Blog - Curry Twist

Curry In Japan

When we planned our trip to Japan, we were looking forward to enjoying authentic Japanese cuisine during our travels, never anticipating that the most memorable dish we would encounter would be something quite familiar – curry! 

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We first discovered Japanese curry in the famous Nakamuraya restaurant, in Tokyo’s chic Shinjuku district, where chicken and seafood curries were prominently displayed on the menu. For Indian visitors like us, this was irresistible - we had to try them! The curry came in a sauceboat, accompanied by a plate of white rice, grated Parmesan cheese and little dishes of fukujinzuke, pickled vegetables. The flavors of the curry were distinctly Indian, which only deepened the mystery. There was nothing in the décor or name of the restaurant that hinted at an Indian connection, so why was a Japanese restaurant in Tokyo serving Indian food?

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Curry has become such an integral part of their cuisine that most Japanese are surprised to learn it did not originate in their homeland. Curry arrived in Japan in the late nineteenth century, when for the first time many Japanese began to travel to the west and were captivated by the culture and food they encountered. Most Japanese first tasted curry when travelling on British ships and associated this exotic dish with European rather than Indian cuisine.

The recipe for English curry followed a well-tested formula: meat and onions were fried in butter, curry powder and stock added, an apple thrown in for tartness, and the mixture slowly simmered. Japanese curry was similar, with soy sauce, honey and the all-important browned roux (made by combining flour, curry powder and butter) added in, making it uniquely Japanese. Cafés began to open in Tokyo serving coffee accompanied by pastries, pasta, and strangest of all – curry.

The Japanese love affair with curry intensified in modern times with the invention of ready-to-eat curry roux. A curry can be prepared in minutes by simmering meat or vegetables with this instant mix, making it the perfect comfort food to be enjoyed at home. The Japanese, delighted to find a dish that does not require elaborate preparation, eat curry at least once a week on average. Curry is now the most popular instant food in Japan, with grocery stores selling frozen, microwavable or vacuum-sealed versions. Children adore milder curries containing apples and honey, and these have become a favourite item on school lunch menus. Curry is eaten with rice – kareh raisu, over noodles - kareh udon, or stuffed in bread - kareh pan. National curry chains have carried the dish to every corner of Japan. Whale, scallops, oysters and venison are all served in curries and considered regional delicacies.

Travelling across Japan we enjoyed many memorable dishes: sushi at Tokyo’s Tsukiji fish market; tempura in the Asakusa district; yakitori skewers at a centuries-old inn in Kyoto; a vegetarian feast consisting only of tofu prepared in a dozen different ways at a Buddhist temple. But after savouring these we always came back to curry, for it was not only a beloved flavour for us but also a little window into Japanese history.

Nakamuraya’s restaurant has a particularly fascinating past, for it first opened as a café and added curry to its menu when the owner’s daughter married an Indian revolutionary who had evaded British police and found refuge in Japan in 1915. Nakamuraya’s curry was an instant success and the elite of Tokyo flocked to the café to taste authentic Indian food. Newspaper reporters soon picked up the story and made the curry famous as the “taste of love and revolution”. Who can resist sampling that?

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This recipe, with its intriguing mix of ingredients and flavours is popularly served all over Japan. The unusual combination of apples with celery, carrot and potatoes is strangely comforting!

Japanese Chicken Curry

1 lb (about 8 ) boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into bite sized pieces
4 tbsp all purpose flour, divided
4 tbsp vegetable oil, divided
4 cloves of garlic, grated or minced
1 inch piece of ginger, grated or minced
1 medium onion, finely chopped
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 medium Yukon Gold potato, peeled and diced
1 stick celery, sliced thin
Salt to taste
2 cups chicken broth, divided
¼ cup canned crushed tomatoes
3 tbsp unsalted butter
1 tsp each: garam masala, curry powder
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
1 apple, peeled and grated
1 tbsp soy sauce
1 tsp honey

Combine chicken and 2 tbsp flour in large mixing bowl, tossing to coat pieces well with flour.
Warm 2 tbsp oil in deep non-stick skillet set over medium high heat. Add chicken pieces, shaking off excess flour. Brown chicken for 5 min until lightly golden. Transfer to bowl.
Add remaining 2 tbsp oil to same skillet. Add garlic and ginger, sauté for about 1 min until they brown lightly. Add the onions and sauté for about 8–10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until lightly browned.

Add carrot, potato and celery, sauté 2 min. Add chicken, salt, 1 cup broth and tomatoes. Cover skillet, bring contents to a boil. Reduce heat to medium low and cook for 30 min, stirring occasionally.

Meanwhile make the roux. Warm butter in non-stick frying pan over medium heat. Add remaining 2 tbsp flour. Stirring occasionally, cook until flour turns to a light golden colour, about 10 min. Add curry powder, garam masala and cayenne pepper, cook 2 min. Add remaining 1 cup broth, cook 1 min, stirring till roux thickens.

Add roux, apple, soy and honey to chicken in skillet, stirring to mix it in gently. Cover skillet and cook for 5 min for flavours to blend and apple to soften.

Serves four

Article originally printed in Vacations Magazine, Fall 2018

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Karhai Chicken In Rye, UK

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As children growing up in India, our mental picture of England was shaped very largely by the books of Enid Blyton, which we read voraciously. In our imaginations all English towns were located on the seaside and had cobbled streets and half-timbered houses with hidden doors and mysterious underground passages in which smugglers lurked. Our first visit to Rye therefore brought an immediate jolt of recognition, followed by immense gratification to realise that the place of our fantasies actually existed. It came as no surprise to learn Rye had actually inspired Enid Blyton to write one of her "Famous Five" books!

Rye is constantly ranked among the most picturesque towns in England and its charms are immediately obvious. The town was established in ancient times since it is a very convenient harbour for ships traveling to the French coast, which is only a short distance away. The Romans had a large presence in the area and it was an important port in Saxon and Norman times.

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The location made the town vulnerable in times of war, and a French force destroyed most of it in the late fourteenth century, requiring it to be completely rebuilt.

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Fortunately, at least from the viewpoint of tourists, large parts of the town seem to have been untouched after that reconstruction and still appear frozen in time, looking much as they did in medieval times. 

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During the middle ages Rye was one of the principal towns charged with the defense of England. The imposing Ypres towers, built in 1249 as a defensive castle and named after its owner, John de Ypres, still looms over the waterfront. Known locally as the "Wipers" tower, the building now houses a museum.

Rye's location also made it a centre for smuggling, with several notorious gangs of smugglers operating in the area and transporting contraband to and from ships that crept close to shore under cover of night. The vast open areas of the Romney marsh adjacent to Rye made it easy to evade officers of the law. Rudyard Kipling, who lived very close to Rye, composed the "Smugglers Song" that went:
Five and twenty ponies, 
Trotting through the dark - 
Brandy for the Parson, 'Baccy for the Clerk.
Them that asks no questions isn't told a lie

The Giant's Fireplace bar at The Mermaid Inn where we had lunch, is very old (dating back to 1156) with a fascinating storied past. Once the hangout of the legendary Hawkhurst gang of smugglers, there is even a secret passage beside the bar that was their escape route to the sea. There is also a hidey hole in the chimney breast once used for safely harbouring Catholic priests on the run. All this is revealed later because upon first entering the room, all eyes are immediately drawn to the huge, crackling log fireplace that dominates an entire wall. All in all, a fascinating place to enjoy a drink and a bite to eat while soaking in the ambiance and toasting your toes.

The food in the bar is good English pub fare, accompanied by their famous ales. We had locally sourced fish with chips and suet pudding (which we had only read about in books!), all deliciously prepared. One of the joys of eating out in England is the variety of Indian food available everywhere. Sometimes you don't even have to go to an Indian restaurant to find it!

A popular staple on Indian restaurant menus, Karhai chicken has robust flavours, almost reminiscent of Butter Chicken. The cashews add a nice crunch, while the raisins give the merest hint of sweetness to the delicious tomato cream sauce. Karhai refers to the traditional two handled rounded wok this dish is cooked and served in.
For other restaurant favourites, try Lamb Roghan Josh or Chicken Tikka masala.

Karhai Chicken

1 lb boneless, skinless chicken thighs (about 6)

4 tbsp oil, divided

Salt to taste

1 tsp each, ground spices, divided: garam masala, coriander, cumin, dried fenugreek leaves (kasoori methi), turmeric

1/2 tsp each: cayenne pepper, cumin seeds

1 medium onion, thinly sliced

1/2 each, thinly sliced: sweet red pepper, sweet green pepper

1/4 cup whole raw  (unsalted, unroasted) cashews

1 tbsp golden raisins

1/2 inch piece ginger, minced

2 cloves garlic, minced

1 can (28 fl oz, 790 ml) whole plum tomatoes, preferably San Marzano, pureed

2 tbsp each: butter, whipping cream, chopped fresh coriander

Preheat oven to 420F. Line a baking tray with parchment.

Cut chicken into bite sized pieces and place in large mixing bowl.

Add 2 tbsp oil, salt to taste, 1/2 tsp each of the garam masala, ground coriander, ground cumin, dried fenugreek leaves, turmeric and cayenne. Mix well and evenly spread the chicken on parchment lined tray. Bake for 15 min until chicken is lightly browned. Chicken will not be fully cooked at this point. Transfer chicken and all its juices into a bowl. Reserve for later use in this recipe.

Warm remaining 2 tbsp oil in deep non stick skillet (or wok/karhai) set over medium high heat. Add 1/2 tsp cumin seeds, sizzle for 30 sec. Add sliced onions, red and green peppers. Saute for 5-7 min, allowing vegetables to sear lightly.

Add cashews and raisins and saute 1 min. Drain and reserve everything.

Add another spoonful of oil to skillet if necessary. Add ginger and garlic, saute 1 min. Add pureed tomatoes, salt to taste and remainder of the ground spices. Cook 1 min, then add 1 cup of water. Cook 10 min for sauce to thicken up slightly.

Add reserved chicken with all its accumulated juices, the sauteed onions, peppers, cashews and raisins. Cover skillet, bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to low and cook for 10 min.

Fold in the butter, cream and fresh coriander. Serve garnished with ginger julienne and sliced green chilies if desired.

Serves four-six

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Curried Chicken Salad Sandwiches In Cambridge, UK

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The town of Cambridge has existed for well over a thousand years, its name now synonymous with that of the university it acquired in 1209. Cambridge was the second university to be established in England and was founded by academics from the first - Oxford. These learned scholars came to escape the wrath of the enraged townspeople of Oxford,  whom they confronted in frequent brawls.

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The new arrivals found that their relations with the citizens of Cambridge were as turbulent as those they had left behind and it was not until King Henry III extended his protection and arranged for the students to be properly housed that some measure of order was restored. Subsequent monarchs continued to support the university and it was with their assistance that great colleges such as Peterhouse, Clare, Pembroke, and King's were built.

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By the sixteenth century, when Henry VIII established Trinity College, Cambridge had become one of the great centers of learning in the western world. There were thousands of young men living in the town, both full-time students preparing for degrees and others who came for shorter periods to profit from the intellectual life of the university.

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Today, Cambridge remains one of the leading universities of the world. Strolling amidst the magnificent medieval buildings it is easy to forget that this is still a place at the forefront of research and learning, where many of the discoveries that will transform the world are still being made.

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Hordes of tourist rub shoulders with students in the streets of Cambridge, with people coming from around the world to admire the fabulous architecture and learn the remarkable history of the town and university.

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The river Cam is a beautiful sight running right through the city. Many of the old college buildings back onto it with lovely stone bridges connecting them. Punts bob along on the water providing a good way to admire the sights from the vantage point of the river.

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Punting is a very popular activity, sometimes creating quite a traffic jam on the river! If you've never tried your hand at this before, best not to attempt it now. You can easily hire one and enjoy drifting leisurely along the river letting an expert guide your way.

The lovely parks along the banks of the river bring the countryside right to the city. Pack a picnic, find a bench or spread a blanket on the grass like the students and while away a pleasant afternoon, watching the punts glide by.

Chicken salad sandwiches, with a whiff of curry are a delicious British twist to the classic and perfect for a picnic! For a stronger curry flavour, just increase the amount of curry powder. A spoonful of sweet mango chutney or fresh mint chutney blended into the salad will add even more character and flavour! If you'd like to make scones to go with your sandwiches, try my recipe here.

Curried Chicken Salad Sandwiches

1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken breast (about 1 big piece)

4 cups water

1/4 cup each: mayonnaise, Greek style plain yogurt or Middle Eastern style Labneh (yogurt)

2 tbsp each, finely chopped: red onion, red bell pepper, celery, fresh coriander leaves

1 tsp each: curry powder, grainy Dijon mustard

Salt to taste

8 slices sandwich bread (white or whole wheat), crusts cut off

Place chicken and water in deep saucepan set over high heat. Bring to a gentle boil, then reduce heat to low. Cover and cook for 20 min, turning chicken once in between.

Remove chicken to plate and cool to room temperature for 15 min. Reserve chicken broth for future use in soups or stews. Shred chicken into fine thin strands and place in large mixing bowl.

Add all remaining ingredients except bread, to chicken. Mix well to combine.

Spread chicken mixture equally onto four slices of bread, top with remaining four slices and press down gently to hold filling in place. Cut each sandwich diagonally in half, arrange on a platter and serve.

Makes 4 sandwiches

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Masala Omelette In Canterbury, UK

Canterbury is synonymous with the history of Christianity in Britain. It was here that the first missionaries from Rome established a church in the sixth century and it has been a place of worship since then. The present cathedral is a magnificent building that was built by the Normans in 1070, only a few years after their invasion of England.

The throng of pilgrims visiting the cathedral stimulated the growth of a lively town around it. Inns, taverns, shops and other establishments to feed, house and entertain the visitors sprouted up over the years. Much of the mediaeval plan of the town is still preserved, giving you an idea  of what it must have looked like centuries ago.

Of course, there is no shortage of travellers going to Canterbury in modern times either. It is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Britain and every year receives millions of visitors, some brought by religious devotion and others simply by their love of English history and culture.

The first place where visitors to Canterbury go is, of course, the cathedral. Under the soaring arches of this church you can feel the presence of ancient kings and queens who prayed in front of its altar, and were crowned, wed and buried within its walls.

The most famous name associated with the cathedral is perhaps that of Thomas Becket, archbishop of Canterbury in the twelfth century, first a close friend and then a bitter opponent of King Henry II. When the king cried out in frustration "Who will rid me of this turbulent priest!",  four of his knights murdered Thomas Becket as he prayed in a chapel, which became a famous pilgrimage site. There is now a monument to his martyrdom in the cathedral and a candle is kept burning at the place that he fell.

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A visit to Canterbury should always include enough time to see the lovely town as well. On your way to the cathedral, you will see the River Stour cutting a swath through town, affording many a picturesque spot from which to take that perfect photograph.

The Old Weaver's House, built on the banks of the River Stour is a historic building dating back to the 14th century. Flemish and Huguenot weavers fleeing persecution, settled here to practice their trade, creating a flourishing textile market in Canterbury.

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Canterbury also has a memorial to its most famous chronicler, Chaucer. Pack along a copy of the "Canterbury Tales", for there is no better time to read its rollicking stories, ranging from the sublime to the frankly bawdy, than a trip to the town that inspired the original book.

Narrow cobbled streets flanked by half timbered medieval buildings converge upon a small 800 year old market square called the Buttermarket. Formerly known as the Bullstake, this is where bulls were tied to a stake overnight, to be harassed by dogs in the belief that this would make their meat tender. Thankfully, this barbaric practice ended a few centuries ago and the stake has now been replaced with a war memorial.

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The Old Buttermarket pub in the square is a great place to stop by for a bite to eat. Their delicious food comes with a side of history!

A pub has stood on this site for over five hundred years, connected to the cathedral by underground tunnels that were often frequented by escaping monks.

One of our favourite pub breakfasts while traveling in England, was this delicious masala omelette, served British-Indian style with a dollop of tomato ketchup. It brought back memories of home!

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A fluffy omelette with the freshness of herbs and veggies, carrying just a hint of spicy curry, is a great way to start or end your day. Sprinkle some crumbled feta cheese over top while the omelette is cooking, add a few pieces of warm naan and you have the makings of a perfect meal!
If you're looking for something more classic (and less spicy!), check out my French style omelette here.

Masala Omelette

3 eggs

2 tbsp milk or water

1 tbsp each, finely chopped: onions, tomatoes, fresh coriander leaves

1/4 of a hot green chili, thinly sliced (optional)

Salt to taste

1/4 tsp curry powder (optional)

1 tbsp butter

Beat eggs with milk or water in medium mixing bowl until lighter in colour, about 2 min.

Add in all the remaining ingredients except for the butter. Mix well.

Warm 1 tbsp butter in a large non stick frying pan over medium heat. Pour egg mixture into pan. Tip pan in a circular motion to distribute egg and vegetables evenly in the pan. Cover, reduce heat to low and cook until eggs are set, about 3-4 min.

Uncover, fold omelette in half and transfer to a plate. Serve right away.

Serves one-two

Spicy Chicken Keema In London

"When a man is tired of London, he is tired of life" said Samuel Johnson over three centuries ago, and that observation still rings true today.

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It was thirty years ago that my husband and I first visited London. Fresh out of India, this was our first glimpse of a wonderful city that we had only read about. For three magical days we explored every corner of London, walking till our feet hurt and sampling all the amazing food that was completely new to us. It was only recently that we got the chance to visit once more, and it was magic all over again as we explored and rediscovered all that London has to offer.

London is a great city for walking, with its historical core being surprisingly compact. You can, in theory, cross it on foot in a few hours, but it usually takes longer in reality because there are always little surprises that grab your attention and make you linger. 

There is something in London for everyone, no matter what your interests may be. Every step that you take in London takes you past a site where history was created. The Tower of London, Westminster Abbey, and the Houses of Parliament are places that seem familiar even to people who may have never visited London before, simply from having read about them.

One of the greatest joys of being a tourist in London are the fabulous museums and galleries that you can visit free of cost. The British Museum and the National Gallery house some of the greatest treasures and works of art that the world has to offer. And when you have had your fill of looking at art, many of the churches offer musical recitals that are a delight to listen to. 

A tour of London is just not complete until you've walked through some of its lovely, sprawling parks. No matter which part of the city you happen to be in, there is sure to be a park nearby with large shady trees, a convenient bench or beautiful green lawns just inviting you to rest your feet and grab a picnic!

One of my favourites was St. James's park with its tranquil lakes and fountains, glorious flower beds, lots of interesting birds and fabulous views of the city from it's famous Blue Bridge. Hyde park, with its long walking trails, the Serpentine river running through it, Victoria and Albert Memorial at one end and the famous Speaker's Corner where protests and rallies still take place was another memorable park to visit.

When it comes to eating out in London, you are going to be spoilt for choice! With restaurants serving every cuisine under the sun, you can have something different every day. Among the standouts we tried out were Veeraswamy for classic Indian, Hoppers for fantastic Sri Lankan, Berber & Q for smoky, grilled Middle Eastern fare, The Clerk And Well for incredible Asian dishes and practically every pub offering an amazing variety of meat pies, fish and chips and sausages. 

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We first had this delicious chicken keema with its phenomenal mix of flavours and textures at the very popular Dishoom Bombay Cafe in London. Head here for sunday brunch when they have a special menu reflecting typical Indian breakfast dishes, with creative British twists. I still dream of their masala baked beans in tomato sauce with fresh coriander!

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I just love how the flavours of the soft gooey egg nestled in spicy chicken keema meld with the crunch of potato straws and crisp fresh coriander. The apricots add just a hint of delicate sweetness to the whole dish. You can buy potato straws from any supermarket or you can make your own spiralized ones in the oven. Whatever you do, don't skip them! Serve with warm naan or fresh dinner rolls.

Spicy Chicken Keema With Fried Eggs And Potato Straws

2 tbsp oil

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1/2 inch piece ginger, grated or finely chopped

4 large canned plum tomatoes, pureed

Salt to taste

1 tsp each, ground spices: coriander, cumin, turmeric, garam masala, dried fenugreek leaves

1/2 tsp cayenne pepper

1 lb ground chicken (not breast meat)

4 soft dried, pitted apricots, halved

2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander

1 tbsp fresh lemon juice

4 freshly fried eggs with runny yolks

1 cup fried or baked potato straws

Warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat.

Add onions, garlic and ginger. Saute for about 5-7 min until onions are softened and lightly browned.

Add tomatoes, continue to cook for 5 min until tomatoes are incorporated into the sauce.

Add salt and all the spices, cook 1 min.

Add chicken and stir until it is blended into the sauce with no lumps remaining.

Add the apricots and 1/2 cup of water. Mix well, cover skillet and bring to a gentle boil. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 min, stirring occasionally.

Uncover skillet and cook for a further 15 min until sauce is thickened and chicken cooked. If you want a thicker sauce, turn up the heat to medium to boil off some of the liquid.

Fold in the fresh coriander and lemon juice to brighten up the flavours.

Divide chicken keema evenly into 4 bowls. Top with a fried egg and scatter potato straws evenly over top.

Serve right away.

Serves four

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A Craving For Cardamom

The fifth century Sanskrit epic poem Raghuvansha describes King Raghu’s army marching triumphantly through spice plantations:

Pepper groves

On Mount Mahendra’s skirts, lov’d home of birds,

His forces occupied, as on he marched

To conquest. Trampled by his steeds, the bloom

Flying from the fruit of cardamoms

Clung to the foreheads of his elephants

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Cardamom has always been one of the most prized of all spices in India, treasured for its scent and flavour. The ancient Romans sailed all the way to the coast of Kerala, where it has been cultivated for millennia, to buy cardamom for use in cooking and to make perfumes. They particularly prized the ability of cardamom pods to freshen the breath when chewed after a meal, and they are still used for this purpose in India.

Cardamom plants are bushes with large leaves that grow up to 6 ft in height. Slender stems emerge near the base of the plant and bear delicate white flowers that turn into green pods, each containing several white seeds.

The pods are plucked and dried so that their skins turn into a papery husk that splits open to release the seeds that have turned brown. Whole dried cardamom is often used to flavour rice preparations and curries.

Fresh cardamom, with its strong flavour and crisp bite, goes into chutneys, pickles and curries. Dried seeds, which have a very intense aroma and flavour, are powdered for use in cooking, most often in Indian desserts. Ground cardamom loses its essential oils quickly and you are better off grinding small quantities of cardamom seeds in a spice grinder just before use.

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This unusual curry from Kashmir, infused with the wonderful aroma of cardamom and tinted a glorious red-gold with saffron, is easy to make. For more about saffron, read: The Glory Of Saffron.
For desserts using cardamom in delicious ways, try Espresso cardamom Brownies, Cardamom roll cakeCardamom kahlua tiramisu, Cardamom Halwa Blondies or the classic Indian dessert Gulab Jamun!

Kashmiri Cardamom Chicken Curry

1-1/4 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 8), fat trimmed

1 cup full fat plain yogurt, Greek or Balkan style

Salt to taste

1 tbsp ground almonds

1/2 tsp each, ground spices: cardamom, fennel, black pepper, Kashmiri chili powder or paprika, ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala, dried ginger

1/4 tsp saffron strands

2 tbsp each, chopped fresh: coriander, mint, lemon juice

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp cumin seeds

1 medium onion, finely chopped

Cut chicken into bite sized pieces and place in large mixing bowl.

Add yogurt, salt, ground almonds, all of the spices, saffron and herbs to chicken, tossing well to coat. Cover and refrigerate for at least an hour or up to overnight.

When ready to cook, warm oil in deep skillet over medium heat.

Add cumin seeds and sizzle 30 sec. Add onions, saute for about 5-7 min until softened.

Add chicken with all its marinade (scrape everything into skillet) and cook for about 5 min until combined, stirring occasionally. Cover and reduce heat to low.

Cook for about 45 min or until chicken is very soft and tender and sauce has thickened.

Serves four

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The Story Of Pepper

“Bales of pepper are brought to market from each house, and gold received in exchange from the Roman ships is brought to shore in sackfuls” wrote a second century Tamil poet. Pepper was the most eagerly sought after spice in ancient Rome, and could be obtained in only one place: southern India. The word ‘pepper’ also comes from the same source: it is derived from the Sanskrit pippali. Both black and white pepper were prized in ancient Rome, but only the more expensive white variety was taxed. Black pepper was considered such an essential commodity, used by even the poorest citizens, that it was exempt from all customs duties.

Black Peppercorn

 Though Europeans ate a great deal of pepper, they knew little about how it was grown. A fourteenth century book claimed that:  "Serpents keep the woods that pepper groweth in and when the woods of pepper are ripe, men of that country set them on fire and chase away the serpents by violence of fire. And by burning the grain of pepper that was white by kind, is made black."
Reality is a little less exciting. Peppercorns are the berries of a climbing vine that grows over 50 feet tall in lush tropical jungles, twining itself around trees for support.

Green unripe berries are picked and boiled in water, after which they are sun-dried until they shrivel and turn black. Pepper vines were first cultivated millennia ago in the hills along the coast of southern India, and some of the best varieties such as Malabar and Tellicherry still come from Kerala where pepper is an important spice in local cuisine.

Fresh green peppercorns, picked right off the vine are often used in Kerala curries for their crisp, spicy bite.

Green Peppercorn

Green peppercorns are produced by picking and drying pepper berries well before they are fully mature. Their flavour is much milder than that of black pepper.

White Peppercorn

To produce white pepper, berries are picked when ripe, soaked for several days in water until soft, and the outer skin and pulp rubbed off leaving only the white seed. White pepper is much less aromatic than black, but some cooks prefer using it to avoid having unseemly black specks in light colored sauces.

Red Peppercorn

Pink or rose peppers create much confusion, because they are not related to pepper vines at all. They are bright red berries that grow on trees that are part of the cashew tree family,   and have a mildly peppery taste when dried.
Different preparation techniques - frying, toasting or grinding, bring out widely different flavours from pepper. Pepper grinders filled with a blend of whole peppercorn in all four colours can be found in supermarkets for adding a final flourish of colour and flavour to a finished dish.

Crispy, peppery paneer skewers make delicious appetizers for a summer barbecue. Eat 'em right off the grill while their insides are still soft and gooey!
If you're looking for variety, try Tandoori Paneer, Pepper Roast Chicken or Saffron Chicken Tikka With Black Pepper

Pepper Paneer Tikka

400g Paneer (Indian cottage cheese)

2 cloves garlic, minced

1/2 inch piece ginger, minced

2 tbsp each: oil, lemon juice, plain Greek/Balkan style yogurt

Salt to taste

1 tbsp coarsely ground black pepper or mixed pepper blend, divided

1/2 tsp each: garam masala, paprika

2 tbsp each: all purpose flour, fine breadcrumbs

1 lemon, cut into wedges

Cut paneer into 2 inch long X 1/2 inch thick slices (about 10-12 slices) or cube into bite sized squares. Place in deep mixing bowl.

Combine garlic, ginger, oil, lemon juice, yogurt, salt, garam masala, paprika and 1 tsp of the pepper in small bowl, mix well to blend.

Pour over paneer in bowl, tossing gently to coat completely. Cover and refrigerate for one hour or longer up to overnight.
Note: Let paneer soften at room temperature an hour before grilling, to make it easier to thread onto skewers.

When ready to grill, heat barbecue to medium high. Soak small sized bamboo skewers for 15 min in cold water.

Thread paneer onto skewers without overcrowding.

Combine flour, breadcrumbs and remaining 1 tsp pepper in small flat plate.

Roll each skewer of paneer in prepared breadcrumb pepper mixture till lightly coated all over.

Place on grill and cook covered until lightly browned and slightly crisp, about 7 min per side, turning skewers once. Brush lightly with additional oil at the end of cooking, if necessary.
Note: Paneer can also be cooked in the oven without skewers. Heat oven to 450F. Place paneer pieces on parchment lined tray and bake for 12 min. Place under the broiler for 2 min to brown tops lightly.

Serve right away with wedges of lemon.

Serves four

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Fish Chowder In Bermuda

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Bermuda has long been associated with stormy weather. The first permanent settlers arrived rather unceremoniously after their ship, en route from England to Virginia in 1609, was blown by a hurricane onto the reefs that surround the island. Shakespeare, writing "The Tempest" two years later, referred to "the still-vex'd Bermoothes". In more recent times it has given its name to the infamous Bermuda Triangle, that sinister region of ocean in which ships are said to disappear mysteriously.

All this history seems rather hard to believe when you walk under a brilliant blue sky, powdery pink sand under your feet, gazing out at the tranquil waters lapping the beach. At such a moment it is easy to understand why Mark Twain once said, “You can go to heaven if you want. I’d rather stay in Bermuda.”

Heaven is exactly what Bermuda seemed like during our recent visit. Walking on those blushing pink soft sand beaches, dipping our toes in the cerulean waters and admiring the gorgeous rugged, mountainous scenery made us want to move there permanently! Our celebratory family get together was made even more special by being in Bermuda together and we all left with warm memories that will never fade.

The food that we ate and the lovely hospitality that we encountered on the island definitely added to our wonderful experience. One of our most favourite dishes was the local fish chowder and we ate it every chance we got!

Decidedly Bermuda's most famous national dish, with many an interesting legend attached to it, this chowder was first introduced centuries ago by British settlers. Over time, it grew into something uniquely Bermudian with the addition of local fish and vegetables, many herbs and spices and the taste boosting sherry pepper sauce. This addictive sauce, which improves the taste of anything it is sprinkled on, was brought to Bermuda by sailors who pickled hot peppers in barrels of sherry on board ship to improve the flavour of their rations.

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My favourite legend is one where the chowder used to be cooked right on the beach, in huge cauldrons set over a bonfire. This was a good way to make the most of the day's catch and relax with a glass of black rum, after throwing some into the soup pot. That is a scene I would have liked to come across in my wanderings on the beach!

That first taste of authentic Bermuda fish chowder is like none other! The rich, smoky flavours of caramelized vegetables, black rum, fragrant island spices and fresh local fish simmered long and slow in a tomato based fish broth, all of it doused liberally with sherry pepper sauce will leave you craving more!

Bermudians take great pride in preparing their secret family recipe, handed down through the generations. I was fortunate to get the recipe from the chef of Barracuda Restaurant, where we had a delicious meal.

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The fish generally used in this chowder is local Wahoo, Rockfish or Red Snapper. However, any of the ones listed below or a combination works just as well. Although fish heads are generally used to make the flavourful broth, my recipe is a simplified version. Serve with a wedge of lemon, some crusty bread and a bottle of sherry pepper sauce (of course!).

Bermuda Fish Chowder

1 lb white fleshed fish fillets such as Cod, Sea Bass, Haddock or Halibut

2 tbsp each: butter, olive oil

1/2 cup each, finely chopped: onions, sweet red or green bell peppers, carrots, celery, potatoes

2 each: thyme sprigs, bay leaves, garlic cloves (chopped)

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: ground black pepper, oregano, smoked paprika,

1/4 tsp each, ground spices: cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, allspice

1 cup dry white wine

4 large canned whole plum tomatoes packed in puree (preferably San Marzano variety), lightly drained and mashed

1 cup tomato puree from above canned tomatoes

1 tbsp each: hot pepper sauce, Worcestershire sauce

2 tbsp each: Black rum, sherry (optional)

Rinse fish, place in a deep saucepan and cover with 4 cups of water. Bring to a gentle boil, cover and reduce heat to low. Simmer 15 min.

Gently lift all of the fish pieces out of the broth and remove skin and bones, if any. Flake fish gently with a fork, leaving in a few bigger pieces for texture. Reserve flaked fish and fish broth separately for later use in the recipe.

Meanwhile, warm butter and oil in deep, heavy soup pot set over medium high heat. Add onions, peppers, carrots, celery, potatoes, thyme, bay leaves and garlic. Saute, stirring for 10 min, then reduce heat to medium low and continue sauteing for another 20 min until vegetables are tender and golden in colour.

Add salt, pepper, oregano, smoked paprika, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and allspice. Saute 1 min.

Add wine, cook 1 min until it starts to bubble.

Add tomatoes, puree, hot sauce and Worcestershire sauce. Stir to mix.

Add reserved fish broth, cover pot and bring to a gentle simmer on medium high heat. Reduce heat to low and cook for 30 min, stirring occasionally.

Add flaked fish, stir gently to mix and continue cooking covered on low heat for another 30 min.

Fold in the rum and sherry, if using.

Serve immediately.

Serves four

Pepper Roast Chicken In Periyar, Kerala

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We visited Thekkady in Kerala mainly for it's famous spice plantations. The region is also well known for it's Periyar Tiger Reserve and Wildlife Sanctuary, one of the biggest tourist destinations here and definitely worth a visit.

Accessible mainly by water, it is a sprawling, scenic expanse of lakes, dense forests and hills. Elephants, tigers, wild boar, deer, leopards and mountain goats are said to roam free and there are many varieties of exotic birds as well.

We boarded one of the vintage looking, double decker sightseeing boats on a lovely sunny morning and sat right up in front on the top deck to get the best view! Although we were hoping to see some tigers or at least an elephant or two, all we got to see were some deer who had come to the water's edge for a drink.

I guess all the wildlife was napping in the afternoon heat! The boat ride was beautiful and very relaxing, with breathtaking scenery and an enjoyable fresh breeze coming off the water to keep us cool.

Once back on shore, we were followed around by many adorable little monkeys, hoping for a snack handout. And when none was forthcoming, they simply snatched at bags of chips held loosely in careless hands, ripped them open with practiced ease and nibbled happily on all kinds of chips!

Completely unafraid of humans, these monkeys were everywhere, weaving nonchalantly through groups of tourists, lounging in the sun or posing for photographs among the trees!

We had built up quite an appetite after all this boating and were ready for some authentic Kerala food. This is the region where some of the world's best black pepper is grown and it is used quite liberally in the cuisine.

Kerala style pepper roast chicken is a tart, spicy, aromatic and delicious preparation where the flavour of locally grown black pepper really comes through. It is a dry dish where the sauce is cooked off until it is thick, flavourful and clinging to the meat.

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I like to use boneless thighs but you can use bone in pieces if you wish. I sometimes fold in finely chopped fresh tomatoes right at the end of cooking, for a change of flavour. If you want the dish to be hotter, add more black pepper! Read more about pepper in The Story Of Pepper.

Serve with Kerala parottas, naan or any flatbread. For a complete Kerala meal, serve along with Tomato Shrimp Masala.

Pepper Roast Chicken

1 1/2 lb boneless skinless chicken thighs (about 8 - 10), cut into bite sized pieces

4 tbsp oil (preferably coconut), divided

1 tsp each, ground spices, divided: black pepper, turmeric, cumin, coriander

or use 1 tbsp Malabar Masala Powder

Salt to taste

2 cloves garlic, minced or chopped

1 inch piece ginger, minced or chopped

40 fresh curry leaves, divided

1 fresh red or green chili, thinly sliced

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

1 medium onion, sliced into thin half rings

1 tsp tamarind extract or paste, dissolved in 1/4 cup warm water or use 1 tbsp lemon juice and water

1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves

1 tbsp slivered fresh curry leaves

1 red or green chili, thinly sliced

Preheat oven to 420F. Line a baking tray with parchment.

In large mixing bowl combine chicken, 2 tbsp oil, 1/2 tsp of black pepper, turmeric, cumin and coriander. Add salt to taste, half of the garlic, ginger and curry leaves. Mix well, cover and marinate in refrigerator for 1/2 hour.

To cook chicken, spread it in a single layer on baking tray, scraping up all the marinade over it. Oven roast for 20 min or until lightly browned and crisped.

Warm remaining oil in deep skillet over medium heat. Add mustard seeds, let splutter 30 sec. Add remaining garlic, ginger, curry leaves, saute for 1 min. Add onions, saute for 5-7 min until they are softened and lightly browned. Add remaining turmeric, black pepper, cumin and coriander as well as more salt if necessary. Cook 1 min.

Mix in the tamarind extract or lemon juice, water and chicken with all it's juices. Reduce heat to low and cook covered for 12 - 15 min, stirring occasionally. The sauce should be very thick and clingy at this point.

Fold in the fresh coriander, slivered curry leaves and fresh sliced chili, serve.

Serves four

Tomato Shrimp Masala In KanyaKumari, Kerala

I first visited Kanyakumari with my parents when I was a little girl. The spectacular sunset we saw from the shores of the southernmost tip of India still stands out in my memory. Situated at the junction of the Indian Ocean, Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea, Kanyakumari or Cape Comorin as it is sometimes called, is the only place in India where you can see the sun rise as well as set!

A gigantic statue of Thiruvalluvar watches benevolently from a distance as you near Kanyakumari. An eminent poet and philosopher, he is worshiped as a saint and people take the short ferry ride to go out to the rock on which his statue is situated.

People also come to Kanyakumari to visit famous temples that were built here many centuries ago. Suchindram, just outside of Kanyakumari was built around the 8th century and is an important pilgrimage site for Hindus. A beautiful architectural marvel, it has fabulous stone carvings, huge statues of Hindu gods and towering musical carved pillars built from single blocks of granite.

We were captivated by the many colourful houses and buildings that dot the landscape of Kerala. On the drive out to Kanyakumari, we came across bright green, purple and blue houses, and my favorite - hot pink walls! They livened up the countryside and our photographs!

The countryside is also very scenic with mountains in the distance, burbling streams, coconut groves, paddy fields and lush greenery.

Stopping by the side of the road to drink fresh coconut water out of a tender green coconut, then scooping out the sweet coconut flesh and savouring it while admiring the view makes the trip even more enjoyable!

Restaurants in Kanyakumari range from offering regional South Indian vegetarian cuisine, to locally sourced fresh seafood, cooked into curries. Some of these restaurants are situated right by the water front, offering great views along with tasty food.

We never tired of eating many varieties of fresh, delicious seafood in Kerala but our favourite was this spicy shrimp curry with a thick, rich sauce clinging to the shrimp. Wrapped up in a morsel of warm naan or Kerala parotta (pan fried flaky flatbread), it made a fantastic lunch.

Start your meal with Spicy Tomato Rasam - a wonderful soup to whet your appetite, then follow up with this delicious shrimp curry!

For more Kerala favourites, try this easy, crispy fish recipe or this fantastic Mutton Biryani.

Tomato Shrimp Masala

2 cloves garlic

1/2 inch piece ginger

1 green chili

2 tbsp oil

1/2 tsp black mustard seeds

20 fresh curry leaves

1 medium onion, finely chopped

2 large, ripe juicy tomatoes, chopped

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp each: cayenne pepper, turmeric, ground coriander, ground cumin, garam masala OR 2 tsp Malabar masala powder

1 lb large shrimp, peeled and deveined

2 tbsp each: chopped fresh coriander leaves, lemon juice

Mince garlic, ginger and green chili together in food processor.

Warm oil in deep non stick skillet over medium heat. Add mustard seeds and curry leaves. Fry them for about 30 sec, then add minced garlic mixture.

Saute for 1 min, then add onions. Saute until lightly browned and softened, about 8 min.

Add tomatoes, salt and all the spices or Malabar masala powder. Cook for 5 min until tomatoes break down and are well blended into the sauce.

Add shrimp, cook for about 5-7 min until shrimp turn pink and are no longer raw.

Fold in fresh coriander and lemon juice.

Serve right away.

Serves four