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Abu Dhabi, UAEThursday 20 September 2018

Blending Indian masalas to create magic on the plate

While there are many types of masalas, there are some basics that can help you achieve quick delicious results, writes Anisha Mistry

Christopher Pike / The National
Christopher Pike / The National

The are probably as many versions of a masala in Indian cooking, as there are vegetables. They are a real delight, and cannot be achieved without a proper pairing. It is important to understand the subtlety required to prepare a masala mix, before its tangy yet spicy, pungent and creamy journey is used in a fragrant and gently cooked gastronomic Indian dish.

Masala is an aromatic blend of fresh herbs and spices – whole or ground – and when it is combined with fresh citrus juices, oil or vinegar, it gives Indian dishes their distinct flavour. There are a few key spices, which are necessary small red shallots, vibrant green chillies, ginger and spicy garlic – which, when ground together with hot dried bird’s eye chillies, curry leaves and other sweet-scented seeds, produce the most delicious results.

You can buy most of the flavourings ground and bottled in supermarkets, but there is something satisfying when you grind your own. Recipes vary, but here are some tasty tips you need to know.

Dry powder masalas should be gently stir-fried in vegetable, coconut or olive oil, as they really benefit by releasing strong-scented aroma and flavour.

The heat level of chillies, which were introduced to Indians by the Portugese, is determined by the number of seeds they contain, and provide extra flavour when lightly roasted.

The base of most curries are three key ingredients: onion, ginger and garlic. They should be slowly sauteed, till they achieve a golden brown, caramel colour, and are intertwined with each other.

Coconut is often added to masalas and curries to achieve a creamy texture, and its flavour is an added bonus.

Curries can be thick or thin in consistency – the thicker variants require lesser water – which allows the ingredients to be gently coated, as opposed to swimming in thin gravy.

Where masalas are used in recipes, each blend and method is unique to each individual dish. This specific recipe, is a quick curry for a cook who is pressed for time. It is useful, as it can be prepared in advance and stored in the fridge. As long as you have some chutney in the pantry, all you need to do is add in some yoghurt and coriander, to produce a dish that tastes authentic.

The recipe originates from Gujarat, which is the birthplace of some of India’s finest vegetarian food, where mouthfuls of favourite curries are served with pickles to adjust the heat to personal preference.

This curry is simple and undoubtedly quick – Indian cooking at its best. You can enjoy warmth from the spices, crunchiness from the beans and the cooling properties of coconut, all in one bite.

Yellow Beans Foogath (green beans can be substituted for yellow)

Preparation time: 10 minutes

Cooking time: 20 minutes

Serves 2

Ingredients

A generous splash of coconut oil

1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds

150g new potatoes, scrubbed and roughly diced

1 red onion, finely chopped

500g yellow beans, topped and tailed, and chopped into 1 cm pieces

3 dried red chillies, crushed

50g freshly grated coconut

Sea salt

Method

Heat the coconut oil in a large wok. Once hot, add the cumin seeds and cook until they begin to sizzle and crackle.

Add the onion and potatoes and sauté until they turn slightly brown. Add a sprinkling of water and let it cook until the potatoes are al dente.

Stir in the yellow beans, put in the dried red chilies and season with sea salt, according to taste. Cook until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally.

Place onto a serving dish and sprinkle with the freshly grated coconut and serve warm.

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