Indian summer

Indian summer

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

Strictly speaking, Indians don’t eat outside in the summer; the sun is too hot, the temperatures soar, and there are monsoons to take into consideration. However, they do love to eat al fresco where possible and, when the weather cools, people try to spend time outdoors. I have memories of sitting on a roof terrace on a woven rope day bed taking tea with thick Indian savoury biscuits (matthi); or eating lunch in cool shaded gardens, or on the fan-cooled verandahs of the old-world clubs that still exist in the country. There are many Indian evening festivities spent outdoors, wrapping yourself in a shawl as it cools… and, of course, a multitude of weddings (mine included) which are held entirely outside.

Back in the UK, when the sun shone, my family would light the barbecue, although our staples were a bit different from others. There were no burgers, buns or hot dogs; instead we ate tandoori-style chicken drumsticks, spiced lamb chops and skewers of meat, all marinated overnight so, by the time we ate them, they had lots of flavour. These were served with toasted pitta bread (naan wasn’t widely available yet) and a salad, while hummus and taramasalata were served with them instead of traditional chutneys. It worked; we loved it all and we loved it together.

India doesn’t have a barbecue culture as such, but there are many street-side grills making amazing skewered kebabs, while a host of others have mastered cooking in the coal-fired tandoor ovens that are in almost all Indian restaurants. Add to this the many delicious traditional marinades and the resulting meats are both very moist and truly flavourful. Also, India’s large vegetarian population have ensured this style of eating includes paneer and fresh vegetables, coated in lighter, sympathetic flavours but equally delicious. There are also vegetables cooked on large braziers on street carts: sweetcorn, sweet potatoes and other local produce that works well over a grill.

All of the dishes in this chapter are inspired by food I have eaten in India on the street or in a restaurant but – while most are traditional – some are based on streetfood memories, which I use as a stepping stone to create more Westernized vegetarian barbecue dishes. There is so much to inspire and borrow from Indian food that it is hard to stop at so few.

Chillies

Chillies are native to Central and South America and research suggests they have been purposefully grown as food for more than 6,000 years. They were called “peppers” by Christopher Columbus, as their fieriness reminded him of the heat from the peppercorns that were familiar to him. Chillies were introduced to India in the 15th century; before that, Indians used a spice called “long pepper” for heat in their food.

Six hundred years later, India is now the world’s largest producer and consumer of chillies… and sometimes it is hard to find an Indian meal that does not contain them. Different regions have their own varieties, and use more or less heat in their food, with the dishes of the South of India being the hottest.

Chillies are known to be addictive, so Indians should be forgiven for loving the hot, fiery fruits as much as they do! The sting on the tongue from eating chillies stimulates the pain receptors in the brain, which then release endorphins (the body’s natural pain killers) into the body, making you feel good. Therefore, chillies = happiness! They are also full of vitamins C, E and A and beta-carotene and are powerful antiinflammatories, even used medicinally in this respect.

Chillies add more than heat to a dish – they add flavour as well – especially green chillies, which have a lovely distinctive taste to offer along with their spiciness. The heat is mostly contained in the seeds and inner membranes, so I often leave a chilli whole to get the flavours without too much heat (pierce the chilli with a knife, though, otherwise it might burst while being fried).

Most Indian dishes will feel anaemic in both colour and flavour without the addition of chillies. They add an edge and dimension to the cuisine that is one of its greatest draws, and Indian food wouldn’t quite be Indian food without them.

Garam masala

Garam masala literally means “hot spices” and refers to India’s most famous spice blend. A garam masala will vary from region to region – and even from one home to the next – with family recipes closely guarded… though the spice mix itself will be happily distributed to those who need it.

The most popular blend – and perhaps the most complex – is the typical Punjabi version, which uses the largest variety of spices (though, as a Punjabi, perhaps I would say that, wouldn’t I…!). A typical blend contains black peppercorns, cloves, cumin, cinnamon, black and green cardamom pods, dried Indian bay leaves and – sometimes – mace and nutmeg.

As a typical Punjabi, I do not dry-roast the spices to make them nutty – I feel that can cause the volatile oils to be released too early and disappear, and also that the roasted flavour can be a bit overpowering to simple ingredients – but I do sometimes very lightly toast all the spices together in a large pan, just so they grind easily and finely.

Storebought garam masala just doesn’t have the same flavour as homemade, and a dish made with it will simply never be as good as one made with fresh spices. If you love flavour, please put aside 10 minutes to make your own batch and – if you don’t want a lot of spices lurking around in the cupboard afterwards – make it a big one that you can share with friends. It is the Indian way… and also makes you the best kind of friend.

Recipes in this Chapter

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