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!

Friday, February 17, 2012

A tale of two curries (and a side dish)

Over the last year or so I’ve been perfecting some curry recipes, but haven't written much about them since my Murgh Keema Masala well over a year ago - actually the very first recipe I published on this blog

The ability to cook a really good curry will elevate you above the plebs – unfortunately all too many homemade curries are either bland and watery or just one-dimensionally hot and lacking in finesse.

Fortunately yours don’t have to be like this.

In the privacy of your own kitchen it can be hard to come up with something exactly like a curry you'd eat in a restaurant (largely due to the lack of proper tandoor ovens and other specialised equipment in most homes), but you can make a curry at home that's both excellent in it's own right and also significantly healthier than the old tandoori restaurant standards - which is a particular concern of mine at the moment, obviously.


Chicken Tikka Bhuna

For best results, preparation the day before is required. The recipe works equally well with king prawns.

Ingredients - serves four

Chicken breast pieces, skinless, bitesize, about 1½ lbs
Onions, 2 large or 3 small, quartered
Red chillies, 2-3, chopped – more if you like it hot
Green peppers, 2, sliced into rings  
Tomatoes, 4-5, quartered
Garlic, several cloves, finely chopped
Red tandoori powder, quite a lot
Ginger, ground
Natural yoghurt or light sour cream, as much as is needed
Water (if required)
Fresh coriander, coarsely chopped (optional)


The key to this recipe is getting a good, authentic tandoori powder (a specialist shop, Asian market stall or the ‘ethnic foods’ section of a big supermarket will have this).

Make your tandoori marinade by mixing the tandoori powder with yoghurt (about 50/50) to create a thick paste, and thoroughly coat your chicken pieces. Leave in the fridge overnight if possible.

Once the chicken has marinated overnight, put the pieces on a baking tray and cook in the oven at about 200 for 20-25 minutes, until the edges just start to char.

Meanwhile, take a big pan with a lid and fry the garlic and chilli in a little oil, along with another generous pinch of the tandoori spice mix and the cumin, paprika and ginger.

Looking good...
After a couple of minutes add the onion, and then the peppers and tomatoes, before finally transferring the cooked chicken to the pan, along with any excess spicy yoghurt mix.

Turn the heat down, whack the lid on, and cook for at least an hour. A Bhuna should be quite a thick and dryish curry, so you shouldn’t need a lot of extra liquid, beyond what emerges naturally from the tomatoes and peppers, but add a little water if it’s so dry that it might burn, even on a low.

While the flavours improve with slow cooking, it’s important not to overdo it – the tomatoes should maintain their shape, and the peppers should be slightly crunchy.

A nice flourish with this and many curries is to chuck in some fresh coriander shortly before serving.

This type of curry is best served with a naan bread and a vegetable side dish (eg a garlic saag bhaji – see below).

Mixed vegetable Balti

This is a main-dish vegetarian curry - you can vary the exact vegetables used fairly extensively
Ingredients - serves four:
Carrots, 3-4, thickly sliced
Tasting good!
Courgette, 1 big or 2 small, sliced Aubergine, 1 full-size or 2 or more baby, diced
Onions, 2 large or 3 small, quartered
Tomatoes, 4-5, quartered
Green pepper, 1, sliced into rings
Chillis, chopped, as much as you feel like
Garlic, a few cloves, finely chopped or mushed
Fresh coriander, several leaves, coarsely chopped
Curry leaves, a few
Ground Cumin
Ginger, chopped fresh or ground.
Cayenne pepper
Black pepper
Cardamom pods
Lemon juice
Natural yoghurt
Flour to thicken (if required)


Heat the oil in a big, lidded pan, and fry the garlic, ginger and chilli, adding the onion and dried spices after a couple of minutes. These spices are just a guide – you can achieve different flavours with other combinations.

Keep the heat on high and add all your vegetables, with a little water and lemon juice if it’s too dry. Ensure everything is mixed up and your spices are nicely coating everything.

After a few minutes, turn the heat down to somewhere in the middle and stick the lid on. Leave to cook for about an hour, stirring occasionally.

You’ll find the liquid level increases somewhat, so you might need to add a little flour to thicken things up. Stir in plenty of natural yoghurt and cook on high again for five minutes or so before serving.

Vegetable curries are very flexible and other ingredients could include chunks of cauliflower or (parboiled) potato.

Rice, puris, mango chutney and a cold beer are all worthy accompaniments and again, chuck in some fresh, tasty coriander before serving.


Garlic Saag Bhaji

A flavoursome side dish that will compliment most curries


Spinach leaves (you’ll need a surprisingly large amount)
Onion, a little, finely chopped
Garlic, plenty, sliced thinly as opposed to chopped
Asafoetida, a generous pinch
Black Onion seeds, a generous pinch
Salted butter or ghee


Melt the butter in a large frying pan, and fry the onion on high for a couple of minutes, before adding the garlic, asafoetida and black onion seeds.

Continue to fry the onion and spices and ensure the surface of the pan is coated with flavoursome goodness, then start adding your spinach leaves.

You should have enough spinach to fill the pan and still have some left over – don’t worry, it will reduce exponentially in volume.

Keep the spinach moving so that the onion and garlic are all mixed in, and keep going until you’ve added all the leaves.

Within a couple of minutes it will be reduced to a think clump of green, and when you can no longer make out the shapes of individual leaves, it’s ready to serve!

This dish can be kept in the pan and reheated later, or indeed microwaved.

1 comment:

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