‘Masala Mamas’ Dill Stew

I feel it’s been a while since I posted any Indian recipes. That is not to say I’ve not been cooking any Indian food at home. For those who have been following me for a while, or have read my bio, will know my husband is Indian so cooking Indian food is part of our regular diet – but some of the recipes I’ve been cooking are already on my blog. These are always family favourites that I have been cooking:

DalsBengali red split lentil dal, channa dal, toor dal

CurriesBengali chicken, speedy salmon, Bengali prawn, Laal Maas (when I want a seriously hot one!) or Chettinad Chicken, 

Sri Lankan tuna curry, mild cod curry

Vegetarian curries  – cauliflower with fenugreek, ginger and turmeric okra, chickpea curry, butternut squash and lemongrass (more Asian influenced than Indian, but a great recipe)

Not so long I was contacted by a Elana Sztokman, an anthropologist and award-winning writer specialising in women from traditional societies. She has written an Indian cookbook, which tells the inspiring story of a group of sixteen Indian women from the Kalwa slum in Mumbai, changing their communities through food and love. The slum is home to over 200,000 people where clean water and electricity are hard to find. These harsh conditions often prevent children going to school, with many being sent out to work to make a few rupees so that they will have something to eat.

These women are changing all this by making sure the children eat and learn, and consequently changing their otherwise inevitable destiny. Each morning the women rise early to prepare a host of delicious, nutritious vegetarian food for the children. In one year alone they cook 257,400 meals. They deliver the food to the Love2Learn school, run by the the NGO Gabriel Project Mumbai, where the children know that if they show up to learn, they will eat. It’s a win win. The children learn, have nutritious food and thus begin to end the cycle of poverty they are trapped in. The women feel inspired and thrive and thus the children and communities thrive around them.

The book that Elana has sent to me – ‘Masala Mamas’ incorporates recipes and stories from all these Indian women. It’s a joy to read, hearing about the rural villages the women have originally come from and how they came to the sprawling metropolis of Mumbai in the hope of giving their children an education, which most of them lacked. The group has provided kinship, connections and a purpose, which is motivating them every day. All the proceeds from the sale of the cookbook go directly to the women of the Masala Mamas cooperative. You can order a copy for yourself here.

I thought it would be interesting for you to see a typical menu for the children:

On Mondays the children eat poha – rice flakes with vegetables.
On Tuesdays –  dal khichdi – lentil and rice stew.
On Wednesdays – chana dal – black bean curry.
On Thursdays – veg pulav – a pilaf made with mixed vegetables.
On Fridays – soya pulav – a stew made from soya chunks, an affordable and simple source of protein.

And on Saturdays, as a special treat, the children eat sheet – a kind of sweet semolina pudding that they particularly love.
And for special occasions and holidays, the women prepare special holiday fare like shankarpali and modaks.

After a lot of pondering on which recipe to show you  I ended up gravitating towards the ‘Dill Stew’ or ‘Shepu Bhaju’ by Jayshree Chavdry. It’s basically a dal, and you know how much I adore dals and could quite happily eat a different one every day. I also liked the fact that it contained dill, a herb that I do not usually associate with Indian food. It’s also super straightforward, requires no unfamiliar ingredients and is perfect for a light meal on a summers day. The result – it tasted really really good and I will now be including it in my Indian culinary arsenal for sure. Give it a go and if you are on instagram, don’t forget to tag me #chilliandmint so that I can see how you got on.

 

Dill Stew

1 cup/240ml yellow moong dahl (lentils)

1 tbsp/15ml oil

1 tsp/5ml mustard seeds

1/2 (half) tsp/2.5ml cumin seeds

1 medium onion, finely chopped

3 small green chillies, finely chopped

1 tsp/5ml turmeric powder

2 cups/1/2 litre water

1 cup/240ml finely chopped dill

3 cloves garlic, crushed

salt to taste

  1. Soak the dahl in water for 20-30 minutes. Then rinse well.
  2. Heat the oil in a pan on a medium heat and add the mustard seeds. They will begin to crackle almost immediately. Add the cumin seeds followed by the onions. Mix well and let them cook for 2 minutes before adding the chillies and cooking for a further 2 minutes.
  3. Drain and rinse the presoaked moong dal and add to the pan along with the turmeric powder. Add the water and mix well together. Cover and allow the dal to cook for 10-15 minutes or until it is fully cooked and softened. Be careful not to burn the dal and add more water if necessary.
  4. Add the dill, garlic and salt to taste. Cook covered for another 5-10 minutes
  5. Serve hot with rice or puris/lunchi or simple in a bowl on its own. Divine.

If you are making it earlier in the day to eat later you may find you need to add a little water when reheating it. 

 

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Vietnamese Chicken Herb Salad

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When time allows I enjoy getting my weekly fruit and veg from my local market. Thankfully I live a short hop, skip and jump away from a seriously good one in West London, where the stalls are bursting with colourful produce and the stallholders have an infectious energy and enthusiasm for their produce. Bowls of fruit and veg go for £1 and when you buy herbs it’s two large bunches for a £1 – to ask for one just won’t do – so I invariably  end up with rather a huge amount of coriander, mint, parsley and dill.

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Dill, mint and coriander remind me of fond times in Vietnam – the food is so fragrant, largely due to mint and dill being in so many dishes, Cha Ca La Vong being a perfect example – you can see the recipe here. As I ended up with two huge bundles of cos lettuce, I decided to create a Vietnamese inspired chicken salad for our Saturday lunch. Something that could be thrown together quickly and that would appeal to the whole family.

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It was a success and we polished it all off in one sitting. Since then I have cooked it again (I still have lots of herbs to get through) and photographed it for you so that you too can prepare it at home. The dressing I use for the salad is the typical Vietnamese dressing of nuoc cham, which adds zing and sweetness, the perfect combo.

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Vietnamese Chicken Herbed Salad

Serves 4

450g chicken breasts

1 tbsp olive oil

black pepper

large cos/romaine lettuce, 6 leaves

handful of fresh coriander

handful of fresh mint leaves

handful of fresh dill

1 red chilli, finely sliced

2 spring onions, cut on the diagonal

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Nuoc Cham Sauce

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tbsp rice vinegar

1 lime, juice only

1 garlic, finely chopped

3 tbsp water

1.5 tbsp white sugar

1. Cover the chicken breasts in the olive oil and season with a little black pepper. Meanwhile heat a griddle/cast iron pan and when it is hot place the breasts into the pan and bronze on each side for just under 2 minutes a side. Place on a baking tray in a preheated oven 180 degrees for 20 minutes.

2. Break off the lettuce leaves and cut into mouth size chunks and place in a large mixing bowl. Add the dill, mint and coriander leaves along with the finely sliced red onion, spring onions. If serving to children as well slice the red chilli and place in a separate side dish. Mix together gently using your hands.

3. Prepare the nuoc cham sauce by mixing all the ingredients together. If it needs to be a little sweeter add some more sugar, if you prefer it more sour add more lime.

4. Pour half the dressing over the salad and gently toss. Pour the remaining dressing in a small jug so that you can add more dressing over the individual salad portions as needed.


Cha Ca La Vong – Vietnamese Fish with Turmeric, Ginger and Dill

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The melodic sounding ‘Cha Ca La Vong’ is one of Hanoi’s famous dishes consisting of white fish (often Vietnamese Snakehead fish) along with fresh turmeric, galangal, ginger, the pungent smelling Vietnamese shrimp paste, spring onions, rice noodles and a generous helping of fresh dill, coriander and mint and a scattering of peanuts.

My version is all of the above except no galangal (unless I happen to chance upon it), turmeric powder instead of fresh turmeric and no Vietnamese shrimp paste. I also find cod or tilapia work best for me, but basically you can use any thick white fish that has been filleted and does not have a propensity to fall apart.

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The flavour combinations work so well and I find it refreshing to give dill centre stage once in a while as I tend to find that it only ever gets partnered with salmon, trout and creme fraiche. The textures also really compliment each other, from the soft and yet delicately fried fish, to the crunchy nuts, the fresh flavoursome herbs and the filling noodles.  I like to accompany the dish with my sweet and sour nuoc cham dipping sauce – see here (at the bottom of the post).

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It’s one of those dishes which is perfect for guests to get stuck in and help themselves.  Part of the fun of it is to create the dish yourself, choosing the amounts of herbs that suit your requirements. I also find that when guests help themselves there is far less wastage as people, on the whole, tend to take what they are going to eat.  Both my daughters adore the dish and for my youngest I tend to make up a separate nuoc cham dipping sauce without fresh chilli.

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Cha Ca La Vong – Vietnamese Fish with Turmeric, Ginger and Dill

Serves 4

600g cod or tilapia, cut into 2 inch chunks

1 tbsp fresh ginger, finely grated (equally you could use ginger paste)

2 garlic cloves, finely chopped (or as above)

1 tbsp fish sauce

1 tsp turmeric powder

1 tsp sugar

1 tbsp plain flour

3/4 tbsp of vegetable oil

6 spring onions, thinly cut on the diagonal

bunch of fresh dill

bunch of fresh coriander

bunch of fresh mint

1 generous handful of unsalted peanuts, slightly crushed

300g rice noodles

1. Place the fish chunks, turmeric, ginger, garlic, flour, sugar and fish sauce in a bowl and gently mix in together so that the fish is completely coated in the turmeric. Cover and leave to marinade in the fridge for a few hours or overnight.

2. Cook the rice noodles according to the packet (normally I boil them for 4 mins) and drain. Run cold water through them and place to one side. When ready to serve pour boiling water through it once, drain and place in a serving bowl.

4. In a different bowl place the fresh coriander and mint and in another place the peanuts.

5. Prepare the nuoc cham dipping sauce. For four people you will need to make two batches of this – see here.

6. In a frying pan add the oil and when it is hot add the fish in batches along with any remaining ginger and garlic from the marinade. Leave for a 2-3 minutes so they begin to crisp before turning over for another couple of minutes. Place the fish on kitchen roll whilst you are cooking the remaining fish chunks.

7. Once the fish has crisped up sufficiently add the dill and the spring onions for up to a minute before placing in a large serving bowl.

8. Allow guests to serve themselves, showing them how to layer up the dish by first placing the noodles in a bowl, followed by the fish, spring onions and dill, mint and coriander, peanuts and then a little nuoc cham dipping sauce over the top.