It’s always the quiet ones you have to watch. Or so my mother told me, I have always been noisy in my hope that no one is looking! It was at a drinks event with the Guild of Food Writers I met Mridula Baljekar, a quiet and polite lady, she had just finished cooking at No. 10, I was intrigued to find out more.
The authority on food from the Indian sub-continent, Mridula used to present much on the Carlton Food Channel, but now consults to restaurants in the UK, Dubai, USA to name a few. Mridula is the force behind our British love of food from India, Pakistan and Bangladesh. We have all eaten her work as she consulted for brands like Tesco and Schwartz. Did I mention she has won many awards for her work as well as writing 27 books selling millions of copies and HRH Prince Charles asking for her creations?
I ask Mridula how we can simplify cooking from this region of the world, to me as a food writer there are too many ingredients in recipes from Bangladesh. Calmly she explains that spices are like notes on a piano, they need to he used together to make a tune, if heated well together and correctly they form a symphony. It’s no wonder with a mannerism like this she is described in the media as ‘heaven and earth for the senses’.
As we walk into Divertimenti, Mridula gets excited about all of the different pieces of cookware, she exclaimed its like looking at her spice rack, so many bits that look beautiful together. It’s at this point I’m concerned we will need to use every bit of the 5,500 plus lines of global cookware products Divertimenti stock. Humbly Mridula says we need a casserole, like they use in Bangladesh and I was very happy to hear the AGA cast iron casserole that’s made by hand in Shropshire is perfect. We are making a Murgir Johl today, 2 words I had never heard of singly, never mind joint together. She tells me it means chicken curry cooked the Bengali way. Again I’m intrigued and discover mustard oil is a key ingredient as well as a five spice mix called a ‘panch foron’ that I have never heard of. In my ignorance I grab some Chinese 5 Spice form the cupboard clearing showing off the size of my spice collections, I’m told it’s a mix of fenugreek seed, nigella seed (black onion seeds), cumin seeds, black mustard seeds and fennel seeds. Unlike other spice mixes panch foron is used whole and never ground.
We start to cook, Mridula has presented over 57 TV shows so I let her lead, she cooks with confidence and humility, letting the food do the work and the spices smell like that symphony. We make the dish just like a British casserole so I can follow this method as I know the AGA makes spectacular casseroles. Just brown the meat (but cooking the spices first), add the liquids and other flavourings, bring to the boil and into the Simmering Oven to slowly cook.
I must say, it tasted fantastic, but it was a little too hot in terms of spice for delicate me. Pathetic I know.
Next stop on my world in one city is Israel, I’m excited as this is one of the really happening food scenes at present. Perhaps I can sit back on Divertimenti Air and find out what all of these 5,500 plus cooking utensils are actually for in the in-flight magazine.
1 chicken weighing about 1.5kg, skinned and jointed
2 tbsps fresh lemon juice
large pinch salt
3 tbsp mustard oil (sunflower oil can be substituted)
1 tsp Bengali Panch Foron (5-spice) mix
2 dried red chillies
1 fresh green chilli, chopped
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tabsp garlic puree
1 tbsp ginger puree
1 tsp ground turmeric
2 tsps ground cumin
½ tsp chilli powder
2 tsps tomato puree
2 large potatoes, peeled and quartered
1 large aubergine, quartered lengthways and cut into 2.5cm pieces
Sprigs of fresh coriander to garnish
Rub the chicken in the lemon juice and salt, cover and set aside for 30 minutes.
Heat the mustard oil (or sunflower oil) in an AGA cast iron casserole on the Boiling Plate until smoking point.
Add the panch foron followed by the dried rec chilles green chill. Fry stirring for 30 seconds.
Add the onion and cook until translucent. Add the garlic and ginger, cook for 1 minute.
Add the chicken pieces. Fry turning over frequently until the chicken is lightly coloured all over.
Add the turmeric, cumin, chilli powder and tomato puree. Cook for 3-4 minutes, stirring constantly.
Add the potatoes and aubergine and pour in 300 ml hot water, bring to the boil, place the lid on top and place into the AGA Simmering Oven for 1 hour 30 minutes until the chicken is tender and the sauce is thick.
Transfer to a serving dish, garnish with fresh coriander and serve with plain boiled basmati rice.