Indian cuisine is considered among the finest cuisines in the world. The secret behind a great Indian dish is in its somewhat relaxed way of cooking. Decades ago, Indian housewives would be in the kitchen for hours, preparing the “perfectly cooked” curry which would even put the five-star-hotel chefs to shame. So what’s the secret behind the perfectly cooked curry in a simple Indian home? If you are really an ardent lover of Indian cuisine and follow the traditional way of Indian cooking, I would like to tell you that perfect Indian curries are never cooked in a jiffy. In addition, the cooking demands a careful addition of the spices at the right stage: it is the combination and the amount of spices, along with the cooking method used, which is the secret!
Contrary to the popular belief, an Indian curry does not necessarily involve “curry powder”. Indian curries range from non-spicy, mildly spicy to the ones which are extremely spicy. The same set of spices, as I explained in my post on the Incredible spices of India, can be used in varied amounts in the dish to create tastes entirely different from each other.
Consider this East-Indian potato-cauliflower curry as an example. An extremely important step in this curry is to shallow-fry the cauliflower florets and the diced potatoes separately on a low flame till these are browned and soft, yet firm. This is done by sprinkling little water while these are getting fried (to generate steam) and immediately covering the pan or the wok and reducing the flame to low or medium. The fried cauliflower florets and the potato cubes are then checked for being perfectly fried. This is done by breaking one floret and one potato cube separately with a kitchen spoon. If these are fried right, these will break upon pressing lightly with the spoon. If this does not happen, frying is prolonged till the desired consistency is reached.
In most of the Indian curries, the vegetables are perfectly cooked when they are in a stage when they just lose their crunchiness. If you can understand and master this step, your endeavour is successful! I hope you will like this recipe from Kolkata, West Bengal, India, which is Vegan and gluten-free too!
Alu-Phulkopir Torkari (Potato-Cauliflower Curry)
- Large potatoes: 2
- Medium-sized cauliflower: 1
- Mustard oil (divided): 4 tbsp
- Dry red chilli: 1
- Dry bay leaf (tejpatta): 1
- Cumin seeds: ½ tsp
- Ginger paste: ½ tsp
- Coriander powder: 1.5 tsp
- Cumin powder: 1.5 tsp
- Turmeric powder: ½ tsp
- Salt (divided): 1.5 tsp
- Sugar: ¼ tsp
- Green chilli paste (optional): 1 tsp
- Water: for sprinkling
- Fresh green/red chillies: 4
Heat 3.5 tbsp mustard oil in a wok till its smoking point. Now add the cauliflower florets, cut into medium-sized pieces and half the salt. Cover and fry under a medium-low flame, sprinkling some water after 10 min and covering again. After 20 min (or till the time these florets have acquired a brownish tan), lightly press the stem of one of the fried florets with a kitchen spoon. If it breaks, the florets are perfectly fried. If not, continue to fry for some more time. Remove the florets and set aside.
Repeat the same with medium-sized, peeled and cubed potatoes, adding the rest of the salt. Remove and set aside.
Frying the potatoes and cauliflower florets separately is important because these take different amounts of time to be “perfectly fried”. Thus, frying them together will lead to the florets being overcooked.
Add ½ tbsp oil in the same wok and add the red chilli, bay leaf and cumin seeds when the oil is hot. When the bay leaf and the cumin seeds just turn darker, add the ginger paste and the powders dissolved in a little water. The flame should be low at this stage and you have to take extra precaution not to burn this wet-spice mixture. Stir continuously till the spices look fried and you can see oil separating from the spices. Add the fried potatoes and the cauliflower florets and mix everything well. Sprinkle some water and add the sugar. Now sauté under medium-high flame for 10 min, alongwith the chilli paste and whole, green (or red) chillies. The delicious dry curry is ready to be served with steamed rice, chapatti, poori or parathas!
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