Warming recipes for curry week from Hari Ghotra
With National Curry Week set to warm our way into winter from October 10, Kate Whiting heads to the home of chef Hari Ghotra, for a masterclass in simple Indian cooking
"INDIAN cooking is not about chucking in the chilli and seeing how hot you can get it, it's about the layering of flavours," says Hari Ghotra as she stirs the mouthwatering deep red masala sauce for her Thari Wala Chicken.
Into her cast-iron pot, we've added onions and garlic that have been cooked until they're a dark golden brown ("Onions are so important for that depth of flavour," she says), a tin of plum tomatoes ("Not chopped, because the gravy's better"), ginger, salt, turmeric, coriander stalks and, of course, chilli.
A self-taught home cook and soon-to-be executive chef at the Soho sister restaurant of Mayfair's Michelin-starred Tamarind, Ghotra is passionate about Indian food and is on a mission to enable everyone to cook a curry from scratch for themselves.
"It's healthy, wholesome, really flavoursome and you can cook it at home quite easily," she says, when we sit down to a sumptuous feast of samosas, aloo gobi (potato cauliflower vegetable curry), cumin rice, the chicken curry and red lentil dhal (Ghotra's hangover cure, "It brings me back to life").
Ghotra started out teaching Indian cooking classes at evenings and weekends when she went back to work part-time after having kids (she has two, aged nine and 11).
The 40-year-old is a shining example of how hard work and tenacity can make your dreams come true. Her parents came to Britain in the 60s and for them, it was "never an option that food would be a career" for their daughter.
She studied biology and worked as a microbiologist, then took a degree in marketing and worked for Tesco, until her husband, seeing how much she enjoyed teaching her cookery classes, bought her the Hari Ghotra domain name, designed a logo and had business cards made for her one Christmas. Her website (www.harighotra.co.uk), full of recipes and videos of Ghotra revealing how to make them, soon caught the attention of the Tamarind Collection and she's spent the last 18 months training at the Mayfair restaurant under chef Peter Joseph.
Ghotra learned to love cooking and Indian food by "following my mum around the kitchen": "Food for my parents was very important, because it would have been another thing that they left behind, they tried desperately to hold on to their culture and roots. I come from a very working class family, so it's very basic food, authentically cooked, the way my mum had been taught by my grandma."
She is an advocate for home-cooked Indian food being "one of the healthiest meals you can have".
"You have your carbs, rice or roti, lentils, a veg dish, a meat or fish dish and some form of yogurt or salad or chutney, so there's a lot of freshness in there and they represent all of those key food groups. It's not about loading up your plate, it's about having little portions of each. I'm really anti fad foods, it drives me insane. Just control the volume and cut out rubbish."
Try the recipes below and discover more at www.harighotra.co.uk.
:: THARI WALA CHICKEN
8 pieces of chicken (4 legs cut into thighs and drumsticks)
For the masala:
2tbsp of oil
2 onions, finely diced
3 cloves of garlic, finely chopped
400g plum tomatoes
1 heaped tbsp of ginger, grated
Handful of coriander stalks, finely chopped
1 chilli, finely chopped
1tsp of garam masala
Handful of coriander leaves, chopped
Skin the chicken, removing any excess fat. (If you would rather cook the meat off the bone, use trimmed chunks of thigh meat and cook for 15-20 minutes).
Heat oil in a pan and add the onion and garlic. Fry on a high heat for a few minutes then reduce the heat and cook gently for about 20 minutes until they turn a lovely dark golden brown. If they stick to the bottom of the pan, add a dash of hot water as and when required.
Once browned, reduce the heat and add the tomatoes, ginger, salt, turmeric, coriander stalks and chilli. Let the onions and tomatoes melt together creating a thick aromatic masala paste. This will take five to 10 minutes so be patient. Once the paste is shiny and thick, add the chicken pieces and stir to coat.
Turn the heat up and fry the chicken for five minutes.
Reduce the heat to the lowest setting and put the lid on the pan. Leave to cook for 20-25 minutes, until the chicken is cooked and the meat is starting to fall away from the bone.
Once cooked, add enough boiling water to just cover the chicken and cook for another few minutes, then remove from the heat. Stir in the garam masala, throw in the coriander and serve.
:: MASOOR DI DHAL (Red Lentil Dhal)
For the lentils:
200g red lentils, washed
900ml water (approx.)
1tsp of salt
For the masala:
1tbsp ghee or vegetable oil
1tsp of cumin seeds
1 bay leaf
1 small onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, chopped
2 tomatoes, finely chopped
1tsp ginger, grated
1 chilli, finely chopped
1tsp fenugreek leaves
1tsp of garam masala
1 or 2 whole chillies
Handful of coriander, chopped
Place the lentils in a pan with the salt, cover with the water and bring to the boil. Remove the froth, reduce the heat and put the lid on the pan – leave to simmer for 10 minutes. Check the lentils are cooked by squeezing them between your fingers. Once soft, remove from the heat.
In a frying pan, heat the ghee or oil. Using a fork, pierce the whole chillies and add to the pan with a bay leaf and the cumin seeds. When the seeds sizzle, remove the chilli and set to one side for your garnish.
Add the onion and garlic and fry until lightly browned. Reduce the heat and add the tomatoes, ginger, turmeric, fenugreek and the chopped chilli. Gently let the ingredients cook down for about 10 minutes to make a thick masala paste.
Add a ladle full of the lentils (dhal) to the masala paste in the frying pan and stir together, then empty all the contents back into the pan with the lentils and stir. It should have the consistency of a thick soup but if it's too thick, just add a little boiling water and remove from the heat. If you prefer it thicker, just leave it on the heat to reduce until you get the consistency you want.
Check the seasoning and add a little salt if required. Stir in the garam masala, coriander and top with the whole chillies to serve.