Though she’s now UK-based, when it comes to food, India is Maunika Gowardhan’s spiritual home. The chef and cookery writer regularly makes a pilgrimage to her home country in search of exotic new ingredients and regional dishes. As well as contributing regularly to Jamie magazine, she runs cookery classes and has written a book, Indian Kitchen, which is bursting with easy, flavour-packed dishes that would brighten up the greyest of days. We caught up with Maunika, who’s sharing some failsafe kitchen tips and tricks for cooking with spice, and a recipe from her book that’s guaranteed to become a firm favourite.
Where do you seek inspiration?
Through my heritage. Travelling around India is hugely important, as I’m always discovering something I’ve never eaten, cooked or seen before, from vegetables to spices and curries. It always gets my mind ticking, and I can’t wait to recreate the recipes in my kitchen and adapt them to our contemporary lifestyle in the West.
Any tips for cooking with spices?
Start with a few basic spices and then build up your larder over time. Be careful not to hoard them – spring-clean your spice cupboard as you would your home. Spices don’t last forever, so if there are some you’ve not used in more than a year, they’ll probably have lost their flavour. Finally, don’t be too heavy handed when adding spices to curries – a little goes a long way.
Which are your favourite dishes to cook when time is tight?
Everyone loves dal – it’s quick and simple. Served with some rice, ghee and pickle, it’s the ultimate comfort food. Eggs are also a staple – at weekends I’ll make masala omelette, egg bhurji (spicy scrambled eggs) or a simple egg curry. I try to include seafood – usually in a prawn curry or tandoori fish tikka – during the week for family meals, as it’s healthy and quick.
Your all-time favourite spices?
I love them all, but my go-to is kashmiri chilli powder for its wonderful vibrant red colour. I use green cardamom in everything including chai, Indian desserts and curries. I’ve just discovered Sri Lankan cinnamon after a friend sent some over and it’s amazing – so aromatic.
Three essential store cupboard staples
Tinned chickpeas and butter beans for quick curries, tamarind to bring a tangy flavour to gravies, and frozen herbs like coriander and curry leaves for lifting most dishes.
Which chefs/food writers are you loving right now?
I adore Nigel Slater’s books – they’re what spurred me on to cook and write professionally 13 years ago. There are so many Indian chefs I admire including Atul Kochhar, Sameer Taneja and Manish Mehrotra; they all champion wonderful flavours and push boundaries. I love the food at The Bombay Canteen in Mumbai, so the chef there, Thomas Zacharias, is one to watch. In the UK, I’m a big fan of Georgina Hayden’s style of cooking – it’s easy and relatable.
Try Maunika’s dal…
- 160g masoor dal (split red lentils
- ½ tsp ground turmeric, plus an extra pinch
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 1 tsp black/brown mustard seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 10 fresh curry leaves
- 2 green chillies, slit lengthways
- 1 onion (about 100g), finely chopped
- 5 small garlic cloves, finely chopped
- 2 tomatoes (about 120g total weight), finely chopped
- A pinch of sugar
- salt, to taste
- 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves, to garnish
- Place a heavy-based saucepan over a medium heat and add the dal, along with 700ml water and ½ teaspoon turmeric. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20–25 minutes, adding a little more water if you feel the liquid is too thick.
- Turn off the heat and mash the dal slightly with a potato masher or the back of a fork so that it thickens. Cover and leave to cool.
- Place a separate pan over a medium heat and add the oil. When hot, add the mustard and cumin seeds and fry for 20 seconds. Let them splutter, then add half the curry leaves and the green chillies followed by the chopped onion. Fry for 4–5 minutes until the onion begins to soften. Mash the green chillies slightly to release their seeds, which will lend a slight heat to the dish.
- Now add the garlic and continue to fry for a further 3 minutes. Add the pinch of turmeric and stir well for a few seconds. Add the chopped tomatoes and cook for a minute.
- Add the cooked dal to this mixture, stir and add the sugar and salt. Simmer for 2 minutes.
- Garnish with the chopped coriander and remaining curry leaves and serve warm with chapatti or rice.
©Maunika Gowardhan. Recipe taken from Indian Kitchen by Maunika Gowardhan (Hodder & Stoughton £25)