Reza Mahammad: Why I love curry – and my top five tips for the perfect dish

Reza Mahammad

India shoot JuneJuly 2011 436low res 300x200 Reza Mahammad: Why I love curry   and my top five tips for the perfect dishI love Indian food because there is such a complexity of flavour and taste, and there is a great depth to the style of cooking. For me, it is like a symphony of taste; there are so many lovely flavours, which keep filtering through. Although it would be hard to say what cuisine I like cooking the most, what matters most is flavour and taste. Indian food is so special to me, due to the way these flavours come together, which is undoubtedly why it has become the nation’s favourite.

If you asked me what my favourite curry dish was, I would be stumped for words! I don’t have a favourite meal to make, I just make… If I have to cook for myself, it can be as simple as rice and lentils with spice. A bit of fish on the side and a dollop of yoghurt – give me that and I’m in heaven.

There are plenty of delicious Indian street foods, but my favourite regional delicacy has to be Ras Malai. They are little dumplings, soaked in saffron-infused milk…I call them soggy doo-dahs! They’re just divine  – real comfort food.

The new show took us all around Rajasthan and what was fascinating whilst filming there was the fact that every 40km the style of cooking changed, in terms of dishes, ingredients, even cooking techniques. For me, whenever I go to India, you just get knocked by the colour, the smells, the activity, it’s just extraordinary. The energy there is very palpable, even the light is different.

Being in the desert was an unbelievable experience. The people in Rajasthan really know how to cook, they really understand food. The country has incredibly arid areas, so the food has to be preserved; they use wonderfully unique smoking techniques to conserve the produce. They have to dry their vegetables, then stuff and rehydrate them…there are so many different methods of cooking and that was all to do with the particular climate they are in. It was fascinating.

My top five tips…

1. Don’t overspice! Always look at the ingredients beforehand and think…What do I want to taste? The spices should activate, or enhance the dish, rather than mask the key ingredients.

2. Cook the spices properly. I always have a little jug of water, for when I’m cooking. This ensures that the spices don’t burn out at the bottom of the pan, and if they do start to, then just pour a few drops of water on the spice mix to lower the temperature, then the spices amalgamate in the sauce.  What ought to happen is that the spices start leaking oil, and don’t get burnt.

3. I could not live without salt. We need salt in our dishes as it helps bring out natural flavours. It plays a vital role in seasoning and pulls everything together.

4. A good, sharp knife is essential in kitchen preparation.

5. Don’t be scared! You have to be bold, and be brave. I know it can be very daunting when you see a whole array of spices and think ‘oh my gosh’ where to begin? Just think about what you like! Think about what you would like if you went to a restaurant, or someone’s house…any time when you’ve  had a dish which you really enjoyed, you can re-create that by asking, and understanding that the core components use X, Y and Z.

Reza Mahammad’s recipe for Rajasthani Lamb Curry (Lal Maas)

For the Yoghurt mixture:
225g plain yoghurt whisked until smooth
1½ teaspoons roasted cumin seeds
2½ teaspoons ground coriander
2 teaspoons red chilli powder
Salt to season

3 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil
6-8 cloves
15 dried red chillies (stalks removed and broken into 2-3 pieces each and soaked in very warm water for half and hour)
6 green cardamom pods
3 black cardamom pods
2 bay leaves
2 large onions thinly sliced
4 tablespoons garlic/ginger paste
1kg lamb/mutton cut into 4cm (1½ inch) cubes preferably with bones
550 ml water/ lamb stock
1 tablespoon of tomato puree diluted with 2tbsp water
2 tablespoons of chopped coriander
Juice of 1 lemon
Salt to season

For Tempering
2 tablespoons of ghee or vegetable oil
6-8 dried bulb chillies soaked in warm water for half an hour then drained

First combine together all the ingredients for the yoghurt mixture and set aside.Using a large heavy-bottomed pan, heat 3 tablespoons of the ghee/oil over a medium-high heat until hot. Add the cloves, green and black cardamom pods, bay leaves and approximately 4 of the soaked dried chillies. Once they begin to crackle and change colour add the onions along with the garlic ginger paste. Continue to saute until the mixture turns a pale almond brown. Now add the meat and cook, stirring continuously over a high heat for approximately 5 minutes, then add the rest of the soaked dried chillies. Continue to cook for a further 10 minutes or so, or until all the liquid has evaporated and the meat starts to brown. Reduce the heat to medium, then add the yoghurt mixture. Cook for a further 15 minutes or until the yoghurt has dried up completely. Pour in the lamb stock/water along with the tomato puree. Bring to the boil, cover and simmer for approximately 30-40 minutes until tender.

Once the meat is done, remove from the heat and keep warm.

Using a small frying pan, heat up the ghee/oil until very hot, add the bulb red chillies, and as soon they change colour, pour onto the lamb.

Finally add the lemon juice and the chopped coriander and adjust seasoning.

Catch Reza on Reza, Spice Prince of India, airing at 18:30pm, Monday October 24th on Food Network UK – Sky Channel 262, Freesat 405 and now Freeview channel 49

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  • Stephan | Frederic

    It is said that there are at least as many curry flavors in India as there are Indian States. India is like a concert of flavors.
    Spices are getting very trendy since that August article confirming that they help combat fat.

  • irishaxeman

    Ras malai…… you’re talking! So hard to source, though.

  • chrisnsmith

    Dear Wendy,
    Your first sentence doesn’t make sense.

  • devilfish13

    A perfect article for a Saturday morning…….the day when I cook the family curry for the weekend. One can never stop learning enough about the cuisine of the sub-continent. Brilliant!

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