Banana Blossom curry (Vaazhaipoo curry)


The banana tree is a true giver, all parts of the plant : the tender bark, the leaves, the flowers , the fruits…. either are edible or they aid in cooking. Banana blossoms, rich in antioxidants , flavonoids and vitamin E are found to stabilize blood sugar levels and elevate mood among other health benefits. Prepping the flower for cooking can be cumbersome, but its unique taste is completely worthy of the time and efforts.

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If you are new to cooking with the blossom, this post can show you how to properly prep the flower. The blossom can be used in stir fries, salads, stews and curries. The most popular concoction is the “vazhaipoo vadai” (crispy patties made with chickpeas and the banana flowers). Though the flowers can be used in any curry, here I have given my mushroom curry recipe, replacing mushrooms with the banana flowers.

Without further ado, here is how to prep the blossom for cooking :

[Either use  food prep gloves or rub sesame oil on your fingers before working with the blossom to avoid staining.]

  • The petals are layered on top of one another and as you remove each petal you will find the cluster of tiny flowers inside.

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  • Actually in a fresh banana blossom , the flowers are slightly pinkish (as shown in the image below). However, the blossoms I get here are either refrigerated or frozen before they make it to the stores, so the black color. However, the color doesn’t affect the taste.

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[Image from : http://www.moorheadandrutter.com.au]

  • As you remove the layers you will notice the flowers getting smaller and tender.

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  • Finally you will end up with this beautiful tender bud, which can be either eaten  raw or sliced up and used in cooking.

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  • Once you have removed all the flowers, each flower must be individually prepped by removing some unwanted parts (similar to deveining a shrimp).

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  • Each mature flower has  a stamen and a sepal (a wax paper like layer). It is important to remove both , as the stamen and sepal will stay raw even after cooking, resulting in an unpleasant texture and taste.

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  • It is time consuming but if it is any consolation, only the outer 4 or 5 clusters will have stamen and sepal. The middle clusters won’t have a prominent sepal. The inner flowers are very tender and they can be used as such.

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  • Soak the cleaned flowers in diluted buttermilk until you need them.

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This concludes the prepping of the banana blossom. No matter what you choose to make with them, the above steps have to be done first.

Now for the curry recipe :

I normally make this curry with mushrooms. The cooked flowers have a similar texture to mushroom, so I figured this would be a good choice. You can add the florets in any curry of your choice.

To make the cooking sauce for this curry, you will need :

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  1. Pearl Onions – 5 or 6
  2. Ginger – 1 inch piece
  3. Garlic – 4 or 5 cloves
  4. Green chilli – 1 (optional)
  5. Dry red chiilies – 3 or 4 (use red pepper flakes instead)[use only 1 or 2 chillies for milder curry]
  6. cloves – 3
  7. cardamom – 1
  8. fennel – 1 tsp
  9. cumin – 1 tsp
  10. coriander seeds (dhaniya) – 1 tsp
  11. roasted gram dhal (pottukadalai) – 1 tbsp (replace with cashews or grated coconut)

I know thats a lot of ingredients, but they result in a very aromatic curry. No fancy ingredients anyways 🙂 . Grind all the above ingredients with little water to make the cooking sauce.

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  • You will also need :
  1. onions – 1 medium (chopped)
  2. tomatoes – 1 large or 2 medium (diced)
  3. curry leaves – few
  4. turmeric powder – 1 tsp

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  • In a pan , heat a 2 tsp of oil, and saute the onions and curry leaves. Then add the tomatoes and cook until tomatoes soften.

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  • Add the banana flowers (that were soaking in buttermilk) to the pan and saute.

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  • Add the cooking sauce , turmeric powder, salt and mix well.

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  • Add about half a cup of water and cook until the flowers are tender and oil starts to separate. It will take about 15 – 20 minutes in medium heat.

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I like this curry for its flavors and also that it goes well with rice, rotis, idli and dosa. You will definitely appreciate the unique taste of banana flowers in this curry. Hope you try it 🙂 !

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The 5 minutes Sambar


Being a south Indian, sambar is our staple curry. I can make a pot of sambar , serve with rice for lunch and then serve with idlis or dosas for dinner, or serve with vadas for appetizers ,or as lentil soup, it is truly multi-purpose. Made with lentils and vegetables , it ranks high on nutritional value too. To make sambar in traditional way is not at all complicated, cook your lentils, cook your vegetables, add tamarind and sambar powder, add your favorite seasoning, temper with some ghee…..and that is all there is to it. But the lentils do take some time to cook, so it is not something you can make when you are trying to fix a meal in 10 minutes.

This quick sambar recipe replaces dal (lentils) with powdered split chickpeas (pottukadalai / roasted gram). Pottukadalai (fried gram) is the split and roasted chickpeas. Roasting is not done with oil, but done by applying high pressure (similar to how puffed rice is made). It is the most easily digestible form of chickpeas, porridge made out of this form of chick peas is a popular baby food. I encourage my kids to eat this roasted gram as such, a good source of protein yet mild on their stomachs.

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Ok, now to make this quick sambar, you will need :

  1. Pearl Onions – 7 or 8 (quartered)
  2. Tomatoes – 1 large or 2 medium
  3. Green chilli – 1 (slit)
  4. Cilantro – a good bunch
  5. Curry leaves – few
  6. Pottukadalai (Roasted gram) – 1 tbsp
  7. Tamarind water – 2 tbsp (diluted)
  8. Turmeric – 1 tsp
  9. Sambar powder – 2 to 3 tsp
  10. Salt to taste
  11. Vellam / Jaggery / Brown sugar – 1 tsp
  12. Mustard seeds, urad dal and ghee – 1/2 tsp each (to temper)

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  • Powder the roasted gram, this will only take a few seconds and it becomes a fine powder very quickly.

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  • Now dilute this 1 tbsp of powder with about half a cup of water.

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  • In a pot, heat a spoon of oil and saute the onions, tomatoes, green chillies, curry leaves and cilantro.

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  • When the onions and tomatoes soften add the tamarind water, turmeric, sambar powder, brown sugar and salt. Tamarind is optional, you can just add more tomatoes instead. Also if you don’t have sambar powder , use chilli powder and coriander powder.

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  • Add about half a cup of water and bring the curry to boil, and then mix in the diluted gram powder solution.

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  • You will see the sambar thickening within seconds. Bring the sambar to a good boil. Check for seasoning, add salt if needed.

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  • In a separate pan, heat 1/2 tsp of ghee and fry the mustard seed and urad dal and add it to the sambar.

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  • Remove from heat and serve. The neat thing is you can make this sambar while your idlis are steaming .  You might have already tasted this sambar, because it is a popular restaurant trick 🙂 (why wouldn’t they ? it is both cost effective and time effective). I still make my sambar the traditional way with dal (lentils), but this quick sambar recipe is good to have in your arsenal for one of those crazy busy days !

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P.S. – While you can use besan (garbanzo flour) instead of the roasted gram powder, I prefer the latter.

Poondu Kuzhambu (Garlic Curry)


Aaaah…..Diwali is fast approaching. Next week, I would be whipping out traditional diwali sweets and savories , going through pounds of sugar and gallons of oil. I thought I would post one simple, healthy recipe before jumping into the Diwali binge. I know I will make this curry again a few days after diwali, when I am not high on sugar and my stomach craves for a detox 🙂

Poondu (Garlic) Kuzhambu (curry) is a very simple and a very basic recipe. No fancy ingredients, no fancy cooking techniques, takes less but delivers more. The garlic flavor is very subtle in the curry , so no need  worry about ogre breath after eating this :).

  • You will need :
  1. Garlic – 15 -20 cloves
  2. Curry leaves – few
  3. turmeric – 1 tsp
  4. vellam / jaggery/ brown sugar – 1 tbsp
  5. tamarind water – soak 1 tbsp of tamarind in water and extract the juice
  6. salt to taste
  7. Sesame oil – 1 tbsp

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  • To make the masala paste , you will need :
  1. Pearl onions – 10 (use shallots otherwise, but no large onions)
  2. Tomatoes – 1 large or 2 medium
  3. Curry leaves – few
  4. Black pepper – 1.5 tsp
  5. Dry red chillies – 2
  6. cumin – 1.5 tsp

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Grind the above ingredients to a paste. To get a smooth paste, first pulse the dry spices and add the onions and grind for 30 seconds and then add the tomatoes.

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  • In a wok, heat 1 tbsp of sesame oil and fry mustard seeds and then saute the curry leaves and the garlic.

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  • When the garlic cloves turn slightly golden, add the ground masala paste. (If you used large onions , the raw pungent smell of onions would be unpleasant, so only use pearl onions or shallots.)

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  • Dilute with half cup of water and to the curry add turmeric, brown sugar and salt.

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  • Taste the curry and see how much acid you will need and according to that add the tamarind water. Often while making tamarind based curries, we tend to go overboard with tamarind and then to compensate it we add more heat and more salt and unintentionally end up with an intense curry. It is wise to add the tamarind after adding all your seasonings, so that you will be better able to judge how much tamarind is needed.

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  • Allow the curry to boil and reduce. Cook until the garlic cloves are tender. Traditionally, 3 or 4 tbsp. of oil is used and the curry is cooked until all the oil separates and floats on top. But I always make this curry light and simple, and less oil does not lessen the taste in any ways.

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The approximate cooking time will be 15 – 20 mins.  You can put rice to boil, start making this curry and while it is cooking, make a simple vegetable stir fry on the side. So a complete meal in thirty minutes…. most days , that is all the time we get to prepare a meal, right ? 🙂

The garlic cloves that are cooked and soaked in the curry will melt in your mouth….

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Rasam (Clear Lentil Soup)


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Whether we had been eating out for three days in a row or had been feasting on festival foods or had been down with cold and stuffy nose, the next morning I wake up with only one thought “Make Rasam”.  Rasam (pronounced russ-um) is a clear soup and is commonly present in a south Indian lunch menu. Usually eaten with rice, rasam is also served as soup or used as a base for other recipes like “rasa vadai”.  If you didn’t already know, you may be surprised to  that rasam is the original “muligtwany soup“. “Muligtwany” comes from two tamil words “Molagu (black pepper) Thanni (water)”.  🙂

There are many versions of rasam. This recipe is of “Paruppu Rasam”, rasam made with ‘paruppu’ or ‘dhal’ or lentils. Having been a meat eater once has its advantage, I can pin point what is missing in the vegetarian version of a recipe. Soups are definitely not the same when you replace chicken stock with vegetable stock. But you can get the warm taste in vegetable soups by adding dhal water. I guess its the protein :).

Though rasam is a very common food, a well made rasam is not that common 🙂  Even experienced cooks make very simple mistakes, I still remember my bad rasam days. But over time, I have found my fool proof rasam recipe that is also quite easy to make. And here it is for you.

  • I use Thur Dal for rasam. (Thur dal is the dried and split pigeon peas). Take about 1/4 cup of Thur dal.

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  • You’ll also need :
  1. Plum tomatoes – 3
  2. Curry leaves – handful
  3. Cilantro – a good bunch
  4. Lime – 1/4 (You will need more or less according to the acidity in tomatoes)
  5. Turmeric powder – 1/2 tsp
  6. Asafoetida – 1/4 tsp (Common mistake 1 : heavy hand with asafoetida, results in a bitter rasam. A pinch is plenty.)
  7. Vellam / brown sugar – 2 tsp
  8. salt to taste

(Usually tamarind water is used in rasam. But I am replacing it with tomatoes and lime)

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  • For the spice blend :
  1. Black pepper – 2 tsp
  2. Cumin – 2 tsp
  3. coriander seeds – 1 tsp
  4. Garlic cloves – 2 (crushed with the peel)

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  • Crush black pepper, cumin, coriander seeds and garlic coarsely. Crush them enough to break to release flavor. Do not make it into a fine paste /powder.

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Common mistake 2 : Using store bought rasam powder. I am not against pre-made powders. I have devoted a section of my pantry for pre-made masala powders. But for rasam, strictly no pre-made stuff. And it is so easy to make the spice blend instantly.

  • Wash thur dhal, add a cup of water, add turmeric and asafoetida to the water and also add the tomatoes. Cook until dal is soft. I use a pressure cooker as it cooks dal fast and retains nutrients.

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  • Once the dal is soft , mash the tomatoes and dal with the back of a spoon or ladle. If your dal doesn’t mash easily, you need to cook a little longer.

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  • Add 4 – 5 cups of water to the mashed dal and tomatoes. Add salt to taste. Also add half of the curry leaves and cilantro.

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  •  Add 2 tsp of vellam/brown sugar and bring to one good boil. (If you choose to add tamarind water instead of lemon, you should add it now.If you added tamarind water, boil enough until the raw smell of the tamarind goes away).

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  • After one good boil, reduce heat and stir in the spice blend.

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  • After you’ve added the spices, the rasam should not be brought to a boil at all. Simmer until foams appear on the surface and turn off the heat.  Allow it to rest for 5 minutes and squeeze in the juice of quarter lemon. Adjust the quantity of lime juice according to how sour the tomatoes are. Also add the remaining curry leaves and coriander leaves. Cover with lid and allow it to rest for at least 10 minutes before serving.

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Common mistake 3: Over boiling the rasam. After adding the spices , when you let rasam boil , the flavors become pungent and gives a bitter after taste.

  • Did you notice zero oil was used in this recipe ? Isn’t that awesome ? However, usually rasam is tempered with mustard seeds and dried red chillies for additional flavor. But it is optional. If you choose to temper, heat 1/2 tsp of ghee in a pan, fry 1/2 tsp of black mustard seeds and 1 dried red chilli (cut in small pieces) and pour in the rasam.

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Comon mistake 4 : Using too much oil to temper rasam. It is so unapetizing to see rasam with oil floating on its surface. It kills the lightness of it.

It is very important to cover the pot with lid and let the rasam sit for at least ten minutes before serving. After ten minutes when you open the lid, you will have your zen moment, thanks to the aroma from curry leaves, cilantro and the spice blend, all married into one aromatic rasam.

Eat with rice or drink it as soup, or eat it as rice soup 🙂 It will never let you down.

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Puli Molaga (Hot chillies in tamarind sauce)


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These beautiful red chillies came from my neighbor’s garden (She generously supplies her garden veggies throughout summer).  So gorgeous….so hot 🙂 I love adding them in all my cooking from upma to fried rice.  A few days back my neighbor’s son walked in with the handful of these and said ” I want you to have this, they are special because these are the last chillies in the plant”. Thank God for these beautiful children filled up with so much love 🙂 I promised him I will make something special with his special chillies.

Puli Molaga is a simple side made by cooking the chillies in  tamarind sauce. You can think of it as the south Indian salsa and it is a multi purpose side that can be served with rice, rotis, idli/dosa or as a spread for breads and wraps.

  • You will need a cup of pearl onions. If they are smaller in size , you can add them as whole. The pearl onions I had were bigger in size, so I quartered them. Cut the chillies in half inch pieces. You will also need some curry leaves.

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  • For seasoning , you will need :
  1. Mustard seeds
  2. Urad dal
  3. fenugreek seeds
  4. turmeric powder
  5. jaggery / vellam / brown sugar
  6. Asafoetida / hing

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  • Soak tamarind in water. The longer you soak , the more you can get out of the tamarind. Ideally, you soak it for a couple of hours before you need it. I almost always forget to do that, so I just soak the tamarind in water and heat in the microwave for 45 seconds. This softens the tamarind and makes it easier to get the juice out.

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  • Dilute the tamarind juice with water. It is hard to correctly predict how much “puli” (tamarind) you will need. I always try to make more than enough and store the rest in the fridge and try to use it within a couple of days.

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  • Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a pan.  Fry the mustard seeds. Once they splutter, add the urad dal. When the dal turns to golden brown, add the fenugreek. Then fry the curry leaves and the chillies.

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  • Saute the pearl onions.  You can use shallots instead of pearl onions too.

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  • When the onions soften , pour in the tamarind juice.

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  • Add salt, turmeric, asafoetida and jaggery (brown sugar) to the curry. Adjust salt and brown sugar accordingly so that there is a perfect balance of heat, sweet, sour and salt.

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  • Allow the curry to boil and reduce. Do not cover with lid. Any time you need to boil tamarind solution (for any recipe) you should not cover the pan with lid.

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  • Cook until the curry thickens and the oil separates.

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As I mentioned earlier, this can be served with steamed rice, breads, rotis and wraps. My favorite part of this dish is the onions, soft and juicy soaked in all the spices…..I just keep digging for them 🙂

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Chicken Vindaloo ( Replace chicken with tofu for vegetarian version)


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As much as I love cooking, I am very much intimidated by recipes that call for 25 ingredients and 30 steps 🙂 I have been cooking long enough to understand that good food can also be simple food. But there are exceptions to every rule. Chicken Vindaloo is one such recipe, involves more steps than normal, but completely worth all the efforts. A staple in Indian restaurants’ lunch buffet, this curry with chicken and potatoes is quite spicy. Its not the kind of heat that makes you reach for water after the first bite, but with all the different layers of spices, you will definietly start to sweat before your are done eating 🙂  I don’t mind spending an hour in the kitchen for this, because this could be the only thing I cook for the whole day. Make chicken vindaloo and steam some rice… lunch and dinner are taken care of (with no complaints :))  (The flavor profile closely matches with  chicken chettinad).

  • Step 1 (Making the spice blend)

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  1. black mustard seeds –  2 tsp
  2. cumin – 2 tsp
  3. black pepper – 1.5 tsp
  4. cardamom seeds – 2 cardamom (remove the pod)
  5. fenugreek – 1 tsp
  6. cinnamon –  three sticks (about an inch each)

(These quantiies are for 1.5 lbs of chicken)

  • Heat 1/2 tsp of oil in a pan and fry the spices. Add the mustard seeds first and the fenugreek at the very end. Image
  • Allow them to cool down for a bit and pulse them in a spice blender.

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  • To this add :
  1. 1 tsp of turmeric powder
  2. 2 tsp of red chilli powder
  3. 1 tsp salt
  4. 3 tsp of brown sugar

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  • Mix everything with 2 tbsp of vingear. Image

This concludes the making of the vindaloo spice blend.

  • Step 2 (Making the onion paste)

Chop 2 medium size onions. Image

  • In a big pot add 2 tbsp of oil and saute the onions. Image
  • The onions have to caramelize and turn brown. This will take approximately 8 – 10 mins in medium heat. Image
  • Cool them down and grind to a thick paste. The paste has to be brown in color, if not , the onions have not caramelized enough and that will definitely affect the taste of the gravy. Image
  • Step 3 (Marinating the chicken)

Clean and cut the chicken into cubes (preferably boneless). Marinate the chicken with the spice blend (step 1) and the onion paste(step 2) and set aside for at least 30 minutes.  Image

  • Step 4 (Making the Vindaloo Gravy)

The rest is quite easy. To make the gravy you will need :

  1. Medium tomatoes – 2
  2. Cilantro – a generous bunch
  3. Curry leaves – few
  4. Ginger garlic paste – 1 tbspImage
  • You will also need 1 large or two medium potatoes. Peel and cut into big cubes and leave them in water until needed.Image
  • In a big pot, add 2 tbsp of oil, and fry the ginger garlic paste.Image
  • Add the tomatoes, cilantro and curry leaves. Sprinkle salt to sweat the tomatoes.Image
  • When the tomatoes soften, add the marinated chicken.Image
  • Add the potatoes.Image
  • Cover and cook. There is no need to add water.Image
  • Usually the restaurant vindaloos are more like thin curries.  But I prefer a thick gravy. Remove from heat when the chicken is completely cooked and your preferred consistency is reached.Image
  • For thicker gravy, cook until oil separates.Image

This goes extremely well with rice or naan. It is a flavor packed dish, so just this and rice makes a sumptuous meal.

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Paneer Butter Masala


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I do not know the history on why this is called Butter Masala. I just add 1 tbsp of butter in the recipe, I just interpret it as the gravy is as smooth as butter. Long shot, uh ? What so ever, this dish appeals to the kids with its subtle flavors, smooth texture and of course, no apparently visible vegetables 🙂

  • You need the ingredients below for the gravy.

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  • Heat 2 tbsp of oil in a wok and fry the whole spices.

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  • Saute the onions until they turn slighty brown. Also fry 1 tsp of ginger garlic paste.

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  • Add the tomatoes. Sprinkle salt to sweat the tomatoes.

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  • Once the tomatoes soften add the tomato paste. You can just use the paste, or just use tomatoes or a mix of both.

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  • Mix well and add little water if needed. Add turmeric powder, chilli powder and a pinch of garam masala. Also add salt as needed.

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  • What adds to the flavor of this dish is “Kasoori Methi”, dried fenugreek leaves. You can get this in an Indian grocery store.

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  • Crush 1 tsp of kasoori methi in the palm of your hands and add to the onion tomato mix.

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  • Allow the mix to cool down and make a puree with cashew nuts. Cashews help with the smoothness, you can also us toasted poppy seeds instead of cashews. While grinding , grind the cashesws first and then grind the tomato-onion mix to puree.

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  • While making the puree , if you need to add water , add heavy cream or milk instead.

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  • Return the puree to the wok. Add a tbsp of butter and a tbsp of oil. you can add more butter as you desire, but 1 spoon is more than enough.

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  • If the gravy starts to thicken you can dilute by adding milk or cream.

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  • While the gravy is cooking, you can cut paneer and brown them slightly . You can replace  paneer with tofu.

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  • Add the paneer to the gravy.

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  • As of now, the dish is complete. But if you would like to add one more layer of flavor, dry toast a tsp of cumin and a tsp of kasoori methi. If you don’t have kasoori methi, use a tsp of fenugreek seeds.

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  • Grind the toasted cumin and fenugreek leaves to a fine powder.

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  • Sprinkle this pixie dust on the gravy.

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  • Reduce the heat and simmer until oil separates.

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Just as I was about to finish, my son came back from school. As soon as I opened the door he exclaimed “wow , I can smell my favorite paneer dip” and my day was made. 🙂

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