How can I spice up vegetarian dishes?
We have an abundance of vegetables and spices in India, so we’ve worked out ingenious ways to use any number of spices to cook our vegetables - techniques that have developed over centuries. We cook each vegetable in thousands of ways, depending on the region. Here are some things to keep in mind when cooking Indian vegetable dishes:
- Curries can be quick. India has recipes galore that can be made in a hurry. Heat a little oil in a pan, add mustard seeds, whole dried red chillies and a few curry leaves. Then add whatever vegetables you have, say green beans with a dash of water. Once the beans are cooked, remove from the heat and stir-in grated fresh coconut (which you can buy frozen) and just enough yoghurt to moisten.
- Make a basic spice mix. Cumin, coriander, turmeric and chilli powder are essential. You’ll also need ginger, garlic and onions, plus green coriander. Keep your spices whole and they will last much longer as once ground, they slowly lose their potency. This is particularly true of coriander seeds - once you grind them, they last no longer than a month. However cumin lasts much longer.
- Follow some easy rules of regional Indian cooking. South Indians use curry leaves, mustard seeds, whole chillies, coconut or sometimes yoghurt. North Indian cooking features cumin seeds, asafoetida (which is wonderful with vegetables), fennel seeds and mustard seeds.
- Make the most of pulses: Use whole beans, split peas and lentils. Rice with lentils is called khichri, and is like a dried pilaf or a wet porridge (This is where the word ‘kedgeree’ comes from.)
- Add Indian spices to British dishes: Broccoli, potatoes or green beans are delicious with cumin seeds and chilli powder. Serve these as side dishes with a traditional British meal. Make Indian-style mushrooms and serve them on toast.
- Be inventive: We don’t make curry paste to a standard recipe in India because you want every dish to be different. A basic mix could be made up of fried onion, garlic and ginger, ground with cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder, or you could experiment with whatever you like.
- Try tamarind paste. I suggest you look for the Thai one. Add it as a souring agent to dhal, split peas or stews. You can also make chutneys out of it using raisins, sliced bananas, spices, sugar and salt. In India we always have chutneys and relishes on the table.
- Use coconut milk or yoghurt to make a creamy curry. Season vegetables with spices, cook them lightly and add some seasoned yoghurt or crème fraîche, just a tiny amount.
Aubergine with fennel seeds makes a great main vegetable dish for vegetarians. Try this quick recipe: Put some oil in a pan, add some cumin and fennel seeds and let them pop. Add some onions, fry them and then put in some aubergine pieces to fry for 4-5 minutes until lightly browned. Add a little chopped tomato, some salt, pepper, cayenne and maybe a tiny bit of sugar. Add a little water and let it cook for about half an hour.
I hope you feel inspired to add some spice to your cooking. I would love to hear your favourite ways with Indian flavours and vegetables.
Madhur Jaffrey is appearing on tomorrow’s Woman’s Hour talking about her first cookbook in seven years, Curry Easy, published by Ebury Press (ISBN 978-0-09-192314-3).