Monday 29 November 2021

A Variation on a Theme: Gujarati Inspired Fish Curry

The inspiration for this wonderful dish came from a recent Facebook post by Poonam Bachhav.  We love curries in various guises and formats, and this recipe offered an opportunity to experiment.

Living in the Cape Town area in South Africa has its advantages.  In terms of food-related advantages, the Cape Colony was established as a halfway station for replenishment of shipping traffic on the spice route. We have a fusion of culinary arts known as the Cape Malay cooking style as a direct result, not to mention the availability of interesting herbs and spices. However, the availability is seasonal, and not all the herbs and spices of the Orient are available here.  We also tend to fall into culinary habits and stop experimenting.

In this case, the Gujarati Kadhi recipe really interested me.  While it is a dish on the sweet side, and vegetarian to boot, I thought that such a dish may serve as the basis for a fragrant fish curry.  I am a serious meat eater, but not averse to using purely vegetarian dishes as a side to a main meal of meat, especially as a side to meat done on the coals.  It is summer here and braais are the in thing.  This dish also goes easy on spices, stepping away from the big, bold flavors of the Cape Malay or Durban style curries that we are used to here.  It also provides a welcome change from the traditionally heavy meals that we eat here.

I was so excited about the possibilities of this dish that bought a fresh hake and had it filleted.  This fish is light and cooks to a flaky consistency, which presents a risk of disappearing into the dish when overcooked.  My thoughts went out to people living inland, who may not have access to fresh sea fish. This recipe will also work with carp or bass.  Carp also flakes when cooked.  All the inland fishes will work, but the skins need to be removed, else the food will taste muddy.  Carp and hake need to be firmed up, bass not so much, as it is a game fish.  Do this by thawing the fish to room temperature, then placing it on a paper towel and salting with coarse or rock salt to cure for at least an hour. The salt will extract some juices from the fish and the flesh will firm up.

This specific dish is made with curd, buttermilk, or yogurt as the main body of the sauce.  This sauce is flavored with spices of choice, then thickened with gram flour. I reckoned that such a thick sauce would be wonderful for poaching delicate fish.  The only problem that I had was that such a dish would be mushy, with no texture.  However, that problem was soon solved by the inclusion of peas and sugar snap peas.  These also cook fast and provide sweetness instead of the palm sugar in the original recipe.

As this was a new experiment, I decided on a simple flatbread made of yogurt, wheat flour, water, and salt to serve as a side dish. This is an easy dough and can be made earlier to allow time for resting.


For the curry

800 g - 1 kg fresh hake fillets, cubed

1 cup plain yogurt

2 shallots, roughly chopped

2 thumbs fresh garlic, grated

¼ bell pepper, diced

3 dried lime leaves

3 dried chilies

A thumb of fresh ginger, grated

Thumb length of cinnamon bark

½ - 1 teaspoon black mustard seeds

¼ teaspoon turmeric

½ cup fresh peas

½ cup sugar snap peas

2x star aniseed

4 cardamom pods, bruised

1x finger length lemongrass stalk cut lengthwise and bruised

1 ½ teaspoon garam masala

Some cayenne pepper or chili powder to taste

Sprig of coriander leaves for garnish

½ lemon or whole lime for the zest and the juice

2 - 4 tablespoons gram flour to thicken the sauce

Salt and pepper to taste

Water as required

For the bread

1 cup wheat flour

½ cup plain yogurt

½ teaspoon salt

Water as required


Cube the fish, lay the cubes on some paper towel, salt it using coarse salt, then set it aside to cure for at least an hour, preferably longer.  Now the bread dough may be made and also set aside to rest.  Take care not to make the dough sloppy, as it will go softer as it rests. You need soft dough for this bread.

Fry the whole spices in a dollop of oil or ghee until fragrant.  Add the grated ginger, garlic, and dried chilies and fry until fragrant, then add the onions.  Fry until translucent, then add the yogurt. Lower the heat and add the turmeric, lemongrass, and lime leaves. 

This is where things may get tricky.  The thickness of the sauce needs to be adjusted by adding the gram flour.  Cornflour may also be used. This is the last time that the dish can be stirred.  After the fish is added, stirring will break the fish up into a mushy mess.  The salt should now be adjusted to taste, as well as pepper and spiciness using chili powder.  Add the garam masala, the zest from half a lemon or a whole lime at this point too.  The lemon or lime juice may be added later, just before serving.

Once you are happy with the taste and flavor profile of the dish, add the peas, sugar snap peas, then the fish. Make sure that the mix is boiling before adding the fish. Turn down the heat and wait five minutes, then shut the stove off. There will be enough heat in the sauce to cook the peas and fish to al-dente consistency.

To make the bread, simply take golf-ball-sized dollops of dough and roll it out to resemble a pancake.  Fry this in a dry pan until done.  The yogurt in the dough gives the bread a roti-like consistency.

Dish up and serve with the chopped coriander leaves as garnish.

Bon appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last edited on 29 November 2021

Sunday 25 October 2020

A Celebratory Dinner: Lamb Korma and Crusty Persian Rice

Today, forty-two years ago, I asked a girl out on a date.  The rest is history.  So, we had this small anniversary coming up and I was thinking of something out of the ordinary.  Especially in the light of the COVID-19 lockdowns and its side effects.

Now, forty-two years is not as special a date as a twenty-five or fifty, but there you go.  It came to me that expressions of love are not limited to physical efforts or presents.  It also comes in giving something of yourself in appreciation.  And what better way than cooking a special dish for your loved one.  Then both of you can share the joy.  In the end, the effort is not in the physical work involved, it is more in applying the mind to come up with a proper recipe, something out of the ordinary.  Kahneman wrote at length about his.

My choice fell on a korma, with a special rice dish.  Lamb korma with a nutty sauce and a flavourful and crusty Persian rice.  Tahdeeq.  These are dishes that I have not come across often in an eight-year foodie adventure.  Time for shaking the tree, I thought.

The korma is made with lamb in this case.  Make sure the meat is at room temperature and quite dry before you start.  Get meat with some bones in, the bones add extra flavour to the dish.  Roast the nuts, it adds a proper flavour to the dish.  I used cashews for this dish.  Almonds also work.  Fry the meat in a dry pan in small batches, else it boils.  You need the caramelisation in the pot, this becomes the stock.  

Remember some salt while you are frying the meat.  You also need to get the sauce up to standard before simmering the meat in the flavoured sauce.  Some of the nuts may be held back to use as a garnish, the rest is blended with the onions to make a thick sauce.  The garlic/chili/ginger mix needs to be 1 chili, ½ ginger, ¼ garlic by volume.  Get a recipe here.  I would not venture into the variations of dry masala powder.  Just use your favourite.  This dish needs to be flavourful, but not strong and spicy.  Remember, you are working with very light and subtle spices.

The process for the rice is quite simple, with a cheat to make it easy.  The rice needs a crust, which tends to stick to the pan.  I get around this little problem by lining the pot with waxed paper.  No sticking, and it is easy to lift the rice out of the pot and invert it on a plate.  The rice uses coconut powder.  You can use coconut milk to boil the rice, but it is lost when the rice is rinsed.  The rice is steamed at the end, which calls for a lid that seals properly.  Use a wet tea towel if you are uncertain.


These two dishes require the same effort and time as any alike everyday dishes, but some extra care is required in the sequence of the process.  The korma is done first, then the rice is started only when the meat part is done.  This is done deliberately to allow the korma to rest and develop flavour, so do plan enough time for this sequence of cooking.


The result is absolutely worth the extra bit of effort.




For the korma

750 g lamb shoulder, cubed

1 ½ cup plain yogurt

1 ½ cup cashews, roasted

2 onions, finely chopped

1 ½ tbsp. of your favourite garlic/chili/ginger mix or your own fresh stuff

1 ½ tbsp dry masala, your favourite mix

2 tsp garam masala

2 tbsp rose water

¼ cup apple cider or white vinegar 

2 black cardamom pods (black elachi)

Seeds from 3 pods green cardamom, shelled and roasted

1 cinnamon stick

A sprig of fresh coriander leaves for garnish

Salt to taste

Pepper to taste



For the Persian crusty rice

1 cup basmati rice

2-3 tbsp coconut powder

I cinnamon stick

3-4 pods cardamom (green elachi)

Pinch of saffron, powdered and steeped in ½ cup hot water.

Dollops of butter


Coarse salt

Some fine salt to taste

Waxed paper to line the pot.  Proper waxed paper.


Here is what you do


Roast/fry the cashews in a dry pan until they start to show dark brown stains, then set aside to cool.  Ensure the meat is quite dry, then fry the cubes in a dry pan.  They will start to caramelise and leave some caramelisation in the pan.  You need to do this in batches, else there will be too much fluid in the pan and the meat will go grey.  Set the meat aside while preparing the sauce.


The sauce, in this case, is onions, fresh garlic, ginger, and chili, along with the cardamom (elachi) and cinnamon.  Add some oil to the caramelised pot, add the dry whole spices and fry for 20-30 seconds until the flavours come out, then add the onions.  Fry until translucent.  Add the fresh spices or spice paste and fry for another minute or two.  Add the vinegar to deglaze the pot.  You want the caramelisation in the sauce as stock.  Now add your favourite dry masala, the yogurt and the roasted cashews.  The cashews may be substituted with roasted almonds.  Keep a few nuts for the garnish in the presentation.  Mix thoroughly, then blitz this lot with a blender.  Check for sufficient salt.  If you don’t have a blender you need to chop the onions quite fine or grate them before frying.  The cashews may be crushed in a coffee mug with the back end of a spatula or your chef’s knife.  Or use your favourite mortar and pestle.  The coffee mug idea works a treat and you get a crunchy texture in the sauce.  


To this lot add the meat, turn the heat down and simmer the meat until quite soft.  Dilute the sauce with water if required and make sure it doesn’t catch.  If it does everything goes bitter and you will have to start over.  When the meat is done to your satisfaction, add the garam masala and rose water, douse the gas hob, and allow the dish to rest.


Now you start with the rice part.  Add water, rice, and some salt and the cinnamon and cardamom.  Boil this until the rice is partly done.  Now rinse the rice.  It will stop cooking.  This is where the cheating part of the process comes in.  Clean the rice pot, then line it with waxed paper.  Use proper waxed paper, else the paper will wilt into the rice.  Into this goes a dollop of cooking oil or ghee and about a dessertspoon of coarse salt, sprinkled around.   Do not use olive oil, the flavours clash with the rest of the dish.  Some dollops of real butter are then added before the rice is sprinkled on top.  Check and adjust for saltiness.  Steep the saffron in ¼ cup of boiling water.   Add the coconut powder to this, then sprinkle this over the rice in the pot.  Set a tight-fitting lid and cook at medium heat for another 15-20 minutes.  Don’t lift the lid, you want to steam the rice in pilau-style.  When the rice is done, lift the whole lot out of the pot by the wax paper and invert the rice between two plates.  The waxed paper will come away freely and you will have a wonderful crusty rice dish with an intact Tahdeeq.


For dishing up you put the korma in a dish for the table and garnish with coriander leaves and the rest of the nuts.  Serve the rice next to this.  After all, this is for a special occasion and the presentation of the food is as much part of the experience as the aromas and flavours.


I hope that you will enjoy this as much as we did.


Bon Appetit!  




Authored by Johan Zietsman


Last updated on 2020-10-25 

Wednesday 8 July 2020

Spinach, Peas and Bacon Risotto

These lockdown times play weird tricks on one’s mind.  The limit on movement outside one’s property is taking its toll but also making space for some creativity.  In my case, it is yet another dish.  We all love food, so I guess it is to do a little experimenting in the kitchen. 

Risotto is one of those soul-food dishes.  If you slap it together you get back a tasteless dish.  You have to prepare this dish with love and care.  It is also quite simple to make and use but a few ingredients, hence the caveat. The dish is also quite easy to mess up.

I have made plenty of risottos of many descriptions over the past few years, but never a green one.  A brief internet search revealed plenty of recipes with green colour; so I thought a green dish will be in order. I also thought it good to do another experiment with spinach.  I have had my fill of leafy creamed spinach dishes.  They all taste the same to me.  A rice dish has more elements to play with, so there are more options for getting some excellent flavours along with the nourishment of spinach.  

My choice fell on a variation of risotto with peas, pancetta, and taleggio cheese.  The taleggio is not available in our neighbourhood, so I substituted that with camembert.  I also did not have pancetta, so I used some locally made smoked bacon.  For those that do not eat pork, this may be substituted with any smoky bacon style meat.  The meat itself is almost a garnish, you need the flavours and saltiness in the meat.  I also like some onion flavours in the dish, so I used half a brown onion and two leek sections of about six inches long (150mm).  For the de-glazing, I used dry white wine, but half a cup of apple cider vinegar works a treat too.  This dish does not get cream, but that was again my option of staying on the less rich side.  I used the camembert cheese for the rich, creamy part. 

The quantities here are enough for eight to ten servings, depending on whether you have to feed hungry teenagers or more sedate adults.  You also may take a shortcut by parboiling the rice separately, then adding it to the dish.  I have not done it this way, so I am not able to vouch for the resultant flavours of the shortcut.


1 ¾ cup arborio rice

1 cup fresh or frozen peas

150g spinach

250 g bacon, chopped

½ brown onion coarsely chopped

2 sections leek, cut into thin wheels

500 ml chicken stock

½ cup dry white wine or apple cider vinegar

150 g camembert cheese, chopped into small blocks

1 clove garlic, finely grated

¼ tsp chilli powder or cayenne pepper


Black pepper to taste

Some oil or ghee for frying

Some grated parmesan cheese for garnish


Wash the spinach, wilt it in hot water, then blitz it in the blender to get a fine paste.  Keep it aside.  Fry the bacon bits in light oil till it is done.  Take care not to overdo this, it is not intended for crispy bacon at breakfast.  Remove the bacon from the pan and keep it aside.  Now fry the onions and leeks in the pan. Add some oil if the pan is too dry. Don’t mind the caramelisation from the bacon, this will become extra stock. Add the garlic for the last minute of frying, then add the rice.  Fry the rice lightly and stir to ensure that all the grains get some flavour.  
Remember to add some salt at this stage.  Now add the wine to deglaze the pan.  All the caramelisation should be coming off and into the stock.  The heat now is turned to low, no need for heavy boiling.  Add the chicken stock in smallish quantities and stir the rice to ensure even absorption.  Add the cayenne pepper or chilli powder.  Keep on adding stock in little quantities and stir to make sure the rice doesn’t stick to the pan and burn.  This is a mushy dish; it will burn quite easily.  The bacon now comes back, as does the peas and the blended spinach.  Taste for saltiness after adding all the ingredients.  Remember that the bacon adds a lot of salt too. Add some black pepper too.

When the rice is almost done the camembert is added.  Stir it through properly and give it time to melt.  I shut down the stove and allowed the dish to rest with the heat in the pan and its own heat.  I like to think that this helps to develop flavour.

Then dish up, garnish with some parmesan cheese and enjoy your green risotto.

Bon Appetit!

Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2020-07-08

Wednesday 3 June 2020

Lockdown Green Chicken Curry

It is winter her in the Cape Town area. We are making hot food, soul food.  ‘Tis the time for stews, while all my foodie friends in the northern hemisphere are raving about summer fruit and vegetables, and fruity drinks alfresco.


This dish is the direct result of a challenge on handwriting, where I stuck my neck out on a dish that I have never made before.  A green curry using spinach. Yes, that stuff that nobody wants to eat.  So much for keeping a low profile.  An abject lesson in system linkage; news tends to travel across social boundaries.  I should have known.

The blended spinach. I doubled this quantity


A quick Google search came up with a load of recipes of varying ingredients.  I decided on my own fusion of flavours.  A basic dish using spinach, coriander leaves, and mint as the base for the sauce.  Add to this some roasted cashews for flavour, a dash of lemon juice and yoghurt for the sauce and we are in business.  I decided against lamb for the meat, as it takes long to cook.  More of this option later.  I opted for chicken breasts with the bone on.  The marrow and the cartilage add flavour and some texture to the sauce.  The sauce needs to be mushy, so take care not to burn the sauce.


This was an out-and-out experiment.  One of the better experiments in the kitchen I have ever had, if you will.  The dish is easy to make, and the result is astounding.  A serious contender for the top of my default recipe log. 


Dry roasted cashews

Asian spice dish recipes tend to come with a list of ingredients that is quite long, as they use their own mix of spices to make their masalas.  I have a masala that I make according to a Cape Malay recipe from Cass Abrahams, which I use for all my curries.  You may use your own.  The supply of chillies suitable for curry is intermittent here in my neck of the woods, so I standardised on a curry paste that will keep a month or two in the refrigerator.  You can find the recipe here


The green ingredients for this dish are all leafy.  So, we blitz the sauce with a blender to get a smooth consistency.  For flavour, I added dry roasted cashew nuts.  Just a ¼ cup will do. 


The meat can be either chicken or lamb.  I opted for chicken on this round, as the chicken cooks quite fast.  This time I used chicken breasts cut into bite size portions.  I left the skin on, as the fat adds some flavour to the dish. You will need a napkin and a dish for the bones, and you will need to use your hands.  Remember to lick your fingers clean before you start eating…


The blended coriander and mint

Fry the meat in batches until it gets brown, then keep aside.  If you want to use lamb, do the same, but then simmer the meat in some water until it is tender. The sauce of this dish is too thick to stand long simmering, it may burn.  Keep the stock from the lamb, you will need it to dilute your sauce as required.


I blended the green ingredients separately, but there is no need for that with a little planning beforehand.


Here is the recipe.




750 g chicken breasts, bone in, cut into bite sized portions

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

¼ tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)

¼ cup fresh mint leaves

1 medium size very ripe tomato, finely chopped

½ cup fresh coriander leaves

1 cup fresh spinach destemmed and coarsely chopped. Maybe more. I used about 120 grams.

1-2 tbsp chilli, garlic & ginger paste

2 tsp dry masala powder, your choice of flavours

½ cup plain yoghurt

Juice of ½ lemon

¼ cup cashew nuts, dry roasted

1-2 tsp garam masala to taste

Oil/ghee for frying





This is the easy and fast version, not what I did.


Fry the chicken in batches in ghee/oil until it gets brown. Set aside. Fry the onions until they start getting brown, then add the curry paste or fresh spices and the chopped coriander and mint leaves.  Remember to add a little salt.  Stir fry for thirty seconds or so, the add the spinach, tomato and some yoghurt.  The acid in the tomato will pick up the caramelised meat from the bottom of the pan, adding to your stock.  The mix will be quite dry, so you may need to add a touch of boiling water or yoghurt.  Not too much, the sauce needs to be mushy.  Add the dry masala and the roasted cashews.  Stir carefully to prevent burning.  Then blitz with the blender until you have a smooth, mushy sauce.


Now add back the meat and turn down the heat to very low.  Add the lemon juice.  Simmer this for about half an hour or until the meat is tender.  In the case of lamb, you would have cooked the lamb until tender before adding to the mushy sauce.  When the meat is done, add the garam masala, mix through and turn off the heat.  Let the dish rest while you cook the rice.  My version came out slightly off-green, as my spice paste is made from red chillies. 


While the dish is resting, cook the rice.  I used basmati rice.  Don’t even bother to flavour the rice, the main dish has overpowering flavour.  However, with the thick sauce a roti may just be the optimal answer.


Now dish up.  I did not have the inclination for any additional side dish tonight.  This was enough balm for the soul on this cold Cape winter night.


Bon Appetit!


Authored by Johan Zietsman

Last updated on 2020-06-03