One of the top 10 bestsellers in the UK last year was Made in India: Cooked in Britain — Recipes from an Indian Family Kitchen. Written by Meera Sodha, the book is a compilation of dishes from an Indian family that migrated to the UK from Uganda in 1972 when they, together with all Asians, were expelled by Idi Amin. Of Gujrati stock, the Sodha family took many simple recipes with them when they first moved to Africa three generations ago, and the original influence is clearly evident.
The book was recently given to me as a present, and I have been trying out a few of the recipes. Uncomplicated and written by somebody who clearly enjoys her food, I can see this collection becoming a firm favourite. With eight guests at our Sri Lanka home these days, Nandi, our cook and housekeeper, and I are in constant discussion about the next meal.
She reported the arrival of fresh prawns, so I pulled out a recipe for them from Made in India: King prawns with garlic and mustard seeds. The latter figure prominently in Gujrati cuisine, giving a nutty, slightly hot flavour. You will need the following ingredients for 300 grams of shelled prawns: 2 teaspoons of mustard seeds; 25 grams of unsalted butter; 5 cloves of garlic, crushed; salt to taste; ½ teaspoon of chilli powder; ½ fresh chilli, finely chopped; ¼ teaspoon of ground turmeric; ½ a lemon; 2 spring onions, finely sliced for the garnish.
Crush one teaspoon of mustard seeds in a mortar and pestle so the black skin of the seeds opens. Place a non-stick frying pan on a medium hot flame, and add the butter when it&’s good and hot. When the butter foams, add the whole mustard seeds and wait for them to pop, around 20 seconds. Now add the crushed mustard seeds, salt, chilli powder, sliced red chilli and turmeric to the pan, and stir for a few seconds. Add the prawns and stir for a minute or so until they turn pink; immediately remove from the heat. Do not overcook or the prawns will become rubbery. Squeeze the lemon on top, sprinkle the sliced green onions and serve. Nothing could be simpler or taste more delicious.
Fish moilee figures often on menus in desi restaurants in London. Originally from Kerala, the dish has become popular everywhere Indian food is served. The dish melds the sweetness of coconut milk with tomatoes, chilli and several spices, producing a delicate balance of flavours.
I used the local seer fish, better known to us as surmai. You will need very fresh fish to get the best out of this recipe; if you can’t get surmai, use any firm-fleshed white fish. Remove the skin and cut around 800 grams into good-sized chunks, or into four fillets.
You will need the following ingredients: 5 cm ginger, peeled and chopped; 4 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped; one fresh green chilli, roughly chopped; salt; 3 tablespoons rapeseed or coconut oil; 20 fresh curry leaves (optional); 2 medium onions, thinly sliced; 2 big ripe tomatoes, quartered; ¾ teaspoon turmeric powder; ½ teaspoon chilli powder; 300 ml coconut milk; 1 lime, quartered.
Pound the ginger, garlic and green chilli with a pestle and mortar, bashing them into a paste. Pour oil into a wide-bottomed, lidded frying pan and turn on the flame to a medium heat. When it&’s hot, add curry leaves, followed by the onions, and stir for around 10 minutes until the onions are pale gold. Add the ginger-garlic-chilli paste and cook for another two to three minutes, then add tomatoes, salt to taste, and the turmeric and chilli powders, stirring to make sure the spices do not stick to the pan. Put the lid on and cook for a couple of minutes. Dilute the coconut milk with 100 ml of water and add to the pan. When the liquid starts to bubble, add the fish, and turn down the heat a little, cover and cook for five to seven minutes, until the fish is cooked. To test, pierce the thickest part with a fork; if it enters the fish without resistance, it is done. Squeeze the lime on top, and serve with plain rice.
Both are simple, satisfying dishes that will delight your guests.