Indian feast for Christmas

Diana Lampe
Quick lime pickle and Kachumber (tomato and cucumber relish).
Quick lime pickle and Kachumber (tomato and cucumber relish). Photo: Melissa Adams

These recipes are mostly from northern India and make a wonderful feast served together. The preparation and cooking are best spread over a couple of days, and I think the rogan josh and dhal improve after a day in the fridge.

Serve this with Indian breads, pappadums, cashews, lemon or lime wedges, chutney and pickles. I often also make my son's favourite little dish of sliced bananas tossed in desiccated coconut. Squeeze lemon juice over the sliced banana first to stop it turning brown.

I have researched traditional recipes from many sources for these recipes and adapted them to my taste. So they are not fiery hot and not as high in saturated fat as Indian recipes. I have used sunflower oil instead of ghee. You can add extra chilli if you like.

Mango raita (mangay pajji).
Mango raita (mangay pajji). Photo: Melissa Adams

Channa dhal, split black urad with skins, black cardamom pods, asafoetida powder and other Indian ingredients are available from Asian, Indian and Middle Eastern grocers and some supermarkets. The recipes all serve six.

Aloo gobi - potato and cauliflower

Aloo gobi is a much loved spiced potato and cauliflower dish from northern India. It is eaten everywhere in India now and there are many different versions. You can add peas, too, if you wish.

2-3 tbsp sunflower oil
2 dried red chillies1 tsp cumin seeds
½ cauliflower (500g), divided into small florets
1 tsp grated ginger
1 tsp crushed garlic
1 green chilli, chopped
½ tsp turmericpinch of asafoetida (optional)
1 tomato, chopped
3 medium (500g) potatoes, cubed and cooked
sea salt and freshly ground pepper
¼ tsp garam masala
½ lemon
2 tbsp chopped coriander

Phirni (ground rice and pistachio cream).
Phirni (ground rice and pistachio cream). Photo: Melissa Adams

Heat the oil in a saute pan. Throw in the chillies and cumin seeds and cook briefly. Add the cauliflower florets and stir-fry for a few minutes until tinged with brown. Stir in the ginger, garlic, green chilli, turmeric and tomato and a minute later add the potatoes and cook a little longer. Season with salt and pepper and add the optional asafoetida and half a cup of water. Cover, lower the heat and simmer until the cauliflower is tender, and liquid cooked away; about 10 minutes. Now sprinkle garam masala over the vegetables and squeeze on a little lemon juice. Garnish with the chopped coriander and serve hot with Indian bread.

Kashmiri rogan josh - spiced lamb curry

Kashmiri rogan josh is a rich, aromatic Mughlai dish from northern India.

1kg shoulder of lamb cut into 5 x 2.5cm pieces
¼ tsp cayenne pepper
2 tsp sweet paprika
1 tsp salt
250g thick creamy plain yoghurt
2 tsp grated ginger
¼ tsp asafoetida, dissolved in 2 tsp water
2 tbsp ghee or sunflower oil
whole spices: 1 cinnamon quill, 5-7 cloves, 2 black or 6 green cardamom pods, 2 tsp fennel seeds
½ tsp ground turmeric
freshly ground black pepper
1 cup water
1 bunch fresh coriander, stems and leaves chopped
½ tsp garam masalafreshly grated nutmeg

Place the lamb in a large bowl and sprinkle with cayenne, paprika and salt. Mix together the yoghurt, ginger and asafoetida. Pour this marinade over the lamb and mix through to coat the pieces. Cover with plastic wrap and marinate for two hours in the fridge. Heat the oil in a deep heavy-based saucepan or casserole over high heat. Stir in the whole spices and fry for a few moments. Add black pepper and turmeric and a dash of water to stop them burning. Tip in the lamb and marinade and bring to the boil, stirring constantly. Cover the pan, reduce the heat and simmer the curry undisturbed for an hour. Pour half the water around the side of the pan, then cover and simmer for 15 minutes. Add the remaining water in the same manner and simmer for another 15 minutes or until the lamb is meltingly tender. Sprinkle on half the chopped coriander and stir through. Taste for seasoning and adjust as needed. Stir in the garam masala and grated nutmeg. Garnish with the remaining coriander and serve with steamed basmati rice or Indian bread.

Kachumber - tomato and cucumber relish

This is a typical salad that would be served at every Indian meal. Vary it as you please with other vegetables such as radishes, carrot, peppers and lettuce.

2-3 tomatoes, cubed or cherry tomatoes, halved
1-2 Lebanese cucumber, cubed
1 Asian eschalot or ½ red onion, finely diced and rinsed
½ chilli, finely chopped (optional)
¼ tsp toasted and ground cumin seeds
2 tbsp chopped coriander and/or mint1 tbsp lemon or lime juice
sea salt to taste

Clockwise, from bottom centre, Punjabi dhal (maa chole ki dal), Aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes with spices), an ...
Clockwise, from bottom centre, Punjabi dhal (maa chole ki dal), Aloo gobi (cauliflower and potatoes with spices), an assortment of spices, tomatoes, Jeera rice (Cumin rice) and Rogan josh (Kashmiri lamb curry). Photo: Graham Tidy

Combine the prepared tomato, cucumber, eschalot or onion, chilli (if using) and coriander and/or mint in a bowl. Mix through the cumin, salt and lemon juice and allow to stand for 10-15 minutes. Serve as part of an Indian meal.

Jeera pulao - cumin rice

Jeera pulao is steamed basmati rice spiced with cumin seeds and whole spices. You can add peas to the rice if you wish.

½ cup basmati rice
1-2 tbsp sunflower oil or ghee

2 tsp cumin seeds
1 dried bay leaf
1 black or 3-4 green cardamom pods
2.5cm length of cinnamon bark
½ cup frozen peas, defrosted (optional)
3 cups watersea salt

Wash the rice in several changes of water until the water is clear. Cover the rice with water and leave to soak for about 30 minutes. Drain. Heat the oil or ghee in a heavy saucepan and add the cumin seeds, bay leaf, cardamom and cinnamon and fry for a few moments. Tip in the rice and stir until the grains are coated with oil. Pour in three cups of hot water and add salt. Add the peas now, if using. Bring to the boil and stir once. Cover the pot and turn the heat down as low as possible. Steam the rice for 12 to 15 minutes until the water has been absorbed. Turn off the heat and leave undisturbed for five to 10 minutes, or transfer to a rice cooker where it will look after itself. Fluff up with a fork.

Mango raita

This delicious raita is from Bangalore, a different region from the other dishes. Serve with curries or as a dip with pappadums. When mangos are not in season, you can use bananas or pineapple.

2 tbsp grated fresh coconut or reconstituted desiccated coconut (optional)
1 large or 2 small firm mangos, cubed
250g thick creamy plain yoghurt
1 long green chilli, finely choppedpinch of salt
½ tsp sugarpinch of cayennesqueeze of lime
2 tsp sunflower oil
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 Asian eschalot or ½ red onion, chopped

If using desiccated coconut, soak in hot water for an hour and then drain. Whisk the yoghurt in a bowl and mix in the coconut, green chilli, salt, sugar, cayenne and lime juice. Stir in the mango. Heat the oil in a small frying pan. Toss in the mustard seeds and, when they start to pop, add the eschalot or onion and stir-fry for a few minutes until softened and coloured. Tip into the mango yoghurt. Taste and make any adjustments needed. Serve chilled.

Phirni - ground rice pudding

Phirni is a lovely creamy Mughlai dessert served on festive occasions. It is made with milk, ground rice and pistachios and flavoured with saffron and cardamom. You can also add a few drops of rosewater. Almonds can be used as well as or instead of pistachios. I use McKenzie's ground rice (not flour) from the supermarket, but if you can't find it, you can grind basmati rice yourself. Soak rice first in water for an hour, then drain and grind to a paste with a little milk using a stick blender.

1 litre whole milk
½ (100g) cup ground rice, or use ⅓ cup basmati rice
½ to ¾ cup of sugar to taste
½ tsp ground green cardamom (seeds from 6-7 pods, ground)
1 generous pinch of saffron threads1 tsp rosewater (optional)
¼ cup shelled pistachios

To blanch the pistachios, throw them into boiling water and cook for one minute. Drain and refresh. Slip the skins off in your fingers or with a towel and spread out to dry. Chop roughly or finely by hand. A larger amount of nuts can be chopped with a tablespoon of sugar in the food processor. Crush the saffron strands with the back of a teaspoon and soak in a little milk. Mix the ground rice to a paste in a bowl with half a cup of milk. Heat the remaining milk in a heavy-based saucepan; rinse the pan first to prevent the milk catching. Bring to the boil, then lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes. Ladle about half a cup of the hot milk into the ground rice paste and stir in. Tip back into the saucepan and whisk continuously (to stop lumps) over low heat until it thickens and boils. Take care it doesn't catch on the bottom. Add sugar (half a cup at first), cardamom, saffron and pistachios (save some for decoration). Cook for a few more minutes until it reaches the desired creamy consistency, keeping in mind it will thicken as it cools. Taste and add a little more sugar if needed. Pour phirni into one large dish or six individual terracotta or glass dishes. Decorate with the reserved pistachios and chill. Serve cold.

Punjabi dhal

This dhal is a staple dish in every Punjabi household. It is creamy and satisfying and has a nutty taste. It is made with channa dhal and split black urad with skins. Punjabi dhal is substantial enough to have as the main dish simply with steamed rice and a salad.

½ cup channa dhal, soaked overnight
½ cup urad chilka (split black urad with skins), rinsed
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp sea salt
2 tbsp sunflower oil
1 tsp cumin seeds

1 onion, chopped
2 tsp grated garlic
2 tsp grated ginger
1-2 green chillies, finely chopped
¼ to ½ tsp chilli powderpinch of asafoetida (optional)
¼ tsp garam masala
2 tomatoes, chopped
2 tbsp chopped coriander

Pick over the dhals and rinse in several changes of water. Soak the channa dhal overnight and the urad for about 45 minutes. Drain the dhals and put them into a saucepan with four cups of cold water. Bring to the boil and skim the froth off as it rises to the surface. Mix in the turmeric and turn the heat to low. Simmer partly covered for about 30 minutes or longer until the dhal is cooked. Add the salt to taste.

While the dhals are cooking, heat the oil in a frying pan and throw in the cumin seeds and cook for a few moments until they darken. Add the onion and fry until soft and golden, stirring occasionally. Stir in the ginger, garlic and green chilli and cook briefly, then add the tomatoes, chilli powder, asafoetida and garam masala and cook for a few minutes until the tomatoes are soft. Tip this tempering mixture into the cooked dhals and add more water if needed. Simmer for about 20 minutes. At serving time add chopped coriander. Serve with steamed basmati rice or Indian bread.

>> Diana Lampe is a Canberra writer,