Gravy Train (Part 2)
This is a continuation of the previous post on the basic gravies in Indian cuisine and here I will be writing about the slightly heavier ones which you can prepare for special occasions.
Let’s start with curd-based gravies. Curd is often used to marinate meat and it can also be used for cooking dishes which have chicken or fish. It helps to cut the oily and spicy flavours and is easy on your tummy especially during summers. Once you put all the masalas or spices and the meat (see Gravy Train Part 1 for more details), add curd to prepare the gravy (I also add a little milk). It will release a wonderful creamy flavour and yet won’t feel heavy. North Indians make a dish called Kadhi where small balls/pakodas of gram flour are fried and cooked in a curd-gram flour mixture. It is light and is a less spicy option.
Coconut cream-based gravies can also be extremely delicious and are mainly used for sea food, especially prawns. It is sweet, creamy and refreshing. After cooking the onion-ginger-garlic, add spices like pepper, cumin, garam masala, chilli powder and turmeric. Cook tomatoes and sauté the prawns in it. Add chillies, salt and stir in the coconut cream. Simmer and garnish with coriander leaves.
And how can I be called a Bengali if I don’t write about Ilish maach or Indian Shad fish! Mustard-based gravies are a delicacy especially in eastern India, and the most popular dish is Bhape or Shorshe Ilish, meaning steamed ilish fish with mustard. It can work on any other oily, fleshy type of fish too. Smear the fish pieces with turmeric and salt and coat them in a paste of mustard, salt and green chillies. Spread them in a steamer or pressure cooker and pour mustard oil and a little water and steam for 3 whistles. The fish cooks pretty fast so do not overcook it.
Another base for vegetarian dishes is made from poppy seed paste or posto bata. Popular dishes include aloo posto (potatoes in poppy seed paste), Jhinga posto (ridge gourd/Chinese okra) … it’s past midnight now and I can’t think of any more. Add kali jeera/nigella seeds/kalaunji to the oil and sauté the potatoes in medium flame. Add the poppy seed paste (soak them for 30 minutes before making the paste), chillies, salt, a little sugar and cook them for 5 minutes. Pour water and let it simmer for 10 minutes or till the gravy texture becomes creamy and thick. Serve with ghee and rice.
This reminds me of a cashew nut-based gravy. (Oh god will this post ever end?!) This is a rich dish and can turn any item into a delicacy. Both veg and non-veg items like paneer (close to cottage cheese or ricotta cheese), mixed vegetables and chicken can be cooked in this gravy. The cashew nut paste is made by blending onions, ginger, garlic, chillies, cashew nuts, poppy seeds and tomatoes (optional). Heat oil and a little ghee and add spices like cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, fennel seeds, then add onions, ginger, garlic, chillies, turmeric (optional), garam masala and salt. Add the paste and cook it for a few minutes before adding water. Let it simmer till the flavours mix with the paste and it thickens. Add previously sautéed vegetables, meat balls or pieces of meat (preferably boneless) and cook in the gravy for 10- 15 minutes in low flame or till the meat or vegetables become tender.
Another healthy vegetarian gravy is a saag-based gravy, where leafy greens like spinach, mustard greens or both are blended into a smooth paste after being boiled and drained. Sauté onion, ginger, garlic, tomatoes, chillies and add spices like garam masala, chilli powder and salt. To this add the ground leaves and mix well. Meanwhile, heat ghee and add a few slices of onions, tomatoes and brown them and add this to the leaves mixture. Mix well and serve with butter. You can also add pieces of paneer or potatoes and cook it in this saag-based gravy. This goes best with rotis and naan breads.
Last but not the least is a cream and tomato -based gravy. I use readymade tomato puree or you can make your own and mix it with full cream and set aside. The amount of puree should be 3/4th of the amount of cream used. After frying paneer, chicken or boiled eggs with onion, ginger, garlic (optional) and whole spices, stir in the tomato-cream mixture. Add cumin/jeera powder, garam masala, salt and a little sugar and cook the paneer, eggs or meat in this mixture. Serve with a dollop of butter and drizzle cream over it. It is a rich and creamy gravy and you should forget about counting the calories this one day.
As I keep writing this, one after another type of gravy and the related recipe keeps popping in my head. I will just stop now and hope this compilation of gravies helps you cook different types of dishes according to the occasion.
I have to thank my mom for this because my subconscious mind remembers all the delicious and wide variety of delicacies she used to feed me and most of the time I did not even acknowledge it. We take our moms for granted like they are just supposed to present food before us at the slightest growl of our stomach. But now that I have started cooking three full meals everyday and keep a pen and notepad in my kitchen drawer, planning my dishes for the next day before going off to sleep, I know how hard it is making that menu in your head every single day, keeping in mind variety, taste, individual preferences, health factor, items in the fridge, choosing which vegetable to cook in what order and so on. Really. Broccolis and mushrooms go bad so soon; potatoes and onions are my best friends, it’s like they look at me and say, “It’s ok Meghalee, choose the cauliflower, we’ll still be here for you.” Sniff. So next time you rush through your dinner, just remember to pause for a second and thank your mom, even if it is not any special dish. She probably has little burn marks or tiny nicks suffered in the line of duty but that smile from you will make it hurt a lot less.