Serve up the perfect curry with the help of Dan Toombs

By YA Reporter in Other News

CALIFORNIAN Dan Toombs’ introduction to British curry houses did not come until he was 22, when he worked in a pub in Croydon while on a student visa.

A few trips to the local establishment and he was hooked.

On his return to the United States, he scoured his home state for Indian food but his searches came up short. So, when he made a permanent move to the UK in 1993, the studious hunt for the perfect curry resumed - with Toombs meeting local chefs to find out their secrets, setting up his blog The Curry Guy and later starting his year-long curry challenge.

His debut cookbook, The Curry Guy, pools his knowledge from years of diligent curry-eating, and his quest, which he, his wife and three children took part in.

The variety of the cuisine put the family’s taste buds to the test and Toombs is convinced their success shows there’s a curry for everybody.

"One thing I say is that these recipes are the way I make them at home, but there’s no reason why you can’t do them however you want them,” says the enthusiast, who now lives in North Yorkshire.

"Sauces all have different heat levels. Madras is going to be hotter than a tikka masala sauce, but don’t not eat madras just because you don’t love spicy food - just don’t put as much chilli in it. There are so many nice flavours in each of those different sauces, there’s no reason why you have to ruin it for yourself.

"It’s really easy to heat up a curry - all you have to do is add chillies. But once it’s too spicy, it’s really hard to cool it down, so just be sensible with your cooking and you’ll be fine."

Here are a few of The Curry Guy’s recipes to try:

PRAWN AND PINEAPPLE

(Serves 2)

Give your dinner a tropical twist with The Curry Guy’s novel approach to summer dining.

INGREDIENTS

6 garlic cloves, unpeeled

1 pineapple

1/2 tsp roasted cumin seeds

4 fresh green chillies, very finely chopped

4tbsp chopped coriander, plus extra to serve

2tbsp rapeseed oil

1tsp mustard seeds

1/2 onion, finely chopped

1tbsp garlic paste

2 cassia leaves (also known as Indian bay leaves, available from Amazon)

1tsp ground cumin

1tsp chilli powder

1/2 tsp ground turmeric

1 tomato, chopped

2tbsp tomato puree

500g raw prawns, shelled and deveined

Juice of 1 lime

Salt

Naans or chapattis, to serve

METHOD

1: Roast the garlic cloves directly over a gas hob flame on a skewer or in a dry frying pan, turning them as they roast, until blackened all over. Set aside to cool.

2: Using a large, sharp knife, cut the pineapple in half lengthways and scoop out most of the flesh from the centre. Place the scooped-out pineapple in a blender, add the cumin seeds and half a teaspoon of salt, and squeeze the roasted garlic out of their skins into the blender. Blend to a paste then transfer to a bowl.

3: Add the fresh chillies and chopped coriander to the pineapple paste and mix well. Reserve two tablespoons for the curry and store the rest in the fridge until ready to serve.

4: Heat the oil in a large saucepan over a high heat and add the mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, reduce the heat to medium-high and add the onion along with a pinch of salt.

5: Fry until translucent and soft, then stir in the garlic paste and fry for a further 30 seconds.

6: Add four tablespoons of water, the cassia leaves, cumin, chilli powder, turmeric and the reserved two tablespoons of pineapple paste. Cook for a further two minutes then add the chopped tomato and tomato puree.

7: Throw in the prawns and stir into the sauce until cooked through. Check for seasoning and spoon into the hollowed-out pineapples. Top with chopped coriander and a squeeze of lime juice, and serve with the spicy pineapple paste, and some naans or chapattis.

MOUTHWATERING PAKORA

(Serves 2)

Here’s how to serve up an impressive platter of this favourite Indian dish at home.

INGRIDIENTS

250g boneless chicken breast, cubed or sliced

1/2tsp ground turmeric

1/2tsp carom seeds (also known as ajwain, available from Tesco)

3/4tsp garam masala

1/2-1tsp chilli powder, to taste

3/4tsp garlic and ginger paste (see recipe below)

2tbsp finely chopped coriander

White of 1 small egg

65g chickpea flour (or gram flour, available from Tesco)

Sparkling water

Rapeseed oil, for deep-frying

Salt

Lemon wedges, onion rings and lettuce, to serve

For the garlic and ginger paste:

(makes 15 generous tbsp)

150g garlic, chopped

150g ginger, peeled and chopped

For the garam masala:

(makes 18tbsp)

6tbsp coriander seeds

6tbsp cumin seeds

5tsp black peppercorns

4tbsp fennel seeds

3tsp cloves

7.5cm piece of cinnamon stick or cassia bark

5 dried cassia leaves (also known as Indian bay leaves, available from Amazon)

20 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised

2 large pieces of mace (available from Sainsbury’s)

METHOD

1: For the garam masala, roast all the spices in a dry frying pan over a medium-high heat until warm to the touch and fragrant, moving them around in the pan as they roast and being careful not to burn them. If they begin to smoke, take them off the heat.

2: Tip the warm spices onto a plate and leave to cool, then grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place and use within two months for optimal flavour.

3: To make the garlic and ginger paste, place the garlic and ginger in a food processor or pestle and mortar and blend with just enough water to make a smooth paste. Store in an airtight container in the fridge for up to three days and use as needed or freeze in ice cube trays.

4: For the chicken, place the meat in a large bowl and mix with the turmeric, carom, garam masala, chilli powder and a little salt, so that the meat is evenly coated. Let this sit for about 20 minutes.

5: Stir in the garlic and ginger paste, coriander and the egg white. Now start adding the chickpea flour a little at a time, coating the meat, adding a splash of sparkling water from time to time. Continue until all the flour is used up and it has the consistency of ketchup.

6: Heat enough oil for deep-frying in a deep, heavy-based pan or deep-fat fryer, to between 170C and 180C. Using a wire mesh spoon, slowly lower the pakora into the hot oil. You may need to fry in batches and cooking times will depend on the size of your chicken chunks, but it should take only a few minutes to cook through.

7: Serve with lettuce, onion rings and lemon wedges.

THE CURRY GUY’S SAAG ALOO

(Serves 2 as a main or 4 as a side)

Dan Toombs shares his recipe for this popular Indian dish

INGREDIENTS

2tbsp coconut or rapeseed oil

1tsp cumin seeds

10 fresh or frozen curry leaves (available from good supermarkets)

1 onion, finely chopped

1-3 green chillies, to taste

A pinch of turmeric

1tsp nigella seeds (available from most supermarkets)

2tbsp garlic and ginger paste (see below)

20 cherry tomatoes, halved

2 large pre-cooked stewed potatoes and 200ml of their cooking stock (see below)

200g fresh baby leaf spinach, blanched for 30 seconds, roughly chopped

1tsp garam masala (see below)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

For the garlic and ginger paste:

(makes 15 generous tbsp)

150g garlic, chopped

150g ginger, peeled and chopped

For the garam masala:

(makes 18tbsp)

6tbsp coriander seeds

6tbsp cumin seeds

5tsp black peppercorns

4tbsp fennel seeds

3tsp cloves

7.5cm piece of cinnamon stick or cassia bark

5 dried cassia leave

20 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised

2 large pieces of mace

For the pre-cooked stewed potatoes:

2tbsp rapeseed oil

1tbsp ghee (available from good supermarkets)

1tsp brown mustard seeds

1tbsp cumin seeds

3in piece of cinnamon stick or cassia bark

5 green cardamom pods, lightly bruised

3 large onions, finely sliced

2tbsp garlic and ginger paste (see above)

1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes

1tbsp Kashmiri mild chilli powder (available from Amazon)

1tsp ground turmeric

500g potatoes, peeled and each cut into 3

650ml water

1tbsp garam masala (see above)

Salt and freshly ground pepper

METHOD

1: For the potatoes, heat the oil and ghee over a high heat in a large saucepan, then throw in the mustard seeds. When they begin to pop, reduce the heat to medium-high and toss in the cumin seeds, cinnamon stick and cardamom pods, and temper (flavour) in the oil for a further 30 seconds.

2: Stir in the onions and fry for about five minutes until soft and translucent, stirring regularly, then add the garlic and ginger paste and let it sizzle in the oil for about one minute. Tip in the tomatoes, chilli powder and turmeric, and stir it all up nicely.

3: Now add the potato pieces and cover with the water. Cover and simmer until the potatoes are soft and cooked through (about 30 minutes). Sprinkle with the garam masala and salt and pepper to taste, and give it all a good stir.

4: For the saag aloo, heat the oil in a large wok or frying pan over medium-high heat. When it begins to bubble, add the cumin seeds and allow to sizzle until fragrant. About 30 seconds should do.

5: Now add the curry leaves followed by the chopped onion, green chillies, turmeric and nigella seeds and continue frying until the onion is soft and translucent. Stir in the garlic and ginger paste.

6: Add the cherry tomatoes and mix it all up well. Then, add the pre-cooked potatoes and their cooking stock and simmer for a few minutes until the sauce has thickened and the potatoes are heated through. Stir in the chopped spinach.

7: Simmer for another minute or so until you are happy with the consistency.

8: Sprinkle the garam masala over the top and season with salt and pepper to taste.

*The Curry Guy by Dan Toombs is published in hardback by Quadrille, priced £12.99. Available now

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