plates while you cook the eggs.

Line the base of a large frying pan with baking parchment, as you would if you were lining the base of a cake tin. Drizzle 2 tablespoons of oil over the top of the parchment, heat the pan, break the eggs on top and fry for a couple of minutes until thoroughly cooked and the bottom of the eggs are starting to crisp. This is a great way to cook a fried egg under any circumstances.

Place an egg on top of each mound of spiced potato, heat a tablespoon of oil in the frying pan and add the curry leaves. Fry for a minute or two until dark and glossy, drain on kitchen paper and serve on top of the eggs.

Vietnamese Beef Curry

Because my wife is vegetarian I very rarely eat red meat, I don’t miss it because the vegetarian meals that we eat are delicious, and so I will eat steak perhaps once a year, and if I don’t, well… I don’t. After discovering this recipe though, I may well eat it more often.

I came across this recipe in Bill Granger’s excellent ‘Easy’ and I was intrigued to learn how Vietnamese curries differ from the Indian and Thai curries that I am so familiar with. The ingredients are all familiar, just in unfamiliar combinations: Indian curry powder (home-made of course), fish sauce and coconut milk. Rather than being served alongside the more usual rice, this beef curry is served with crusty French bread, a culinary echo of the long French history in the region. The combinations work perfectly together: the creamy coconut milk tempers the chilli heat, the fish sauce together with the beef stock adds a deep umami flavour, and I could eat the gravy-soaked bread all day.

My apologies to all those who like to read the vegetarian and vegan recipes I post here, but this meat dish was just too good to leave out. Normal service will soon be resumed…

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RECIPE – Serves 4

1kg rump steak, cut into 4cm cubes

1 onion, peeled, halved and finely sliced

4 fat garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a fat 3cm knob of ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsp curry powder

1 tsp turmeric

1 tbsp caster sugar

2 tbsp rapeseed oil

500ml beef stock

3 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

8 birds-eye chillies, left whole but slit down one side

2 carrots, peeled and sliced

500g potatoes, peeled and cut into chunks

400ml tin of coconut milk

1 long baguette


METHOD

Preheat the oven to 160C/ Fan 140C/ gas 3.

Toss the beef with the onion, garlic, ginger, curry powder, turmeric and sugar, then season well with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper. Ensure the meat and onions are fully coated. Seasoning the meat while it is raw is important, as it can more easily take up the seasoning at this point.

Cover and chill in the fridge for 15 minutes.

Heat the oil in a large shallow casserole dish over a high heat. Add the beef, in batches, and cook until it is browned on all surfaces. Remove and set aside once it has browned, while you cook the rest.

*Tip: Browning meat doesn’t seal it, as many think. Instead, searing over high heat caramelises the surface of the meat, which enhances the savoury flavour and fills the finished dish with complex layers of nutty caramel and coffee-like bitterness. This is called the Maillard Reaction and it is what makes meat quite delicious. Without searing, meat dishes can taste flat and boring.

Return all of the browned meat to the casserole, together with all the onions and spices, and add the stock, fish sauce, chillies, carrots and potatoes. Bring to the boil on the stovetop, then cover and transfer to the oven.

Cook for approximately 2 1/2 hours, or until the meat is meltingly tender. Add the coconut milk 30 minutes before the end of the cooking time.

Serve immediately with crusty bread and a big smile. I’m going back for second helpings now…

Thai Yellow Fish Curry with Coconut Rice

There are some dishes that encourage you to eat far more than you should, this is one of them. A rich, creamy yet – relatively – healthy mild Thai curry that is so moreish it should be a controlled substance. It’s the combination of coconut milk and rice, it is as warm and comforting as a hug from your mum.

As an added bonus, it’s almost as quick to make as a stir-fry, without all the chopping. It’s my new favourite dish.

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RECIPE – Serves 4

2 tbsp groundnut oil

2 tbsp yellow curry paste

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

400ml tin of coconut milk

1 tbsp fish sauce (nam pla)

1 tbsp soft brown sugar

6 kaffir lime leaves

300g green beans, trimmed into 3cm lengths

600g thick white fish fillets (cod, hake, haddock etc), skinned and cut into bite-sized pieces

For the coconut rice:

400ml tin of coconut milk

175ml cold water

400g long-grain rice

To garnish:

chopped coriander leaves

mild red chillies (optional)


METHOD

First, make the coconut rice: combine the coconut milk, water and rice in a saucepan, bring to the boil then reduce the heat to minimum, cover and simmer very gently for 12-14 minutes until the liquid has been absorbed. At this point, cover the rice again and set to one side for ten minutes while you start making the curry.

Place a large wok or frying pan over a medium-high heat and add the oil, when hot add the curry paste, coriander, cumin and turmeric. Stirring constantly, fry for a minute then stir in the coconut milk, fish sauce, sugar and lime leaves, then add the green beans with 50ml water.

Bring to a simmer and cook for 3 minutes, then gently add the chunks of fish and cook for a further 3 to 5 minutes, until the fish is just cooked and starts to flake. Serve alongside the coconut rice and your choice of garnishes.

Yellow Curry Paste

Curry paste is ridiculously easy to make, yet is unimaginably better than anything you can buy from a supermarket. It freezes well and will last for months, so you can make a batch as in the recipe below, divide it into portions of 2 tablespoons each, put into a freezer bag and you’ll always have the makings of a fast and delicious mild Thai curry.

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RECIPE – Makes approximately 5 servings

1 tsp white peppercorns

1 tsp coriander seeds

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coarse sea salt

2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tsp curry powder

1 lemongrass stalk, white part only, chopped

1 tsp dried chilli flakes

1 yellow pepper, de-seeded and chopped

1 small red onion, peeled and chopped

5 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

a 3cm knob of fresh ginger, finely chopped

2 tbsp groundnut oil


METHOD

Heat a small saucepan over a medium heat (NOT a non-stick pan), add the peppercorns, coriander and cumin seeds and dry-toast for a couple of minutes until fragrant. Be very careful not to burn them, turn them out onto a plate to cool before grinding to a powder in a coffee grinder reserved for that purpose, or in a mortar and pestle.

Place all the ingredients in a food processor and pulse until you have a thick, bright yellow paste. Easy!