I wanted to cook for a really large number of people and decided curry was the way to make the most delicious food for the least labour. I doubted my ability to eyeball the amount of spices etc. since I’m used to cooking for 2-4 people max. So I made them in normal portions and measured all the quantities, so that I could scale them up.
All the fresh vegetables are in season in the winter in Europe. All the ingredients that aren’t in mainstream supermarkets can be found in south-Asian speciality shops.
There was also a tangy pumpkin and chickpea one with tamarind and mango powder, but when I scaled it up, the result was totally inedible at first. The emergency rescue operation was fairly successful but it means I haven’t got a measured recipe that I trust.
I also served these alongside a betroot salad and some roast cauliflower, plus the typical British-Indian accompaniments.
You need to start this the day before (or perhaps at like 9AM if cooking for 7PM). This one is quite labour intensive but really luxurious. My Sikh friend told me this is what gets served at every langar in the world.
Use your biggest pot - the dal grows alot while soaking & cooking. I’d guess this amount would comfortably feed 8 (as part of an ensemble, maybe not 8 full bowls as a soup).
This is really just a condensed version of this recipe I found on the Google, but after making it I went back and looked at the quanities and found mine are quite dramatically different, so worth writing down my own I think.
- 500g urad (also spelled “urid”) dal.
- a teaspoon of baking soda
The flavourings, part 1:
- Two medium onions
- A stick of cinnamon
- 15ml (3 tsp) cumin seeds
- 10 cloves
- 8 cardamom pods. Reduce to 5 or 6 if they’re very fresh. The issue with these is that if you don’t spot them on your plate, it’s pretty unpleasant when you bite down on them. Maybe there is a smart solution for this (like maybe one of those little orb tea strainers?).
- 1 fresh bay leaf. If you only have dried ones you can add some for ritual effect but I don’t think you can taste them.
The flavourings, part 2:
- 4 huge garlic cloves, chopped
- 15g ginger peeled (weight doesn’t include the skin) & chopped. I’ve also just tried slicing it and putting it in whole, since I don’t really like little bits of ginger in my mouth. But sometimes you don’t notice the slice on your fork and then you have a whole mouthful of ginger! I think in India they normally mash it up completely - probably blending or grating would be good too.
- 15ml (1 tbsp) ground cumin (yes, this dal has ground and whole cumin - I’m pretty sure this makes a difference!).
- 3-4g freshly ground pepper. Here’s a trick for grinding lots of pepper without gettting a sore arm.
- 45ml (3 tbsp) tomato puree
- 5ml (1tsp) cayenne pepper
- A tiny bit of freshly-grated nutmeg. Can’t really measure this because the quantities are too small. Maybe like 3 grates?
- 1 can of tomatoes
- Some vegan cream (or cow cream)
- 1 stock cube / 1 tsp boullion
- 80g vegan butter. Don’t sub margarine for this! If you can’t find something that’s actually sold as “vegan butter” then just use oil (or just use cow butter or ghee if you don’t care about the vegan thing).
- 2 whole dried chillis. TBH these are mostly for visual effect, I don’t think they add much heat with this method.
- 1 tbsp crumbled kasoori methi a.k.a dried fenugreek leaves.
- 1tsp garam masala
Plus optionally a lemon.
- Scrub and rinse the dal - put it in the put with water and pick up handfuls and rub them against each other. When the water gets cloudy, replace it. Once the water stops getting very cloudy you’re done. It’s possible this is one of those cooking steps that has carried over from the recipe’s place of origin but isn’t really necessary in the developed world, but I dunno. There’s definitely some stuff on the dal that comes off when you do this.
- Soak the dal overnight (or all day) with the baking soda. Some of the peas will start to split and the whole situation will look more green instead of black. I’ve tried without the baking soda too - it makes a big difference helping the lentils to soften up.
- Replace the bicarb-water with fresh water, bring to the boil, and then get it simmering.
- Some foam/scum will come to the top - skim this off. No idea if this is really necessary but some guy on YouTube said it tastes bad if you don’t.
- Simmer until it looks like a brown slop instead of a bunch of green/black lentils sitting in water. This time has varied in my experience but budget at least 2 hours. Note we still haven’t added any salt. I haven’t tried with urad but I’ve definitely noticed other lentils take much longer to soften up in salted water. You need to babysit this a bit: once the dal is softened up it can start to settle and stick to the bottom, so you need to stir.
- Fry up all the part 1 flavourings in a separate pan until they smell really good, then add them to the dal.
- Repeat for the part 2 flavourings. These two parts are only separated because I found it easier to avoid burning this way.
- Add the tomatoes and stock, and add cream until it looks the colour you’d like. Save some cream for drizzling on top at the end.
- Now cook for as long as you can be bothered, but probably 30 mins is plenty.
- Melt the butter, briefly fry the methi, chillies and garam masala in it, then stir it into the dal.
- Add salt to taste.
- Maybe add a squeeze of lemon juice. Err on the side of caution with this, it doesn’t need much acidity.
No-coconut Cabbage Thoran
This is normally a coconut-flavoured dish but my friend is allergic to coconut so I made it without. The flavours in here are super distinctive, I love it as a side dish but wouldn’t want to eat more than a couple of mouthfuls in a row.
- Half a white cabbage (mine weighed 430g unprepped)
- 6 smallish carrots (mine weighed 175g unprepped)
- 3 smallish red onions (mine weighed 150g unprepped)
- 5ml (1 tsp) red palm oil.
- 15ml (1 tbsp) mustard seeds
- 5ml (1tsp) cumin seeds
- 10ml (2 tsp) turmeric
- 2ml (1/2 tsp) hing a.k.a asafoetida
- 12 dried curry leaves, or preferably 8 fresh ones
Regarding the palm oil: people tend to say “wow u must realy hate organutans” but my friend who is a researcher in the field of deforestation in the food supply chain says there’s nothing wrong with buying this stuff if it comes from west Africa. Here’s a cool video about palm oil. This stuff is solid and waxy in the European winter - warm it up in a bowl of warm water or just squeeze out a horrid-looking little log from the bottle! It has a really distinctive spicy/nutty flavour which I enjoy in small quantities but is unpleasant in larger amounts. It’s really here to replace the richness you could get from ghee without using animal (or on my case, coconut) products. It also comes in a more refined form that looks like coconut oil. I haven’t come across that in shops since I started taking an interest in vegan cooking, but I assume its flavour is much more neutral, so you could use much more of it and get a richer/even more unhealthy result.
A mandolin is extremely useful for this dish. When scaling this up I didn’t have a mandolin, and decided it would be faster to go out and get one than prepare all the veg by hand with a knife.
- Slice the cabbage into shreds. Add salt and mix it all up. Leave it for 30-45 minutes.
- Meanwhile, chop the carrots into matchsticks and thinly slice the halved onions.
- Pick up handfuls of the salted cabbage and squeeze the water out into the sink, transferring the squeezed bits into another bowl. I also tried skipping this salting/squeezing step. The dish at the end was fine but felt more like a weird Indian coleslaw than a proper cabbage dish.
- Fry all the spices in the palm oil and some additional vegetabl oil until the mustard seeds are starting to pop. You’ll want to add the turmeric towards the end of this process.
- Now throw in all the veg, crank up the heat and keep going til the cabbage is cooked. Of course it needs to be stirred but I actually quite like if some of the cabbage gets a litle browned so you can afford to let it sit for a little while at a time.
I don’t know what to call this weird spinach thing but it’s tasty
After buying palm oil I came across this video where a guy uses it in cooking a Nigerian waterleaf soup. Since I had palm oil and onions I decided to try recreating it using the other ingredients I had in the kitchen. But other than those two things… I had to sub out every single thing in the recipe. I think the result is really tasty, but it’s weird as hell and I doubt it tastes anything like what Babatunde eats in the video.
- 3 small onions
- 30ml (2 tbsp) red palm oil
- 15ml of a certain home made African hot sauce they sell in my local shop. This
definitely isn’t available elsewhere but I’m pretty sure you could get a
similar result with:
- A couple of finely-chopped habaneros, or scotch bonnets for the brave (from the video Babatunde appears to be very much among the brave).
- A big squeeze of lemon juice
- A small dollop of lemongrass paste
- 10ml (2 tsp) miso paste
- 1-2 tbsp red pepper flakes. These are the non-spicy kind that are used in Korean food. You could sub sweet paprika here.
- 400g frozen spinach, defrosted and chopped up smaller (to get rid of the long stringy bits).
- 200g diced firm tofu.
- 100ml [vegan] cream.
Fry the onions until really soft. Then add the hot sauce/habanero and fry for a moment. Then add everything else and cook until the moment feels right.