Kingsuk's "Hauz Khas-hew" Curry
September. India. We made a friend amidst the beautiful chaos that is Delhi and ate this on our final evening together.
We'd been put in touch with Kingsuk by Sophie, who had met him whilst trekking in Kazakhstan. Barely had Sophie sent her introductory email when our phone buzzed with a message;
'You are friends of Sophie's which means you're friends of mine too.'
Within a few minutes we'd received a string of brief but enthusiastic & wholeheartedly welcoming emails. India; our next country, would be by far the largest & in many ways most mind-boggling place on our route. It already felt like a less daunting prospect.
Ruth and I were staying in Hauz Khas, Delhi, for a long weekend. We had five days during which time we wanted to clean the bikes & repair some remaining Pamir damage. And a longer break from cycling would give us time to acclimatise to the pace of India which appeared worlds apart from the 'Stans of Central Asia. We arranged to meet Kingsuk for dosa & thali at a tucked-away little restaurant just outside Hauz Khas Village, a short walk from where we were staying. We'd been lucky with timings. Kingsuk is from Bengal & was heading back there the following Monday to celebrate Durga Puja with family and friends. He had cleared his weekend and as we left he earnestly reiterated: 'If you need anything; I'm your guy.'
As it turned out we did need stuff. And he was our guy.
Ruth's phone had taken a battering & was behaving erratically. Kingsuk took us to a mobile market & told us to go & get a chai. 'I'll get a much better deal if you two stay out of sight', he said with a mischievous smile as he handed us an Indian SIM card; 'and i thought this might be useful. Try it out in Oli's phone.' We laughed in slight disbelief & thanked him; it was something Ruth & I been discussing just that morning but by all accounts getting one in India was a notoriously convoluted process for a foreigner. A task we hadn't been looking forwards to so we were both relieved and grateful. 'Only takes five minutes for a local guy!' He smiled again. 'Get it working & I'll find you when Ruth's phone is done'. Twenty minutes or so later he returned with a fully functional phone.
We were lucky that Kingsuk had time to spare & only lived a couple of metro stops away. Usually a busy man, we caught him between jobs and fortunately, considering he is self-confessed lover of travel/climbing/trekking, between trips away. He really looked after us whilst we were in Delhi, going above and beyond in many ways and we felt very grateful to have been connected.
The first night we'd met Kingsuk, on the Thursday evening out for dosas, we had described the recipe-collecting side of the trip and he had reacted with typical enthusiasm. On the Sunday afternoon, after we had undertaken a treasure hunt of the local area in search of ingredients, he showed us how to make a cashew curry.
We were staying in an apartment with Tim and Adam (aka travelling musicians; Total Bike Forever) and Kingsuk had offered to cook for us all. So after finding most of the ingredients we headed back there. There were a handful of spices he said weren't worth buying as any self-respecting Indian neighbour would be happy to donate them to our cause. Hauz Khas Village is a touristy part of town though and as it turned out most of the apartments in our building were either unoccupied or let out to short term holiday-makers like us. As such, finding a blender and a small but specific range of spices wasn't quite so straightforward.
Like a surreal episode of 'Challenge Aneka', what followed was a chase around the backstreets of Hauz Khas with the cooked mixture in a bowl. On just our fourth evening in India, Ruth and I found ourselves jogging between street vendors and peering through the open back doors of restaurants as Kingsuk did his utmost to convince a series of amused stallholders and kitchen workers to blend the contents of our bowl.
It was a hilarious but ultimately unsuccessful sequence in the making of the curry. In the end, Pushkar, a neighbouring musician donated the spices but we were still without a food processor. An ever-so-slightly glum Kingsuk, indignant that there was part of India in which there wasn't a readily available means of blending a curry mixture, resigned himself to the arduous task of grinding it all down with a fork. The best culinary tool our little apartment kitchen had to offer.
Back at the flat he set to finishing up the recipe which, blended or not, was already smelling amazing. There was a knock at the door. It was Pushkar and his girlfriend Ria with a further offering. Despite raised hopes in the kitchen it was not a food processor - but it was two guitars and a harmonium. Our culinary evening was about to get musical in the living room.
Back in the kitchen the mixture was going into a bigger bowl and the least malleable fork was being selected when there was another knock at the door. To say that Delhi is a loud city would be an understatement. It seemed unlikely that this would a complaint about the music. We opened the door to see the old man who lived upstairs. Although our first enquiry had been fruitless he had since dug out a pestle and mortar. Perhaps the music had piqued his curiosity. Either way we were in luck. With an amused glance through the doorway at the multi-cultural, multi-sensory, multi-instrumental scene playing out in our living room, he gave a little wave, smiled, and bid us bon appetit.
Kingsuk's curry was delicious and as with the best of food it brought people together; this time quite literally. It was made with a lot of laughter and both the method and the dish itself went down well with everyone involved.
And here's how to make it:
Hauz Khashew Curry with Roti:
Served five on the night.
What you will need:
Cashews; a couple of handfuls
Ghee (or butter)
2 x onions (chopped)
Cinnamon powder; half tsp
4 x green Cardamom pods
3 x green chilli
3 x tomatoes (chopped)
10 x garlic cloves
Ginger; half x tsp
Turmeric; half x tsp
Cinnamon stick; 1 inch
Cream; a dollop, roughly 2 x tbsp
Water; approx 2 x cups
Red Chilli powder; half x tsp
Cumin powder; half x tsp
Coriander powder; half x tsp
Black pepper; quarter x tsp
Salt to taste
Garam Masala powder; half x tsp
Salt (to taste)
Dried fenugreek leaves (kasuri methi); half tsp (finely chopped)
In a frying pan gently toast a handful of cashews in a decent size hunk of melted ghee until browned on both sides. There should be enough ghee that the pan surface is coated but not so much that it spits or bubbles. Once toasted, remove the cashews and fry the onions on a low heat in a similar amount of ghee for a few minutes. Stir in the cinnamon, cardamon, and fresh chilli before adding the chopped tomatoes and heating them through till softened. Blend the mixture (with chosen mode!) into a purée with garlic, turmeric, and ginger.
Add a spoonful of olive oil to your now empty pan and heat the cinnamon stick on a very low heat. Whilst this is on the heat use a pestle and mortar/food-processor/whatever you have to grind down a small handful of cashews. Grind them as finely as you can and add to the blended mixture.
Once the cinnamon stick has infused the oil remove it and add your mixture back into the pan with a cup of water. Add the cream and stir, adding extra cups or half cups of water as necessary. Overall, the mixture should have a similar consistency to single cream. Next, add the main bulk of the cashews and all remaining ingredients. Heat through for a while on a low to medium heat. We actually went out to get rotis in this time (probably around ten minutes).
Remove any obvious signs of non-blended chilli and add salt to taste. Dispense the curry into bowls for serving. Finally; drizzle with a teaspoon of cream, add small handful of cashews and dust a small handful of fenugreek over the top of each.
Serve with rotis!
Afterthought: this curry was cooked slowly in stages over a gentle heat. Using just one pan and a single electric hot-plate. It was a very social process (it would have been even without the backstreet adventures) and tasted fantastic. When it came to blending the mixture; of course the pestle and mortar took longer but it is apparently the traditional method. The not-completely-puréed result gave the dish a texture which in our opinion only added to it. And as for the ingredients list; although it looks lengthy on the page what impressed me most was the real facility and economy with each item; everything fitted neatly into a single small shopping bag and the resultant flavours were wonderfully balanced.