Celebrating National Curry Week
It’s said to be the UK’s favourite food, so this week (3 to 9 October 2022) I’m celebrating the 24th National Curry Week.
The week was established in 1998 by the late Peter Grove, a journalist with a passion for curry. Grove also set up the Curry Tree Charitable Fund, which raised money to help fight poverty, disaster and malnutrition around the world.
National Curry Week’s 3 objectives are:
- Honour the nation’s favourite cuisine
- Celebrate and support the Indian restaurant industry
- Raise money for poverty focussed charities.
The website also has some delicious recipes for you to try at home, as well as ways to get involved in celebrating the week.
Today there are over 12,000 Indian restaurants across the country and millions of curries are eaten each week. One in seven curries sold in the UK is the Chicken Tikka Masala, which has long been considered Britain’s national dish. Some claim it was invented by a Bangladeshi chef in Glasgow in the 1970s to appeal to the milder British palate. Others say that it is actually derived from the northern Indian dish, Butter Chicken.
Cheese and curry
You might not immediately associate cheese with Indian cuisine, but there are some delicious cheeses that work perfectly in a variety of different curry dishes.
One of the most popular is Paneer (or Ponir), which is widely available in most supermarkets. Paneer is a fresh cheese, which means it has a short shelf life of about 2-3 days. It is also fairly simple to make and requires only a few ingredients. Read my previous blog post for some hints and tips on making cheese at home.
Ingredients – this will make about 200g of paneer
2 litres milk (I use whole milk as it gives a creamier cheese)
1 tsp citric acid (dissolved in 30ml water); or 2 tbsp distilled vinegar; or 2 tbsp lemon juice
1 tsp salt (you can add more or less to suit your taste)
Pour the milk into a large heavy bottomed saucepan and place over a low heat, stirring regularly with a metal spoon to make sure it doesn’t burn.
Once the liquid reaches 90°C, turn off the heat and add the citric acid (or vinegar/lemon juice if using instead) and the salt. Stir to combine, you will see the solid curds start to form in the pan as they separate from the liquid whey. The liquid will also change from a solid white colour to a slightly opaque lemony colour.
Let the mixture sit for about 10 minutes, to give the curds time to solidify in the pan. If the curds haven’t separated, add the pan back to the heat and add a little bit more citric acid, vinegar or lemon juice. Do this a teaspoon at a time, as if you add too much acid it can result in a sour-tasting cheese.
Line a sieve with cheesecloth or a clean tea towel over a large bowl. You can either ladle the curds into the sieve or tip the liquid and curds slowly into the sieve to drain. You can use the leftover liquid whey to make more cheese or in place of stock in soups or risottos.
Leave the cheese to drain in the sieve for at least 10 minutes. Bring up the sides of the cheesecloth around the curds and gently squeeze to remove more of the liquid.
Place the curds wrapped in the cheesecloth onto a tray or chopping board. Cover with another chopping board or tray and place a 1kg weight on top to press the cheese (I find tin cans or a heavy pan good for this). Add a further 2kg of weight onto the cheese after an hour and leave the cheese for between 3-4 hours.
Once pressed, put the cheese in the fridge to firm up for at least 30 minutes or until you’re ready to use it. If you’re not going to use the paneer immediately, transfer to the fridge and use within three days. Remove the paneer from the fridge, cut into cubes and you’re ready to use it in your recipe.
Recipe suggestion: Saag paneer
One of the most common paneer dishes is Saag paneer, which is made with spinach. I’ve included the following recipe, but you can use your own favourite spices or add in different vegetables such as potato, aubergine or cauliflower. Paneer is also good in a tomato-based curry with peas called Matar paneer.
- Vegetable oil
- 2 onions, thinly sliced
- Garlic and ginger paste
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp coriander seeds
- 50 g tomato puree
- 1 tsp chilli powder, I use deggi mirch
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp garam masala
- 1 tsp turmeric
- 1 tsp asafoetida
- 1 tsp ground fenugreek
- 2 tsp salt
- 500 g spinach
- 75 ml single cream
- 25 g butter
- 200 g paneer cheese, homemade or shop-bought, cut into cubes
- Coriander leaves, to garnish
- Prepare the ginger and garlic paste by blending 2 tablespoons of vegetable oil with 3 garlic cloves (skins removed) and a peeled thumb sized piece of ginger in a food processor.
- Add 75ml vegetable oil to a medium pan over a low heat. When the oil starts to shimmer, add the sliced onions and cook for about 30 minutes, stirring regularly, until the onions are browned and caramelised but not burnt. This takes a bit of time, but adds depth of flavour to the dish. Add a splash of water if it looks like it is getting too brown.
- Add in the garlic and ginger paste, mustard seeds and coriander seeds and cook for a further 2 minutes.
- Add the tomato puree, the remaining spices and salt and cook for another 5-10 mins until the oil is absorbed, stirring regularly.
- Meanwhile wilt the spinach in a pan of salted water for 2 minutes. Remove from the heat and add to a bowl of iced water to stop the cooking process.
- Drain the spinach in a colander and squeeze out as much of the water as you can. Add to a food processor and blitz until smooth.
- Add the blended spinach to the pan and stir until everything is combined. Add a splash of water if it’s looking too thick.
- Heat 2-3 tablespoons of vegetable oil in a separate non-stick frying pan. When the surface of the oil shimmers, add your cubes of paneer. Fry for a few minutes on each side until the paneer is evenly browned. Remove from the pan and set aside.
- Add the cream and butter to the curry and mix well. Add the fried paneer and stir through the curry, making sure not to break up the delicate cheese.
- Top with fresh coriander leaves and serve immediately alongside basmati rice and naan bread.