This month marks our ninth Nona Nona collaboration, and next month, when Biren takes the wheel, will be our first Nona Nona anniversary. For a peek at our past Nona Nona features, click on the link. I can't believe Biren and I have been at this for almost a year and I can't wait to see what she has simmering for us next month!
It's been fun, at times, nerve wrecking. I look forward to another year of nail biting fun with both trying to avoid featuring the same dish each time, as we have been striving to and mostly succeeding at, since April 2012.
It's true that cashews are not heavily used in the southeast Asian kitchen, so I took the easy way out and settled on a simple but moreish and satisfying curry featuring cashews and potatoes.
Whether your preference in Indian food is northern, southern, central or coastal, meaty, vegan or just plain lazy, the broad appeal of this curry should take care of your spice craving, with a few simple tweaks if desired. No recipe is written in stone, but here's my two cents worth on cooking good Indian food, and especially vegetarian Indian food.
"Ungodly" amounts of onion and garlic are exactly what make a rock-your-socks-off curry, that doesn't need additives to kick up the flavour. That's a fact and Indian (and Asian) kitchens are stacked to the rafters with both. No matter what any politically correct cookbook or recipe blog, Indian or otherwise, may say, no Indian mother in an Indian kitchen, will ever cook a family sized pot of curry with two cloves of garlic and half an onion. Alliumphobes are best served exploring other, more subtle cuisines that handle uber sensitive noses or tastebuds with kid gloves, or revisiting their definition of "ungodly amount".
The actual ingredient that needs restrained use in a curry, is cumin. It's not uncommon to see curry recipes that serve 4, specifying upwards of a tablespoon of ground cumin. That's just too much of a good thing. Cumin is a richly savoury spice. Unfortunately a pinch too much and your curry smells like a sweaty locker room. In seed form it's more forgiving, but still best used with caution.
Back on the subject of tweaking, yoghurt will add a rich creamy tang reminiscent of northern cooking, coconut milk and curry leaves give a definite southern slant, while toasted, ground mustard seeds give it more of a coastal character. If you'd like to venture a little beyond, but not too far from India, coconut milk, some fresh grated coconut, curry leaves and pandan leaves make a curry that would sit comfortably on a Sri Lankan dinner table.
Indian cooking features a plethora of cashew dishes both sweet and savoury. Unlike most other cuisines, where cashews are usually a garnish as they are frankly a costly ingredient, these creamy and tender nuts, proudly take centrestage in this and many other Indian dishes. If you have until now only thought of cashews as a cruncy nibble to go with your beer, I think you will enjoy the unexpected but delicious texture of these spicy, gently cooked nuts.
The curry is a very simple one and quickly done. The only involved part, if you can even call it that, is the hour long soak to soften the cashews, necessary because they really should be tender as opposed to crunchy. Soaking them cuts the cooking time dramatically, so I recommend that you don't skip it. Just pour boiling water over them, cover and leave for an hour, while you trim and water your plants, vacuum the floor or paint your toenails. Of course, you could also put the time to good use by chopping the onions and getting a headstart on grating that ungodly pile of garlic ;)
You could use any type of potato but I like Russets as they tenderise so quickly and break down obligingly while cooking, imparting a lovely creaminess to the curry. It's almost like a spicy chunky potato mash, riddled with mildly sweet, tender cashews and juicy peas. As always, on everything I cook, solicited or otherwise, the brood weighed in with opinions. Hubs loved it, though he initially grimaced when I told him it was meat free (I deliberately avoided the word vegan). I made my usual batch of 10 naans, and he eventually ate six of them with a third of the curry. Having detected not a shred of meat in the spicy melange, none of my three boys would touch it, despite hubby's spirited endorsement.
It's delicious with regular or basmati rice, and even dreamier with soft, fluffy naan, garlic naan or chapati. Round out such a meal with a fresh salad and lemon pickle and close it with hot frothy tea and a simple Indian dessert for a feast that would please a (not too picky or meat obsessed) Maharajah! Now let's head over to Biren's warm and cosy kitchen for another helping of Nona Nona goodness...
cashew & potato curry
prep 1 hr 20 mins (plus soaking) cook 50 mins serves 4
2 sticks cinnamon
6 large green cardamom pods
2 large onions, peeled and coarsely chopped
6 large cloves garlic, peeled and finely grated (best done on a Microplane)
3 cm ((1 in) length ginger, peeled and finely grated as above
4 green chillies, sliced
2 tsp chilli powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp ground cumin
2 tbsp tomato paste
120 g (1 cup) raw cashews, soaked in very hot water for 1 hour, then drained
100 ml (1/2 cup) cashew milk
500 ml (2 1/2 cups) water
750 g (about 4 medium Russet potatoes) peeled and boiled till tender, then cubed1 1/2 tsp salt (or to taste - you will need more than usual because of the large amount of potatoes)
100 g (1 cup) thawed frozen baby green peas (optional)
coriander leaves for garnishing
Heat 5 tablespoons vegetable oil and when hot, add the cinnamon and cardamon pods. Stir for about half a minute. Add the onions, garlic, ginger and green chillies. Stir over medium heat until fragrant and translucent.
Add the chilli powder, turmeric and ground cumin and stir for a few seconds, until fragrant, then stir in the tomato paste. Cook for 2 minutes or until deep red.
Add drained cashews, cashew milk and stir over medium heat until most of the liquid has evaporated. Pour in water and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until cashews are tender and gravy has thickened.
Add potatoes, salt and peas and stir well. Cover and cook gently for 4 - 5 minutes or until potatoes and peas are heated through. Taste and adjust seasoning and thin with a little water if necessary. Stir then turn off heat.
Dish out and garnish with coriander leaves. Serve with rice, baguette, naan, garlic naan, or chapati.