Comfort food

Comfort food

By
Anjum Anand
Contains
10 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849495639
Photographer
Martin Poole

One day in the first year of my marriage, we went to my parents’ home for lunch, and mum cooked a typical Sunday lunch of chickpea curry and flatbreads. As I relished my mother’s cooking after a bit of an absence, I noticed my husband ate little. I later asked him why… he said he didn’t love the curry. Obviously that did not go down too well! A couple of months later, his mother cooked her version of the same dish; my husband, loving her food after a long absence, genuinely thought it was so much better. I didn’t agree. It was just that we preferred what we were brought up on.

I love tasting new dishes. You can take me (almost) anywhere and I will be excited to eat there. However, there are those times when I’m tired, under the weather – or just because of the weather – when I seek comfort food. Like everyone else, this is the food I grew up on and, in my case, it is my mother’s cooking. My children’s comfort food could be anything, as they eat a variety of cuisines regularly, but I have been trying to socially engineer it so that their comfort food is Indian (brainwashing them, mostly). I want them to crave these healing and healthy flavours and ingredients long after time has rescued them from my meddling ways. Like all experiments, I don’t know whether it will fail or succeed, but it is definitely worth a try!

Almost all Indian food is comfort food to someone. All across the country, mums cook dishes for their children that they themselves learned from their mothers. These are normally regional, seasonal, inexpensive, easy to make and rustic. Most of the recipes in this book could fit comfortably into this chapter, but those that have made it in are some of the most popular, warming and sustaining.

A quick word on the karahi: this is a pan similar to a wok but with rounded sides, so there are no edges. It is one of India’s traditional pans and, as you stir the pot, food moves gracefully around without bits getting stuck in the edges. This is great, of course, for stir-fried dishes, but also for curries, as regular stirring of a masala as it cooks will ensure a homogenous and creamy sauce in which the ingredients melt into each other. In fact, traditionally, a new chef in a professional kitchen will spend most of his time stirring pots of curries, up and down the line, to ensure all the sauces have the best flavour and texture. Karahis also seem to work whether you are cooking for two people or four, as everything just pools in the centre. They are great pans, easily available in Indian shops and markets, and I recommend them for all avid cooks, Indian or not.

Lentils and beans

I doubt lentils and beans (pulses) are given as much importance in any other country as they are in India. They are one of the oldest known foods and were woven into the cuisine many thousands of years ago, but are considered as important to the diet today as they ever were. In fact, the Indian phrase dal roti – literally “lentils and bread” – is the colloquial term for a meal.

But while a bowl of lentils is everyday comfort food, this is not the only way in which Indians enjoy them. In fact, the many different ways in which Indians craft these humble ingredients shows the sophistication of the country’s cooking. They make bread out of chickpea (gram) flour or raw lentils; cook kebabs held together by roasted chickpea flour; steam, fry or bake light, fluffy, gluten-free cakes; form dumplings to cook into a curry… and that’s before we even get on to crispy pakoras or poppadoms, sprouted spicy bean salads or stir-fries.

On a practical note, Indian lentil and bean dishes can scare people off, as there are so many different types, often sold under a few dialect names. In the recipes in this book, I have made sure to be clear about which lentil I mean, so you should be fine.

I often write recipes for canned beans – as most people I know don’t get around to pre-soaking beans – but cooking dried beans from scratch does give you more flavour and better control over their texture. However, the older the bean, the longer they take to cook, so keep an eye on the pot as well as the indicated time in the recipe, and try a bean to make sure it is cooked through before taking it off the heat.

Lastly, lentils and beans are full of goodness in the form of fibre, protein, minerals, iron, folate and magnesium. All of these make them good for our heart, digestion, controlling blood sugar and more. Really, if there is one healthy change we should make to our diet, adding more lentils and beans is it!

Turmeric

There was a time when I had to explain to people why Indians include turmeric in almost all their dishes. Now most people already know. It is one of the healthiest and easiest ingredients to include in everyday meals, with lots of benefits.

Turmeric is a vibrant yellow-orange rhizome. It is mostly used ground, but can also increasingly be found fresh. It is a spice that Indian mothers add to their foods and into the milk for their children because their mothers did, and they have learned it is very good for them. This general inheritance of ancient knowledge is a big part of Indian food and its relationship with Ayurveda, the ancient Indian science of how to live to be healthy.

Another common practice was putting a turmeric and chickpea (gram) flour paste on a bride before she was married; this was said to give her glowing skin on the day of her wedding. Wounds were healed by putting a paste of turmeric or even turmeric powder straight on top. Now of course, with all the research that has been done on the healing properties of turmeric, it all makes sense. Turmeric is anti-bacterial and anti-viral, which is why it would be put on wounds and in our milk.

It is also anti-inflammatory and, while little inflammations in the body are fine, beneficial even, more chronic inflammations are associated with most of the major illnesses. Curcumin (the active compound in turmeric) is known to help inflammation at a cellular level, so is really good in our never-ending quest to kill free radicals and never age.

Having said all this, the amounts you need to remain healthy means that turmeric needs to be your best friend and not a passing fancy. Also, curcumin is hard for the body to absorb, so, to help absorption, it should be taken with black pepper and ghee or oil, as curcumin is fat-soluble. Therefore, there is no better place for turmeric than in an Indian meal, and no better meal for your health… Enough said: I rest my case!

Recipes in this Chapter

    No results found
    No more results
      No results found
      No more results
        No results found
        No more results
          No results found
          No more results
            No results found
            No more results
              No results found
              No more results
              Please start typing to begin your search
              We're sorry but we had trouble running your search. Please try again