ʽʽHi, I’m Benjamin Nunn – critic, gourmand and author of Ben Viveur. I like to eat and drink. And cook. And write.

You might have read me in an in-flight magazine, or a beer publication, but here on my own blog I'm liberated from the editorial shackles of others so anything goes.

I deal with real food and drink in the real world, aiming to create recipes that taste awesome, but which can be created by mere mortals without the need for tons of specialist equipment and a doctorate in food science. Likewise, I tend to review relaxed establishments that you might visit on a whim without having to sell your first-born, rather than hugely expensive restaurants and style bars in the middle of nowhere with a velvet rope barrier, a stringent dress code and a six-month waiting list!

There's plenty of robust opinion, commentary on the world of food and drink, and lots of swearing, so look away now if you're easily offended.

Otherwise, tuck your bib in, fill your glass and turbo-charge your tastebuds. We're going for a ride... Ben Appetit!

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The art of the possible - Murgh Keema Masala

When I eat at a Pizza/Pasta type restaurant (a real Italian one as opposed to a Pizza Hut, obviously), I’ll almost always choose a pizza from the menu, rather than a pasta or risotto or tuscan bean stew or anything else. Probably 95% of the time. In fact the only time I wouldn’t would be if I’d had pizza the day before or something.

That’s not because I’m a huge pizza aficionado, or because I don’t believe the other dishes on the menu would be fantastic. It’s because a stone-baked pizza or wood-fired pizza is one of those dishes that it’s almost impossible to adequately recreate at home without the requisite stone-baking or wood-firing malarkey.

I know I can cook more-than-acceptable Italian-style dishes -  My pancetta and parma ham linguine and seafood risotto rock like a bastardino. I also know that any attempt to make pizza will result in something rather half-hearted and uninspiring.

Same with fish and chips. Leave it to the experts. They can do something unique that the home chef without the specialist knowledge and equipment will struggle to achieve. Kebabs too, I suppose.

And, thinking about it, it’s the reason why I usually drink real ale in pubs, rather than a bottle of beer (or wine or cider etc.) which would taste exactly the same at home.

Anyway, Indian (or, rather, South Asian) food is diverse enough that it falls between two stools of thought here. (It’s also diverse enough to accommodate mixed metaphors, thank you very much.)

Sometimes I’ll make a curry at home and it’ll taste as good as any similar dish in a restaurant, but I’ve also enjoyed some fantastic dishes in Indian restaurants that I know I’ll never be able to cook myself. 
No, I don't own one either

I guess using a proper Tandoor (which I don’t own and wouldn’t have space for) makes the difference here, just as an authentic pizza oven hides the secret behind great pizza. I do occasionally muse upon this reality, without much further analysis, admittedly, because food that I can and do actually cook and eat seems to be rather more worthy of earnest consideration than that which I can't and don't!

So, this week, I decided to cook a curry or two, and my girlfriend suggested in a fit of adventurousness, that it might contain boiled egg(!) and my mind immediately turned to a dish I’d enjoyed many years ago.

It not only worked out amazingly well, it has the added bonus that the ingredients can also produce a delicious starter by way of a side product.

It takes a little while, but the result is a luxurious dish of the kind you’d normally find on the ‘chef’s specials’ section of the menu.

More importantly, you'd never know that the tandoori components hadn't been cooked in a real tandoor, so you get the warm fuzzy feeling of cheating and getting away with it.

These three recipes should be within the capability of any decent home chef.

Keema Murgh Massala
Seekh Kebabs

Chicken Tikka will never taste as good in a regular oven, but just because the tikka you're in a position to make isn't authentic enough to eat on it's own, there's no reason not to include it in a thrice-cooked feast where the tikka pieces end up in a flavoursome sauce, giving you the best of both worlds.

This is one such dish, with the tikka pieces eventually finding their home in a spicy keema (minced lamb) sauce, and as a by-product there will be tasty lamb kebabs to enjoy as a first course!


Chicken fillets, cut into bite-sized pieces
Minced lamb, half for the kebabs, half for the keema sauce.
Hard boiled eggs, shelled, whole, one per serving
Onion, finely chopped, roughly one medium onion per serving
Tomatoes, at least 1 ½ medium tomatoes per serving, a mixture of finely chopped and cut into quarters
Plain yoghurt, quite a lot
A lemon or two, for juice and segments
Red pepper, finely chopped
Garlic, plenty, chopped
Fresh coriander leaves, roughly torn
Tandoori spice mix (red spice powder)
Black pepper
Black onion seeds
Chilli powder


The first thing is to marinate your chicken, and if you can do this a day before eating and keep it marinating in the fridge then even better.

Just whack some of your tandoori spices into some yoghurt with a smidge of lemon juice and as much chilli powder as you choose, stir it all up, then coat your chicken pieces all over and leave for a while,

It’s a good idea to marinate it in the big oven dish you plan on cooking the curry in, because all the marinade left behind can become part of the curry eventually anyway.

When you’re ready to cook, you’ll need to allow a couple of hours, though there will be seekh kebabs to enjoy in the mean time.

Take roughly half your minced lamb and add some spice mix and chilli powder with maybe a tiny drop of lemon juice.

Work it in thoroughly with your hands (it should be red rather than ‘lamby’ in colour) and form solid little turd-shaped kebabs.

You can put these on a baking tray with the chicken tikka pieces and cook it all at the same time – it goes into a medium oven for about half an hour, turning everything over half way through cooking, and draining off the juices (into your main curry pan).

You should remove the chicken from the oven a little earlier than if you were just cooking chicken tikka, because it’s going to be cooked two times more!

The kebabs can go back in for a little longer, until red-brown and slightly crispy - or do this later when you're ready to serve them as your starter.

Serve with a little yoghurt and a wedge of lemon, and maybe some salad.

You can also search them cold in a naan wrap if there are some left over.

While that little lot is in the oven, you can begin making the curry.

Heat some butter in a big sautee pan with a lid, and add the chopped garlic (not the slices), and most (but not all) of the onion.

After a few minutes, when it’s simmering nicely, add some black pepper, chilli powder, black onion seeds, asafoetida and ginger, and a minute or two later, whack in the minced lamb and chopped peppers, making sure everything gets coated nicely with the spices and the lamb is properly cooked. If it starts to disintegrate that's not really a problem.

At some point you’ll be able to add the excess juices from the tikka and kebabs that are cooking in the oven, and this would be a good time to put in the chopped tomatoes (but not the tomato quarters) and keep it cooking gently until the chicken in the oven is ready.

OK, so you've cooked your chicken tikka and kebabs, so the time to make it all come together is almost at hand.

Add the cooked chicken tikka to your curry, along with the quartered tomatoes and a big fistful of fresh coriander.
Cook it on a low heat with the lid down for 15-20 minutes - the aromas should be lovely by now.

Now, go back to the dish where it all started (where you marinated the chicken) and transfer everything back into that, adding the boiled eggs at this time. Everything should be mixed up nicely and the keema sauce should be lovely and thick and moist.

If it’s too dry, add a little more yoghurt, maybe diluted with a spoon or two of boiling water. But bear in mind that the tomatoes will add liquid and the lamb juices richness.

It’s now time for the final phase – put the lid on the dish and return it to the oven, where it will improve on a low heat for 30 minutes or so, during which time you can cook the rice or nan bread or whatever you want, or possibly a garlic mushroom bhaji.

When you serve it, make sure everyone gets an egg and a few big bits of tomato.

Garlic Mushroom Bhaji

This is a really easy side dish and contrasts nicely with the Murgh Keema Masala.


Chestnut mushrooms, chopped
Garlic, thinly sliced, lots
Onion, a small amount, chopped


Take a regular frying pan and fry the onion and garlic in butter, then add the spices – don’t be afraid to be generous.

After a few minutes, add the chopped mushrooms and cook on a medium heat until the mushrooms start to soften and the garlic slivers turn brown. That's it. Serve it with your main curry.

A simple naan bread or basmati rice completes the meal, and you might want to drink an appropriate beer with it. Cobra is fine, King Cobra better, and Wolverhampton & Dudley brew an 'Ultimate Curry Beer', but my preferred option would be a chilled bottle of Brewdog Punk IPA, which I find an excellent accompaniment to spicy food.

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