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Mrs Nirmal and her husband Parshotam visited Radio Sheffield to let us sample some of their delicious Indian food.
Nirmals indian restaurant on West Street in Sheffield has been providing delicious homecooked curries for the people of Sheffield for over 26 years, and the Nirmal family have never left it unattended on a Saturday night in all that time... except when the Bollywood Oscars came to town in June 2007.
Shamir and Mrs Nirmal taste Indian food
Mr and Mrs Nirmal put down their spatulas and karais - "the first time ever in my life that I've left the restaurant on a Saturday night" - and went for a night at the prestigious IIFAs while their family come from London to work in the restaurant.
The pickle tray
Mrs Nirmal and Parshotam brought trays of tasty, colourful Indian food into the Radio Sheffield studios and talked us through the all-important pickle tray.
"We don't do the classic four pickles (mango chutney, onion, lime pickle and yoghurt). On this pickle tray there's mango chutney - a classic, everybody's favourite. This one is made with green unripe mangoes.
"There's coconut chutney - coconut, coriander, mint, yoghurt, tamarind and cumin seeds. It's very popular in India but few restaurants in the UK do it.
"Wherever you go in India they serve pickled carrots. I marinade the carrots in lemon juice, mustard seed and mustard oil as well as green chillies," explains Mrs Nirmal.
"And then there's plum and tomato chutney - a recipe from Calcutta where they use very different spices. This contains cumin seed, fenugreek, mustard and onion seeds as well as tomatoes and plums. We use whole spices, not ground for this one. They're all burnt in oil and then you mix the plums and tomatoes in, with a lot of sugar as well."
Pakoras, pilau rice and potato chops
So what are the favourite dishes at Nirmal's? Well Mrs Nirmal reckons that Indians love spinach, so spinach with lamb (saag gosht) is very popular, as is spinach with Indian cheese (saag paneer).
Another popular dish is lamb musallam - a whole leg of lamb marinated for 24 hours and then cooked in special spices.
There's a bit of a mystery surrounding the making of curries; people think it's difficult and complicated, and that you need readymade paste or sauces. But Mrs Nirmal disagrees. Once you have a good selection of spices (cumin, coriander, turmeric, chilli powder, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom etc.) it's remarkably straightforward.
"It's not difficult at all. Indian food is the easiest food you can ever cook once you get the gist of it. There's no hard and fast rules - you can put less chilli in if you want, more of something else, less of things you don't like... It's up to you and you can just experiment with the basic spices."
Fresh ginger and garlic are very important ingredients in Indian cooking. "They bring out the flavours and taste and are good for digestion. When you eat ginger and garlic, the food doesn't stick on your stomach - you can digest it properly."
And according to the Nirmals, Indian food isn't fattening - as long as you don't use too much oil, butter and cream which are used in many English-style curries like kormas.
"When you're preparing food in India you can't eat a lot of heavy foods", explains Parshotam. "So naturally you use the minimum amount of ghee (butter) so it can be digested properly. Few people actually like greasy food, so we cook very little of it."
Nirmals has been host to a number of celebs too, from Les Dennis to Jamie Lee Curtis!
"She was in Sheffield for three months and she came in a lot - even though the first time they came we were so busy we coudn't give them a table, and my husband didn't recognise her! After half an hour of sitting and having a drink Jamie Lee Curtis said, 'Mrs Nirmal, we are very disappointed.' I was sad about that - I thought we'd lost them. I thought they'd never come back again. But in fact they did! In the three months they we here we saw them a lot."
The Nirmals have no trouble feeding us with the other food they've brought.
The vegetable pakoras filled with cauliflower, potato, aubergine go down very well, as does the chick pea dish. Chick peas are very popular all over India, "because they're very nutritious and cheap as well as tasty."
Nirmals' pilau rice is not like the boiled rice with flecks of red and green which you find in many curry houses. "We fry onions, ginger, garlic and tomatoes and we don't use ground spices but whole cinnamon sticks, cloves etc - and no colouring."
The alu ki tikiya (potato chops) are potato cakes filled with lentils, ginger and spices and shallow fried. They're popular in northern India and are definitely popular at Radio Sheffield - they disappear in no time!
last updated: 21/02/2008 at 09:02