Time-saving experiments

Sat 25 December 2010 by Ajay Shekhawat

In North Indian cuisine, sometimes the initial preparatory steps are all the same. Many recipes start thusly:

  1. Chop some onions finely, and (optional) some jalapeƱo peppers
  2. Heat a couple of tbsp of oil, add the above, fry till the onions are done
  3. Meanwhile, puree some garlic and ginger (equal parts; 4-5 cloves garlic to a similar amount of ginger)
  4. Add some red chilli powder, turmeric and ground coriander (seeds) to the ginger/garlic paste
  5. Add the paste and salt (to taste) to the sauteeing onions
  6. Cook till it's done; the smell of garlic/ginger should disappear
Once you have the above ready (the prep phase), you add your veggies; cook them a little; add tomato puree (if using), cover and cook.

The problem is: this process takes a while. It can take up to an hour to get the prep phase done. Who has so much time?

So this week I decided to make my own ready-made "curry paste". I took 3 large red onions, chopped them up finely and added them to my biggest wok with some oil. On Sunday I had visited Berkeley Bowl , where I picked up peeled garlic and fresh ginger. Normally I peel the garlic myself, but for this experiment the amount desired would be too much, so I took a shortcut.

The whole cooking process took more than an hour, but I ended up with a masonry jar full of curry paste. Once it was cooled, I promptly put it into the freezer, where it will reside till it's all over.

Yesterday I put the mixture to the test. For this experiment, I bought a can of black beans, to make a quick & dirty version of "rajmah", using black beans instead of red kidney beans. In a pot, I heated up a tsp of oil, and added out a couple of tbsp of my curry from the frozen blob in the jar. In a minute it was nice and hot; so I added some tomato paste. A couple of minutes later, I added a little bit of water, and then the beans from the can. Usually I don't use cans; but for this experiment, I didn't have soaked/cooked beans ready, so I went for the can option. I reduced the heat and let the mixture simmer for 10 minutes, stirring occasionally. So, in about 15 minutes, my rajmah was done! A couple of pita breads toasted on the open burner substituted for "roti", and I was happily munching away.

It may be too early, but signs point to a successful experiment. As the days go by, I'll try making other curried dishes with my mixture.