Punjab (London)


Here’s my fourth review in a row of an Indian restaurant in London. After south Indian meals at Quilon and Malabar Junction and two rounds of the Cinnamon Club‘s take on contemporary pan-Indian cooking, here now is a meal featuring the north Indian food that most people outside India think of when they think of Indian restaurants. Yes, my friends, we’re at a classic curry house this week: Punjab. Located in the Seven Dials area, at the border of Bloomsbury and Covent Garden, Punjab is not, however, merely another curry house: established in 1946, and at the current location since 1951, it pre-dates iconic places like Tayyabs (opened in 1972) and Lahore Kebab House (a similar vintage); indeed, it claims to be the oldest north Indian restaurant in the UK. We walked by it after an outing at the British Museum a couple of weeks ago, and remembering a friend’s recommendation of it as a solid place, we decided to stop in. You’ll never believe what happened next!  Continue reading

Meatball Curry, Kerala Style

Kerala Meatballs
This recipe is taken from one of my very favourite Indian cookbooks, Mrs. K.M. Mathew’s Flavours of the Spice Coast. A classic, published in 2002 by Penguin India, though written/compiled over a long period of time before that, it contains a large number of recipes, non-vegetarian and vegetarian, from Kerala. I regard it with the same kind of affection I have for my copy of Marcella Hazan’s Essentials of Classic Italian Cookingand it is the only other cookbook on my shelves that I’ve thumbed through as often. That’s not to say that the two books are equivalent. For one thing, Flavours of the Spice Coast is not quite as comprehensive in its coverage of recipes. For another, it contains far less additional information on the recipes themselves (unlike in Vijayan’s The Essential Kerala Cookbook, you will not be told which community a particular recipe comes from). And finally, the recipes are not always terribly precise—you will sometimes get the feeling that a step or two might have been omitted or misheard in the transcription. Here’s the kicker though: every recipe I’ve made from this book has been dynamite. Buy it now, before going on to read the rest of this post; you won’t regret it.  Continue reading

Mutton Curry with Star Anise and Vinegar

Mutton Curry with Star Anise and Vinegar
I’ve been stuck in a rut with mutton curries of late. It’s a delicious rut to be sure, variations on this basic Bengali-style approach, but it’s good to change things up. And so I did. This is an improvized recipe not trying to follow any particular regional style. In fact, what I had in mind here is more Malay and Indonesian braised meat dishes with star anise playing a big role. It’s not that star anise is not used in Indian cooking (it’s a common component of garam masala) but it’s not quite as ubiquitous as cinnamon, clove or cardamom—at least not in the meat dishes I’m used to eating or cooking. It’s the presiding whole spice here, along with cardamom, especially aromatically, but the sweetness it imparts is cut by vinegar on the palate. No tomatoes are used, which results in a “darker” flavour profile. Anyway, I think it’s quite good: give it a go.  Continue reading

Rajma with Cauliflower

Yellow Indian Woman Beans w. Cauliflower
Between being in Delhi (and briefly, Hong Kong) and being back and reporting on meals in Delhi and Hong Kong it’s been a while since I posted a recipe. Here is one that is a riff on how I normally make rajma, or North Indian style red beans.

I don’t usually go about making rajma with cauliflower (though I have been known to make it with kale). This just sort of happened because I had some cauliflower in the fridge that was just beginning to brown and it needed to be used up. But the result was very good and so, like the kind and generous person I am, I am willing to share the recipe with you.

As always with my bean cooking this is made with my friend Steve Sando’s Rancho Gordo beans, Yellow Indian Woman beans, to be exact. Not sure what’s going on with the name of that bean but it’s an excellent bean and very well suited for rajma style preps as it holds its shape well and the pot liquor does well with spices.   Continue reading

Mutton Curry with Tomatoes

Mutton Curry with Tomatoes
I’ve previously posted a recipe for mutton curry in a typically Bengali style. Here now is a variation on that made with a lot more tomatoes (which are the source of the redness). It’s a very easy recipe, especially if you have a pressure cooker—but it can very easily be done on the stovetop or even in the slow cooker. By the way, in case you don’t know, when Indians say “mutton” we mean goat; you can just as easily make this with lamb or even beef; I wouldn’t suggest it with chicken as the lower cooking time with chicken may result in a sauce that’s dominated too much by the large amount of tomatoes used (over the longer cooking time on the stove-top, or over 30 minutes in a pressure cooker, with more richly flavoured meat, the tomato integrates well with everything else).  Continue reading

Mutton Korma

Mutton Korma
I often rail about the nut paste-laden, heavy dishes that have come to define Indian food for those who know it largely/only from Indian restaurants in the West; and so I am happy to present a recipe of my own that relies heavily on nut paste. Well, it’s not my recipe, really; it’s another recipe from the aunt I keep talking about, she who is one of the great cooks of the extended family (though perhaps in second place overall in my unofficial rankings). This is a recipe for mutton korma (mutton=goat for Indians) but there’s no reason you can’t make it with lamb or beef if that’s easier for you; or any reason why you couldn’t try to adapt it for chicken as well.

Before I get to the recipe (which, as you will see, is a bit of a cheat), a quick, unreliable note about “korma”. Continue reading

Roasted Pork Shoulder with a Masala Rub

Masala Pork Shoulder
My normal tendency with pork shoulder is to cube it and do something vaguely vindaloo’ish with it (see here and here). On Sunday, however, I was feeling too lazy to cut the shoulder up and didn’t really want to stand over the stove on another hot day. And so, I decided to marinate the whole thing and bung it into the fridge for a day and deal with it on Monday, forecast to be a much cooler day. I am happy to report that the weather did not play me false and that the improvized spice rub worked out really well. I did overcook it a little bit—I don’t do whole roasts very often and when I do, I don’t like pulling things out of the oven to stick meat thermometers into them; I play it by feel instead and sometimes it goes a little bit over. Not the end of the world, and the more capable roaster (such as yourself) will have no trouble getting that part of it fixed to your satisfaction.

Anyway, on to the pork!  Continue reading

Mutton Curry

Mutton Curry
In English English mutton is sheep meat (i.e. grown up lamb). In Indian English, however, mutton is goat (ideally kid). How this linguistic divergence came to be, I have no idea, but I am going to speculate that it may have something to do with the kitchens and tables of benighted English colonial types in India during the Raj. If you can either confirm or deny with confidence, please write in below. Anyway, mutton is one of the staple meats of India, though not eaten quite as widely as chicken, which is cheaper (if you’re interested in how meat eating in India is distributed by region and type, see here). And across the country there are many iconic preparations of it—and not just in biryani form (mutton is the meat par excellence for biryani, though you wouldn’t know this from Indian restaurants abroad).

Continue reading

Matar-Paneer

Matar Paneer
Yesterday you made paneer (you did, right?); now here is something to make with some of that paneer.

Matar-paneer (literally peas-paneer) is a fairly ubiquitous dish on Indian restaurant menus in the US but, as with almost everything on most Indian restaurant menus in the US, often drowned in cream. The recipe below is a version of the basic way in which it is made in most homes in North India: a tomato sauce with clean, bright flavours that offsets the paneer nicely, with the peas providing textural contrast.

It is a very easy recipe, calling for not very many ingredients, most of which you probably have on hand, with a very light touch with the spices. Continue reading

Spicy and Tangy Pork

Pork
Along with some friends we recently purchased half a steer headed to slaughter. It was a fairly large animal and even after processing and dry-aging for about three weeks our share of the meat came to about 80lbs. I’d purchased a very large freezer to hold the meat easily (the last time we did this our regular freezer was overwhelmed) and it is so big that 80 lbs of beef barely took up any room in it. So, of course, I went out and got half a pig (being able to do this kind of thing on a whim is among the few benefits of living in a semi-rural part of the upper Midwest). The goddamned freezer still seems less than half full and we have a lot of beef and pork to eat. Luckily, these are all animals raised without hormones and antibiotics and in fairly “humane” conditions. Anyway, all this is to say that those of you interested in my recipe posts can look forward to a fair number of beef and pork recipes in the months ahead. (And goat and lamb too—this is a monstrous freezer indeed.)

First up, here’s a version of a spicy and tangy pork dish that I have been making to some acclaim for about 10 years now. The exact ingredients are never quite the same and I vary the consistency of the gravy from time to time, but insofar as it is constant it’s a rough pass at versions of some pork dishes I’ve eaten in the homes of family friends from southwestern parts of India. So it’s not a specific regional recipe; but, to blow my horn twice in one paragraph, it is very good. Try it; you will like it. And if you have the ingredients it is very easy to pull together. Continue reading

Everyday Chicken Curry

Chicken Curry
A while ago I posted a recipe for a “hybrid” chicken curry that I more or less improvised. Today I have a recipe for the basic chicken curry that is eaten in homes all across north India. I don’t mean to suggest that there is (only) one identical chicken curry eaten in homes all across north India, only that these curries (and this one) are members of the same closely related family, with a bit of ingredient variation in different regions, and proportions of spices (or even the exact ones used) varying in homes. But basically this is a familiar template for most north Indian home cooks: you heat up oil, add some whole garam masala to give it fragrance; saute onions and then ginger-garlic paste; then add ground spices; then add the meat; then a souring agent (tomatoes, usually); then water; cover and cook till done; serve with rice or parathasa/chapatis. And that is what I am doing here.

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Hybrid Chicken “Curry” (Indian Home Cooking Week 1)

Ready to Serve
Indian Home Cooking Week” rolls on.

For why I’ve put “curry” in quotes in the title of this recipe see my prefatory comments in this post. And if you’re wondering about the “hybrid” part, it’s not in reference to the ancestry of the chicken I used (though it was probably a hybrid too); it’s in reference to the origins of this recipe. Like yesterday’s salmon recipe this one is also not a regional recipe. It is, however, a very conscious mixing of two approaches, one Bengali and one Malayali. The recipe gets underway more or less as in the style of an excellent recipe from one of my aunts, and is finished in a manner very common in Malayali cooking (Malayali= (of) the Malayalam speaking peoples of Kerala). I don’t usually go about trying to create hybrid or Indo-fusion dishes like this one but this one just works because there’s a strong crossover to begin with.

Let’s get to it.

Continue reading

Kofta “Curry”

Kofta Curry

Beef Kofta Curry

I noted in my #GrapeGate post yesterday that I would have a recipe for turkey koftas today and here it is; or at least here’s a recipe for a kofta “curry” made with turkey. I guess you could serve it at Thanksgiving but frankly I don’t recommend making this with turkey at all (though don’t be surprised if you see this listed as Minnesota’s Thanksgiving dish in the NY Times next year). It’s what I used because ground turkey is what we had in the fridge. It’s much better made with ground goat or lamb or even beef; turkey is much too lean which can result in koftas/meatballs that are too tightly compacted or dry (there’s no bread or milk added to the meat in Indian meatball preps that I know of). I made this with what’s at hand because that’s what home cooks do—if you’re going to go shopping to make this then get fattier meat.

By the way, I put “curry” in quotes up top because it’s kind of a word of convenience. It’s not really used much, if at all, in Indian languages other than English, and even in English Indians usually use it only to refer to dishes with a lot of sauce. In the West, of course, “curry” or “curried” is used more broadly to refer to anything made with vaguely Indian spices. And, by the way, what is referred to as sauce in the West is usually called gravy in Indian English; “sauce” is mostly our word for ketchup. Anyway, on to the recipe! (This time with more pictures.)
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Rajma: Beans in a North Indian Style

[Update, 12/9/2015: As I got a big kick out of posting this recipe, and the one that followed for turkey koftas, I’ve decided to make Indian home cooking a regular part of this blog. In fact, next week (starting December 15) will be Indian home cooking week with recipes every day for everything from breads and pickles to dals, vegetable dishes, fish and chicken.]

Rajma with Rancho Gordo San Franciscano Beans

Rajma with Rancho Gordo San Franciscano Beans

If it weren’t bad enough that this whisky blog now features weekly restaurant reviews here’s my first foray into cooking posts. Soon I’ll expand to regular reports featuring my vegetable garden (I’ll have updated pictures of the foot of snow it’ll be under for the next five months); parenting advice (Salo or the 120 Days of Sodom is not a family film); and my crucial fashion insights (the Nehru jacket is coming back, y’all!). It’s going to be so much fun!

Anyway, I’ve been an annoying food person for much longer than I’ve been an annoying whisky person. I’ve been discussing food online far longer than I’ve been discussing whisky (before the rise of food blogs, back when food forum wars were a serious thing—I was part of the second eGullet purge; “eGullet what?”, you say; exactly.) I’m also a prolific cook—other than a meal or two out on the weekend all our meals are home-cooked, and as my wife has a much longer commute than I do most of it is cooked by me. I have a pretty wide repertoire cuisine-wise but let’s face it nobody wants anything but Indian recipes from an Indian. And so here is yet another axis along which I can inflict myself on the world (though my old food forum friends will see this only as a return). Continue reading