This is the third in a series of articles on preparing Curry. This month, the focus is on how to make a traditional yogurt-based curry and accompanying dishes. These three dishes together, Pakora Curry, Black Chana with Mustard Oil, and Lemon Rice are one of my favorite meals. Some sliced cooked beets with a little lemon juice make a perfect color, flavor and texture accent.
The gingery masala simmers with yogurt or buttermilk, filling the air with the most sumptuous and exotic aroma. This curry sauce can be served as is over rice, or as a nurturing and invigorating soup. The pakora "dumplings" are made from a spicy besan batter, deep-fried by the spoonful, and then added to the sauce. Freshly grated nutmeg gives just the right flavor accent. If you are pinched for time or want something a little simpler, omit the pakoras. Serve this dish with Lemon Rice or plain steamed long-grain rice.
The recipe below calls for many spices. If you find this a bit intimidating, or you do not have all the ingredients on hand, you can very safely eliminate any of the spices and still have a good result. You must at least include the onions, ginger, and turmeric.
FOR THE CURRY SAUCE:
1 1/2 quarts buttermilk or plain yogurt
1/2 cup besan (fine garbanzo flour available in Indian and Mid-eastern markets)
1 cup water
1/2 cup ghee or olive oil
2 medium onions, chopped or thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped, peeled gingerroot
2 tsp. poppy seeds
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1 Tbsp. turmeric
1 tsp. salt
2 tsp. cumin seeds
2 ripe, firm tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped in 1/2" dice
1/4 tsp. freshly grated nutmeg (or nutmeg powder)
2-3 bay leaves
1/2 tsp. cinnamon
1 Tbsp. garam masala
In a small mixing bowl, combine the besan with just enough yogurt/buttermilk to make a smooth paste. Add remaining yogurt and water, mixing well. Set aside.
Prepare the Pakora Batter (see below).
Heat ghee or olive oil in a large heavy fry pan or sauce pot over medium-high flame. Add chopped onions, ginger and a dash of salt, and sauté until onions are beginning to brown. Add poppy seeds, cayenne, turmeric, salt and cumin seeds. Sizzle for a minute or two, stirring constantly. Now add the chopped tomatoes. Simmer for 4-5 minutes, stirring frequently, until the tomatoes are soft and saucy. Add the remaining ingredients and a little water as needed to prevent scorching. Stir and simmer for about 8 minutes. The key to a really great masala is to cook it long enough. This takes patience!
On a separate burner, heat a wok or heavy frying pan with 2 cups of vegetable oil for frying the pakoras.
Add the yogurt-besan mixture and mix well. Keep the heat medium-high until the mixture is heated through and starts to bubble. Then lower heat and simmer, covered, for about 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
While the curry sauce is simmering, cook the pakoras. Add the cooked pakoras to the curry sauce during the last 5-10 minutes of cooking.
1 1/2 cups besan
1/2 tsp. ground black pepper
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 tsp. cayenne (more to taste)
3/4 tsp. salt
3/4 cup water (approximate)
1/4 cup grated or finely chopped, peeled gingerroot
2 cups vegetable oil for frying