Fiery Chettinad Chicken

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Chettinad is a region in the southern eastern state of Tamil Nadu in India. The cuisine is commonly regarded as one of the most fiery and aromatic.

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It is famous for its dry masalas that use a wide array of spices including, rather surprisingly, star anise, as well as more commonly used Indian spices such as cumin, cloves, black peppercorns, cinnamon, cardamom, coriander seeds, fennel seeds and whole red chillies. Similarly to the rest of southern India, coconut and tamarind are also often used in cooking.

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The Chettinad people have always been successful traders, travelling far afield throughout Asia. This can be seen in their cuisine as they use a wide range of spices and techniques, clearly influenced by their travelling merchant ancestors.

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My recipe is perfect if you crave some spice. For those at the korma end of the spectrum probably ought to give this a wide birth, but for those who like a flavoursome kick THIS is the curry for YOU. My kids definitely would not eat it, but Mr B and I are big fans and I hope that some of you out there will be also. If you prepare it in the morning ready to eat in the evening it works a treat. You could also cook it a day in advance if you are feeling super organised.

If any of you cook this please let me know what you think. It really isn’t that hot if you are used to eating spice, so be brave and give it a go. It would be great on a hot summer’s eve with a cold beer – check out my brother’s beer here or a chilled lassi such as this one.

Chettinad Chicken

Serves 4-6

800g chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces

1 tsp turmeric powder

1/2 lemon, juice only

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Masala

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp black peppercorns

2 tsp fennel seeds

1 cinnamon stick

3 cardamom pods, seeds only

6 dried red chilli

6 cloves

4 fresh or dried bay leaves

2 star anise

60g desiccated coconut

100ml cold water

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3 tbsp ground nut oil

14 fresh curry leaves

2 red onions, finely sliced

2 tsp salt

2 tsp garlic paste (or fresh garlic made into a paste)

2 tsp ginger paste (as above)

3 fresh tomatoes, chopped

75-100ml cold water

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fresh ginger batons to serve

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1. First cut the chicken thighs into bite sized pieces and cover with the turmeric and lemon juice. Mix in thoroughly and then place to one side whilst you make the masala.

2. Heat up a non stick pan and when it is hot add all the spices (but not the desiccated coconut) and move them around the pan for just over a minute so as to lightly toast them and release the flavours.

3. Place them in a spice grinder. I have this one which is excellent and Debenhams is selling it at the moment for £18. Best investment ever. (I am not on commission to say that!)

4. Whizz them around the spice grinder and then take out half the powder and then add the desiccated coconut or as much of it as you can. Whizz again and remove some more powder and put the remaining coconut in the spice grinder. Transfer to a bowl and add 100ml of cold water to create a thick paste.

5. In the same non stick pan add the ground nut oil and when it is hot add the fresh curry leaves, red onions and salt and gently fry for 8-10 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger paste and move around the pan so that it does not spit.

6. Add the tomatoes and continue to cook for a couple more minutes before adding the masala paste.

7. Add the turmeric lemon chicken and cover fully with the masala paste. Add the remaining water and leave to simmer for 45 minutes, or until the liquid has become virtually dry. Stir at intervals.

To serve place a few fresh ginger batons on top of the curry. It goes really well with rice or Indian breads. It is always good to have a bowl of fresh yoghurt on the side as this dish is renowned for being fiery.


Spicy Virgin Mary with Rosemary Spiced Walnuts

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For as long as I can remember I have adored drinking a Spicy Virgin Mary and time and time again I have been a little disappointed by what some pubs pass off as a Virgin Mary here in the UK. Tomato juice with a little tabasco just really doesn’t pass muster, so it’s not unheard of me asking for the necessary ingredients and making my own. Cheeky I know, but hey! In my old life working as a headhunter in the city I would spend a fair amount of time in hotels around London and other European cities meeting up with candidates who wished to remain incognito. I am not a coffee drinker, other than iced coffee and in particular Vietnamese –  for the recipe click here, and there are only so many cups of teas, water and ginger ales you can drink in a day, so my drink of choice, come the afternoon, would be a Virgin Mary.

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The quality of these Virgin Mary cocktails on the whole were excellent, as you would expect from a five * hotel, however, I recall the ones served to me at Browns Hotel, London and The Four Seasons, Canary Wharf – London and Milan were ahead of the pack. They often came accompanied by some little bar snack – nuts, olives or vegetable crisps, which worked so well with the spicy drink.

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So alongside my recipe of a Spicy Virgin Mary I have found the perfect munchy, Rosemary Spiced Walnuts, which is easy to prepare and guaranteed to please those you hand the bowl to. In fact I have prepared it so many times since stumbling across it on fellow food blogger ‘Gastrogeek’s‘ site that it will definitely be imprinted on my mind as the snack for 2013.

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Spicy Virgin Mary

Makes 1 jug around 6 glasses

1 litre of tomato juice

4 tsp Worcestershire sauce

2 tsp tabasco

juice from half a lemon

2 tbsp horseradish

pinch of celery salt (or normal rock salt)

freshly ground black pepper

fresh celery sticks

extra lemon juice for rim of glass

1. Add all the ingredients together and taste. I do like my horseradish so perhaps add one tablespoonful then taste before adding the second.

2. To decorate the glasses first squeeze the extra lemon juice on a saucer and the freshly ground black pepper on another. Place the glasses first on to the saucer with the lemon juice followed by the saucer with the black pepper.

3. Add the Spicy Virgin Mary followed by a stick of celery in each glass and a slice of lemon and some ice.

If you want to ‘bloody’ the drink then just add vodka!

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Summer is the season for having friends around for a BBQ and generally chillaxing so I hope you get to try this fab drink/snack combo. What homemade snacks do you like to serve up when friends come over?

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Rosemary Spiced Walnuts

Adapted from the lovely Rejina over at Gastrogeek, who in turn sourced it from Lawrence Keogh, Head Chef at the Wolseley

1 tbsp butter if eating immediately OR a splash of olive oil if cooking ahead of munching

150g walnuts

1-2 tsp light brown sugar

4 springs of fresh rosemary, chopped into small pieces

splash of water

1 generous pinch rock salt

pinch of ground black pepper

1/2 tsp chilli powder (or you could try smoked/hot paprika/cayenne powder)

1. Heat the butter/oil in a saucepan and add the walnuts. Cover the walnuts in the butter/oil and keep them gently moving around the pan allowing the natural oils to resonate.

2. After a couple of minutes add the sugar and allow the nuts to begin to caramalise.

3. Add the chilli powder (I also sometimes make these with smoked paprika), fresh rosemary, rock salt and black pepper. Continue to stir and shake the nuts around, making sure that they do not burn.

4. After a couple of minutes pour into a serving bowl and sprinkle some rock salt on top.

Perfect with a Spicy Virgin Mary.

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Ma Po Tofu – a Sichuan classic


A couple of years ago I stumbled across the most exquisite looking cookery book. Its cover drew me in and before I knew it I was leafing through the pages drooling over the divine recipes. Some of the ingredients I was unaccustomed to, and I think it was this that really attracted me to buy the book. Who wants to remain in their culinary comfort zone, not me, so with a youthful enthusiasm I purchased it. Since it has been in my possession I have lovingly poured over it, and if the truth be told I have even been known to take it to bed to read and study the recipes on numerous occasions. The book in question is called ‘Balance & Harmony, Asian Food’, by the Australian chef Neil Perry, who I had previously never heard of before. I personally find it rare to come across a cookery book where I actually want to cook more than a dozen dishes from it, but with Neil’s book I really want to try them all.

Its beautifully set out into chapters focusing on basic techniques and recipes then moving onto advanced recipes and banquet menus. The dishes are beautifully photographed and styled, interspersed with stunning old prints of Chinese women in traditional dress. If there are prizes for stunning cookery books this would surely win the top prize. Oh, and for the sceptical amongst you, although I am sure there are none, I am not being paid to say any of these kind words about Neil Perry’s book.

A wonderful recipe from his book to share with you, dear reader, is Ma Po Tofu, or as it is also affectionately known, Pockmarked-Face Lady’s Tofu. Put off?  Don’t be, as you are in for a treat and you’ll be doing cartwheels of delight after your first mouthful. Mark my words.

To read the full story of where this recipe derives its name click here. The dish is a Sichuan classic, and is cooked with pork or beef mince with tofu, in a spicy chilli bean sauce. Not the type of chilli that has you gasping for milk, but one that urges you to have more mouthfuls, so please do not be put off by thinking it will be too hot. Sure it’s feisty, but it has a wonderful balance of sweetness and spiciness, which prevents it being too overpowering. If you are a vegetarian you can also enjoy the dish, by simply omitting the pork or beef. Tofu is easy to find and tastes delicious in this dish. It lasts for ages in the fridge so I usually keep a stock of it ready for when I feel the urge to cook and eat Ma Po Tofu.

Its one of my  favourite things to eat at the moment and is absolutely guaranteed to bring a smile to the face of anyone who eats it.  I’ll introduce you to other recipes from Neil’s book soon, but try this one first and let me know how you get on.

Ma Po Tofu

Serves 2 hungry people

300g of silken tofu, cut into 2cm cubes (I use slightly more, see packet above!)

2 tbsp of vegetable oil

500g minced pork (Neil uses 200g)

1 clove garlic, finely chopped

2 spring onions (scallions), sliced

2 tbsp hot bean paste (I use Lee Kum Kee’s Chilli Bean)

125 ml (4 fl oz/1/2 cup) fresh chicken stock (if you have it, otherwise I tend to use Kallo organic chicken stock cube – sorry Neil)

1 tsp of shaoxing

1 tsp of light soy sauce

1/2 tsp dark soy sauce

2 tsp sugar

1/4 tsp sea salt

a good pinch of Sichuan pepper

1/2 tsp sesame oil

1. Cube the tofu into 2cm/3/4 inch cubes and set aside.

2. Heat the wok/pan until it is smoking and then add the vegetable oil. When the oil is hot add the minced pork and stir-fry until browned. This won’t take longer than 5 minutes.

3. Then add the garlic, spring onion and bean paste and stir into the pork.

4. After a couple of minutes add the stock, shaoxing, soy sauces, sugar and salt and bring to the boil.

5. Gently add the tofu, being careful not to break the cubes, and reduce the heat to a gentle simmer. Allow the liquid to thicken slightly.

6. Add the Sichuan pepper and sesame oil and gently mix together.

Serve with a bowl of steamed rice.