Hey hey, it’s been a while since I did a Man in the Kitchen episode, but fear not, I’ve got a few lined up for more delicious stories and discussions around food, identity and culture.
This episode of Man in the Kitchen is a bit different because we have two recipes instead of one, and we don’t have an “interview structure” per se. Our conversation happened as I poked around Rohit’s kitchen as he cooked, and I asked questions about Indian cuisine.
I met Rohit through his wife, Carol, who in turn I met through Astrid, a permanent fixture on this blog for chocolate tasting and eating. Rohit hails from India, but met Singapore-native Carol at a conference in Jakarta. After living in Paris and Wiesbaden, they’ve now been living in Berlin for a couple of years. Just up the road from us, actually, that we’re practically neighbours.
The first time I had Rohit’s cooking was back in January 2016 when we came over for dinner and a Cards Against Humanity session. He made these amazing spicy vegetarian dishes, accompanied by dal and rice, hearty and warm, perfect for the coldest weekend of the year.
Rohit kindly agreed to be featured in the Man in the Kitchen series, and after some going back and forth on dates, we finally made it over for the session. He made us a delicious dinner, and we talked about Indian cuisine, education systems in Asia and Europe, parenting and the weirdness of LinkedIn.
Asafoetida, along with turmeric, forms the basis of many Indian dishes. It’s also known as hing, and is made of the resin of the Ferula herb. It’s strong-smelling, even in powder format, and gives a smooth oniony-garlicky flavour (to me) in dishes.
Jaggery, a type of unrefined sugar from sugar cane is often used in dishes from the Maharastra state in India, Rohit’s home state. Maharastra is also the biggest producer and consumer of jaggery. There, jaggery is not only used in desserts, but also added to most dishes like dals and curries.
The Indonesian equivalent of jaggery is the gula aren/gula jawa, made out of palm tree sap. Like India, the usage in Indonesia are for savoury and sweet dishes, and forms the basis of the dessert syrup that gets stirred or drizzled on to shaved ice desserts, like es teler, and cakes, like the lupis.
So whilst Rohit believes India is too big to be defined by one or two national dishes, that each state has its very distinct style and culture, we could agree that the thali is something you’d find India-wide. A thali is a meal format in India, Bengal and Nepal, where various small side dishes make up a big “plate”.
The word thali means plate, and the concept behind it is to have all six flavours of sweet, salty, sour, bitter, astringent and spicy in one plate.
Depending on where one is eating thali, you’d get variations of rice or roti with up to 6 side dishes ranging from vegetable curries to dips and pickles. We had the Kerala version of the thali, called a sadhya, at our friends’ Laszlo and Lesh’s wedding a few years back, see photo above.
The Indonesian equivalent of the Indian thali is the nasi campur. The design of the Indian thali and the Indonesian nasi campur almost demands that one eats with their hands: scooping a bit of rice and gathering different small bits of side dishes into a mound that you pop in your mouth. Ahhhh!
Carol’s father’s curry chicken, as perfected by Rohit. Apparently this is a dish that Carol’s father used to make, and Rohit adapted it to have a taste of “home” while they’re living abroad, away from Carol’s parents.
Rohit has researched various chicken curry powders and his conclusion is that the best one is the Malaysian-brand “Babas” Curry Chicken Powder. You can get this at most Asian supermarkets or order online if you don’t live near one.
Since it’s time-consuming, the recommendation is to make a big batch of this curry, and either freeze or eat it over several days. In our experience, curry always tastes best on the second or third day, when the flavours have time to develop together.
Here we go! The “I” below is Rohit, and not Yasmina ;)
What you need, for 4 people
The chicken and marinade
- 1.2 to 1.5 kilo chicken: best to use a whole corn fed chicken, and cut it to pieces
- 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder
- 2 teaspoons of salt
- 1-2 tablespoons of sunflower oil
- 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce
The curry paste/sauce
- 8-10 shallots
- 5-6 cloves of Garlic
- 5 tablespoons of sunflower or vegetable oil
- 1 tablespoon of light soy sauce: not a must, just for those soy sauce addicts
- “Babas” Curry Chicken Powder
- 150ml coconut milk: the packaged ones are highly concentrated so simply use less if you like the curry fiery and pour in portions with a spoon to avoid getting too much of it, especially if you want the curry to be fiery and red/bright orange
- 8-10 golf ball sized potatoes
- A few boiled eggs: I like to pour some curry on my boiled eggs on the side
- Handful of fresh coriander for garnish
- A few wedges of lime: I like to squeeze some lime juice on my curry
- Salt to taste: don’t use or use very little if you have marinated the chicken
Marinate the chicken
This is not a must but I like to marinate my chicken for at least 4-5 hours prior to cooking.
In a small bowl, mix together 2 teaspoons of turmeric powder, 2 teaspoons of salt, 1-2 tablespoons of sunflower oil, 2 tablespoons of light soy sauce. Place the chicken pieces in a fridge-friendly container with a lid, then pour the marinade over the chicken and toss to coat evenly. Leave to marinate for a few hours or overnight.
Take out the chicken and bring to room temperature before cooking it the next day.
Make the curry paste, see photos below
Blend the shallots and garlic in a food processor or finely dice it. Heat up 5 table spoons of sunflower oil on low to medium flame, cook the blend of shallot and garlic until soft and fragrant. Approximate cooking time for this step is 25 patience. No better virtue than patience here. This is the most important step as it defines the texture of the curry.
Once the onions appear cooked, put about 6 heaping tablespoons of “Babas” curry powder. Make sure the flame is on “low”. Constantly keep stirring and mixing and if the mixture goes dry, put some oil. At this point, the paste will clump and will remain clumped for a while. The mixture of the curry powder, shallots and garlic needs to cook perfectly and if not, the curry will get a very sandy texture.
After about 15 minutes of cooking, put a couple of tablespoons of the coconut milk and keep stirring. The curry paste will still be clumps but starting to liquidise a bit.
What is the sign the powder is cooked?
- The mixture goes very dark red/maroon.
- Oil separates out slightly from the mixture of curry powder.
Cook everything, see photo below
Once the paste mixture is cooked, put in the chicken pieces and mix to ensure that the mixture of curry powder, shallot and garlic coats the chicken pieces.
Put a cup and half of water, and the peeled potatoes (preferably cut the potatoes into halves), cover with a lid and let the chicken cook. Keep the flame on low. If the water is cooked out, add another half to one cup of water!
Important: Don’t put the water in one go, I don’t like my curry too watery.
Periodically check if the chicken and the potatoes are nearly cooked through. Once the chicken and potatoes are almost cooked, put in the coconut milk. Ensure that the flame is on low. Keep cooking till you see traces of red oil on the surface. If the chicken and potatoes are cooked…you are good to go!
Garnish with freshly chopped coriander and serve with both steamed jasmine rice and baguette. I love to eat curry with pieces of bread, but I don’t feel complete without eating curry at least with some rice and boiled eggs :-)
Make sure you make more than you need. The curry tastes a lot better the next day. If you make a lot, you can freeze the curry: the older it is, the better it gets! Of course not as old as wine please :-)
Aubergine yoghurt raita
What you need
- 2 aubergines, peeled and roasted until soft and leave to cool
- 3 tablespoons of oil, preferably sunflower but peanut oil is ok
- Plain yoghurt, approximately half the amount of the aubergine
- Fried peanuts
- ¾ to full teaspoon of cumin teaspoon whole cumin
- 3-4 whole dried chilli for the temper
- A handful of coriander, chopped, for garnish
No need to add oil (aubergine has a natural oil). Preferably use a fork rather than a spoon. Another way – lay the peeled aubergine on to a cutting board and use a knife to cut thick slivers (vertically and horizontally). This is easier. Mix with plain yoghurt, salt to taste and a pinch of sugar (optional).
Make the topping
The process of of frying the cumin and dry red chilli in hot oil is called Tempering. The oil needs to be very hot. Tempering (with hot oil) punches flavor out of the cumin and the red chilli.
In a small frying pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil and add the whole cumin and chilli. Chop up your parsley. Then, add the cumin and chilli to the raita, sprinkle with roasted peanuts and the chopped parsley.
Serve as a dip or as an accompanying cooling dish to a spicy main dish.
Important Tip 1
When the roasted egg plant is peeled or cut, it releases a lot of oil. This oil must not be thrown out. It is rich in flavor and so must be used in this dish.
Important Tip 2
Add about 10-15 pieces of pomegranate? They add a nice, sweet and tangy dimension to this raita! I was lazy so I did not do this.
What a happy end of Saturday!
A beautiful table, lovely people, great food, sweet wine, summer weather. A wonderful thing eating with an Indian is that I can eat with my hands. In both Indonesian and Indian cultures, it’s fairly common to eat with your hands instead of using utensils.
There is just a certain enjoyment and satisfaction that can only be achieved when eating with your hands. For me, especially when eating chicken on the bone, crunching the soft cartilage, and eating crab, getting every morsel out.
Thank you, Rohit! See you in the next edition of Man in the Kitchen!