--- Watch Indian Food Made Easy with Anjum Anand, Wednesdays at 7.30pm on SBS Food Channel 33 from 15 Jul to 19 August, with season two following in September. Episodes are available on SBS On Demand after they air ---
Think of potato chips – and then think of making crisp spicy Gujarati chips with cashews. Think of a lamb burger, and then think about putting together a juicy Indian lamb burger with herbed yoghurt. Think of scrambled eggs, and then up your breakfast game with a traditional Indian version.
Anjum Anand wants to convince everyone that cooking Indian food is easy, and she’s got the perfect means of convincing those who might doubt their kitchen skills: delicious, easy-to-make Indian recipes.
“A lot of people think Indian food’s just more complicated than it is,” she says.
If you’ve never tried cooking Indian food, or you’re interested in expanding your Indian recipe repertoire, the cookbook author, cooking teacher and TV host is keen to help.
Ahead of her TV series Indian Food Made Easy starting on SBS and SBS On Demand on July 15, we talked to Anand about her top tips for cooking fresh, healthy Indian food.
Start with what you know
“My top tip, generally, is to find a good recipe and get stuck in.
“I am a big believer that when trying a new cuisine, you should keep it simple and as familiar as possible. So, for example, if you regularly cook fish, find a fish recipe that appeals to you,” she suggests. “Then the only new element is using the spices or building the layers of flavours.”
Some favourites to try
“The thing that makes Indian food Indian is the spices.” But spices aren’t about hitting you full-on, she says; rather, they are used to bring out the best of the ingredients you put them with. What recipes does she recommend for those new to Indian cooking, we asked?
“I love making little lamb kebabs or burgers with people, as they learn how spices can really transform everyday food into something special. Another favourite is chilli cheese toast, or masala eggs, or tandoori-style herby chicken kebabs (find that recipe in her I Love India cookbook),” Anand says. The chilli cheese toast is something she makes in the show when she shows a firefighter how easy it is to cook Indian for his crew, instead of the takeaway Indian they normally enjoy. After the cheese toast (with chilli, onion, tomato and coriander leaves), she also shows him how to make a hearty lamb curry and homemade naan.
Another recipe in that shows how spices (well, spices and frying!) can lift the plainest of ingredients is her recipe for Gujarati potatoes with cashews.
Stock these five spices
In the first episode of Indian Food Made Easy, Anand teaches a friend, Panthea (who say loves eating but rarely cooks at all), to cook some Indian dishes. The first step is to introduce her to five basic spices of Indian cooking: cumin, coriander seeds, chilli powder, turmeric and garam masala. “These five spices form the base of many Indian dishes,” Anand says.
As she explains, garam masala is an aromatic blend of multiple ground spices. “Unlike many spices, it is often added at the end of cooking so that the full aroma is not lost. It’s not hot in the sense that chillies are, but it’s fairly pungent. There are many variations, but my personal blend consists of bay leaves, cardamom pods, black peppercorns, cumin seeds, cinnamon and cloves.”
Another tip: “Powdered spices tend to lose their flavour quicker than whole spices, so I generally opt to buy them as nature intended, and then grind them up in a pestle and mortar, as and when I need them. That way my spices are always fresh.”
“You don’t have to sacrifice flavour to eat healthily,” Anand says.
A convincing edible argument: the savoury semolina cake she makes in the first episode of Indian Food Made Easy.
"I love this dish as it delicious and is full of vegetables, protein and carbs, so it has everything you need in it for a light meal. I don’t always want to have a big traditional Indian meal, but I do love the flavours and textures across the cuisine. This is a great example of that," she says when SBS chats to her.
“Most home-style Indian food is really healthy. Most of the ingredients (the spices to the ginger, garlic and tomatoes, lentils and beans etc) that go into Indian food are actually very good for us.
"The real culprits in Indian food tend to be the fried snacks.
“We don’t tend to add nut pastes or cream to our curries, that is more of a restaurant technique to enrich Indian dishes and temper the tangy spicy flavours.
“You can reduce the oil in a curry, but you will need some oil to cook all the ingredients well, so don’t use too little. Fat is a flavour conductor and does help bring out the best in the ingredients.
“In India, healthy eating is eating a variety of fresh ingredients that change from day to day, including lots of vegetarian meals with lots of lentils and beans. It is also about eating dishes and portions which are easy to digest, for example, khichari is one of those dishes that is very nourishing but still easy to digest,” she says.
It’s on the menu when Anand visits a spa in Indian Food Made Easy and shows the chef and the spa’s guests some of her favourite dishes.
Sometimes, she opts for a lighter version of the traditional recipe, such as her filo pastry version of samosas. “The problem for me with samosas is that they are traditionally fried in oil. But I have a much healthier alternative. The big difference is that I’m going to bake mine. My filling is a pea and potato mixture, very traditional and very healthy [and] I’m using filo, a lighter pastry, with a brush of butter,” she says in the show.
Simple and speedy (or slow!)
“Great Indian food doesn’t have to be complicated, or time-consuming," Anand says. Of course, if you’ve got time to let a spiced slow-roast lamb shoulder cook for hours until it’s fall-apart tender, your patience will be rewarded! But many of Anand’s recipes are quick, too. If you make her chilli and tomato chutney, and keep it in the fridge, you can make her easy chicken curry in 20-30 minutes. Or try her masala omelette – ready in 10 minutes!
Simple dumplings cooked in a tasty yoghurt and tomato sauce - count us in!
Amritsar has a particular flaky, tandoor-cooked bread stuffed with potatoes or paneer, onions and spices. It is one of the dishes I sought out in Amritsar and, when you eat the real version, you understand why they are eaten there for breakfast, lunch and dinner. They are crisp outside and soft within with lots of distinct flavours and textures. Eating them fresh on a bustling street with a cup of masala tea was one of my most memorable Indian breakfast experiences. This is as close to the original as I could get without a tandoor oven and it is really moreish. It is normally made with plain flour, but I sometimes make it with chapatti flour so it is healthier; or I mix the two. This bread is also amazing cooked on a barbecue: just brush with a little ghee or butter before serving.
Rasmalai is definitely my favourite Indian dessert. In its authentic form it is made from spongy balls of paneer that have been cooked and soaked in sugar syrup, then placed into a fragrant, milky liquor.
“This is India’s version of a wrap and is also one of the most popular street foods. It is essentially any can any kind of meat wrapped in an Indian bread, but for this recipe I’m using tortillas because they’re so quick and easy. If you like a bit of heat, add a pinch of red chilli powder to the lamb mixture when adding the other spices.” Anjum Anand, Anjum's Australian Spice Stories
“For me comfort food doesn’t always have to be a big pot of curry. When I was young and mum was busy, one of my favourite meals to make myself was a jaffle. While jaffles aren’t traditional, sandwiches, both toasted and plain, filled with typical Indian flavours, are a popular street food. These two recipes combine some of those flavours with a Western twist. Both fillings are enough for 4 sandwiches but you can easily halve the quantities to make 2 of each.” Anjum Anand, Anjum's Australian Spice Stories