Spices, for a more authentic Indian dhal recipe. Photo: David Reist
So the story goes a little like this. Om Prakash, a junior actor just starting out, is in love with the lead lady, Shanti. She is secretly married to the producer of the musical, Mukesh, who murders her when she announces that she wants to reveal their marriage and also that she is pregnant. Om witnesses this and tries to save Shanti but they both die in a fire. Om is reincarnated, and this is where it gets a little strange.
Thirty years later, he is a leading actor and through various chance circumstances remembers his past life and, randomly gains the ability to fight, which gives rise to strange scenes that feel like a cross between a Bruce Lee movie, The Brady Bunch and the Batman television series. Bam! We're about two hours into the Bollywood movie, Om Shanti Om, and it doesn't appear to be finishing any time soon, despite a huge musical number that apparently has every famous Bollywood actor in it. No, this is just getting started. They do musicals well on the subcontinent. Just why we're watching this is a long story, but suffice to say we're looking for inspiration for a significant birthday party where the theme is, you guessed it, all things Bollywood and Indian.
As chance would have it, Foxtel has a feature on the genre, and we are lucky enough to be able to watch them back to back. For which you need a pretty free day, as the average length of a movie is, oh, five hours.
It's the costumes that have you transfixed. The movie is a remake of a another Bollywood movie, Karz, from the 1980s, so when you combine the flamboyant Indian costumes with the styles of the 1980s, well you have quite a spectacle and lots of fodder for our fancy-dress theme. I'm making it my mission to mimic lead actor Shahrukh Khan, surely the world's most famous actor. He has this thing for body shirts and flares.
Clearly, we will theme the food along Indian lines as well, and this opens up a whole lot of potential, because, as you know, Indian cuisines are many and varied. Much of what we get as Indian is more what was fed to the colonial British, so it ends up been fragrant but sweet and creamy, like butter chicken. But we're looking for dishes that truly reflect the food of India.
As we are feeding about 80 people, mostly my family, I'm looking at about a heap of big dishes. Biryani is a well-known, one-pot meal throughout Asia Minor and the subcontinent - cooked rice finished and layered in a rich spice-laden gravy with any meat or vegetable. It's a celebration dish and will be paired with riata and pickles. The base can be made ahead of time. I've made this to feed a lot of people so you can scale it back as needed.
Likewise, kofta, a minced ball of meat, is found throughout Asia and the Middle East. The other dish will feature various curries from around the country plus one of two dhal and roti bread, dosai, the great rice and black gram pancake of the south.
So get into these Bollywood movies, like the food of India, they are joyous, exotic and very colourful, you just need to set aside half a day to watch them and don't get too caught up in the plot.
>> Bryan Martin is a winemaker at Ravensworth and Clonakilla, bryanmartin.com.au
2kg lamb mince
4 tbsp garam masala
100g ginger, minced
1 head of garlic, finely chopped
3 tins peeled tomatoes
1 tbsp dried chilli, optional
salt and pepper to taste
vegetable oil, to fry
2kg large onions, diced finely
10 curry leaves
1 tbsp ginger paste
2 tbsp garlic paste
4 tsp coriander powder
3 tsp cumin powder
1 tbsp turmeric powder
3 tbsp garam masala
3-4 tbsp tomato sauce
1 tbsp saffron strands, soaked in water
¼ cup milk
2kg basmati rice
2 bunches fresh coriander, chopped
To make the kofta, in a large bowl mix together thoroughly, the mince, garam masala, ginger and garlic, and enough tomato to moisten but leave the meat firm. Season with dried chilli, salt and pepper and roll up into small tight balls. In small batches, fry the meatballs in just enough vegetable oil to seal. Set aside.
Cook the onion with curry leaves in ghee over a low heat until they are darkening and sweet, add the ginger and garlic pastes and spices. Cook for another five minutes, then add the tomato sauce and cook this down to a thick gravy, add meatballs and enough water to come halfway up, cook for 10 minutes (shaking the pan), season and set aside. The gravy should be quite thick. Combine the saffron with the milk.
For the rice, rinse under cold water and then let it soak for an hour or so. Drain and, in a rice cooker, cover with enough water to come about two centimetres above the rice. Cook covered until the rice has absorbed the water. Only cook it three-quarters of the way through, as you'll finish it with the curry, so it should still have a slight crunch.
Make a layer with half the rice in a suitable baking dish, pour over the curry so that it is evenly distributed and cover with the rest of the rice. Sprinkle the saffron milk over the rice, cover tightly with foil and bake in a moderate oven for 30 minutes. Sprinkle with coriander and serve straight out of the pan.
1 long cucumber, seeded and diced finely
500g natural yoghurt
1 clove garlic, minced
1 tbsp ground cumin
2 lemons, juiced
1 bunch coriander, chopped
½ tsp chilli powder
Mix everything and sprinkle with chilli powder.
300g urad dhal (black lentils)
200g chana dhal (split chickpeas)
1 lt water
knob of ginger, smashed
2 cloves garlic, smashed
couple green chillies, halved
½ tsp each of turmeric, coriander, garam masala
1 large onion, diced
1 tbsp cumin seeds
½ tbsp fenugreek seeds
½ cup tomato puree (2-3 large tomatoes, chopped)
6 curry leaves
¼ tsp asafetida powder
salt and pepper
Soak the dhal overnight, drain and rinse. Cover with water and bring to the boil with the ginger, garlic, chillies and spices (not the tadka). Simmer until the dhal is cooked. Drain off any liquid and mash up a little.
For the tadka, cook the onions in the ghee until caramelised, remove and add the cumin and fenugreek to hot oil. Once they start to crackle, add the tomato puree, curry leaves and asafetida, then return the onions and cook for 10 minutes. Mix in the lentils and season to taste.