The weather is changeable at this time of year. New ingredients are becoming available and somehow, as the temperature rises I want to eat lighter, fresher things. Not everyone is a salad lover and so dinner parties need a little more thought.
We had some friends over recently who enjoy a curry. My challenge was to make a spicy meal but acknowledging the season at the same time.
We started with Pea and potato samosa. We’ve all had the lovely crisp deep-fried kind which are delicious but incredibly filling because of the oil content. I’ve also had a few filo versions which are an altogether different proposition – they have the crunch but are too dry and fragment all too easily. I settled on this recipe by Anjum Anand from http://www.cookingchanneltv.com because it baked rather than fried and I had most of the ingredients. The one I stumbled with was the mango powder but I substituted a little lemon juice. I often just Google to find the best substitution I can get and make sure I adjust the consistency of the dish accordingly.
The recipe starts with creating the filling and this is the crucial piece for me. In my mind I like to be able to feel the small cubes of potato but they need to be just breaking down to make the filling slightly ‘pasty’ to hold the thing together. The peas too need to have their own identity and provide colour and little pops of sweet freshness. The spicing is crucial – I want a clear infused heat but not something I’m going to carry forward to the next course. I took a lot of time preparing the small cubes of potato (using new potatoes) and then gave them a slight press with a masher before adding them to the mix.
Then comes the slightly fiddly bit. I’m not the most nimble-fingered of folk but proper preparation and taking my time managed to produce something which looked OK. The key with filo is keeping it from drying out and that means covering the remainder of the pack (not a chance of me making it from scratch) as you work and working quickly. Its pretty easy to handle and surprisingly difficult to break.
I ended up with some nice-sized, nice shaped triangles. OK, they aren’t the sharp pointed plump cushions that you get in most Indian restaurants more of a pastie but I could live with the results. They were definitely more right handed triangle than the desired equilateral version.
The cooking time at 30-35 minutes was surprisingly long for me but it proved to be pretty accurate. They went a lovely golden colour. They also lost even more of their sharp-pointed look. But they tasted great; a good crunch on the outside and then pleasant warming spice on the filling. The texture of the filling also held the samosa together so there was no pastry explosion when they were attacked by a knife – a hit!
So I moved on to the main course. I am not a big fan of rice with my curries. I find that it just fills you up too much. I also think that at this time of year the stodgy, runny onion and tomato sauce is a bit too much. I had in my head stuffed chicken breast and hunted around until I could find a recipe. I settled on what can only be described as a cheat – Royal Roasted Stuffed Chicken Breast (Murg Ka Mokul). It’s a cheat because one of the key ingredients is Patak’s Tikka Masal Curry Paste – unsurprisingly from the Patak website – but I don’t mind the odd shortcut. One of the other ingredients is saffron and I love the type of curry which carries that decadent warming flavour. The results are almost always rich but, by having it as part of a recipe which gives a small burst of flavour rather than a lavish sauce, I thought it would work.
The reason it worked particularly well is that the pistachio and grated paneer really stiffens the mixture and so the chicken stays wrapped round the ingredients with no leakage. This worked far better than I was expecting from the recipe. I wanted a well stuffed chicken breast and so presentation was a risk. I beat the breasts flat and cooked them with the seam downwards on the baking tray to hold it closed. The sauce is fantastic and I will definitely be doing this again.
I did prepare some simple boiled basmati rice to go with it but I also prepared a version of Ottoleghi’s Spring Salad recipe using wonderful Lichfield English asparagus which is perfect at this time of year. The dressing is really nicely spiced and just greens with the stuffed chicken breast was a perfect dish for the time of year and my audience.
We wont discuss how badly the rice pudding with mango dessert went down however….