Products

The Spice Tailor Chutnis

Anjum Anand The Spice Tailor Indian Chutni jars

You generally know where you are with a jar of ‘Indian’ chutney or pickle. The typical expected offerings on the supermarket shelf or restaurant table are a) sweet, gluey, jam-like mango chutney and b) lime pickle so oily and acidic you’ll need half a pack of Rennies before you’ve finished your poppadom.

But Anjum Anand isn’t into that inauthentic, substandard representation of the subcontinent’s condiments. So her new 5-strong range of Chutnis for The Spice Tailor eschews the expected in favour of some of the chef’s favourites.

Treating highly herbal green chutney for shelf stability will always result in a less vibrant hue; but what the Mint Leaf Chutni lacks in appearance it more than makes up for in terms of taste. The piquant Punjabi preparation is a zingy, zesty answer to British mint sauce and every bit as lovely with lamb.

Under no circumstances consume the fiery Tomato, Garlic & Chilli Chutni ahead of a hot date – this Rajasthani recipe is both super-spicy and garlicky enough to dissuade the most persistent vampire. It adds a little lift to allsorts – try it in an ersatz Arrabiata or spread on toasted bread.

The ‘Spice Tailor‘ brand name hints at the versatility of each Chutni; inspired by India, but inspiring when used with food from anywhere and everywhere. The Peanut & Tamarind Chutni will go down a treat with sate sauce-lovers, the authentic Andhra recipe at once creamy and tart. Like peanut butter, you might find yourself spooning it direct from jar to mouth.

There’s a lime pickle in the lineup – but The Spice Tailor’s fat-free ‘Mama’s Lime Chilli Pickle‘ has more in common with the clean punch of a perfectly preserved lemon than that oily, oesophegal lining-obliterating stuff you might know and hate. Made to a time-tested family recipe, it’s the closest you’ll get to relishing a homemade Indian relish without eating in an Indian family home.

Something sticky and sweet is the final number in the five – but Anjum offers a Gujarati-style Green Papaya Chutni, not that tired’n’typical mango mess. Although it’s sometimes known as ‘plastic chutney’ owing to the crystal-clear appearance of the papaya pieces, this Chutni tastes anything but; flavoured with aromatics including whole peppercorns, fennel and nigella seeds.

Based on the majority of commercial chutneys, you’d be right to be dubious about yet another range hitting supermarket shelves. But then not many manage to stay so true to the authentic Indian recipes on which they’re based. In Oliver Twist, Fagin (almost) told his band of boys that ‘you’ve got to pick a pickle or two’. If he’d tried this little lot, he’d be adding Chutni to that shopping list too.

‘Little Dabbas’ from Mistry & Co.

Mistry and Co Little Dabbas

Most of my life revolves around Indian food, and most of my life has been spent in and around East London. So when I log onto a website which greets me with the phrase ‘Namaste Yeah’ writ pretty damn large, I feel like I’ve come home.

The homepage that won me over with brilliant branding in the vein of design company  Piccadelhi and my dear, dear Dishoom was that of Mistry & Co., purveyors of ‘Little Dabbas’ masala shots. Because with some things, you just click. And with some sites, you just can’t stop clicking.

Thus was the case with Mistry & Co.’s. Off it takes you on a technicolour caper around India – It’s brash in both the most extreme and excellent senses. The digital onslaught of rickshaws, Hindustan Ambassador vehicles and bottles of Thums Up has me raising my own digits in approval.

How Mistry & Co. stumbled upon The Spice Scribe is a mystery to me, but I’m mighty glad they sorted me out with their Little Dabbas range. The packaging is every bit as delicious as the site, although I don’t relish having to rip apart the beautiful boxes to read the recipes contained within one bit.

Prizing open the boxes’ lids, you’re greeted with a pair of shiny gold hands pressed together in namaskar. Then you get your hands on the contents – a trio of little pods not unlike those for coffee machines. But this is not Nespresso – it’s something else. Sorry, Mr Clooney.

But to my mind, the prospect of a hot Guji dish is more attractive than that well-aged Hollywood hunk anyhow. A premise that’s all the more seductive when it requires little effort and results in little mess, as is the Little Dabbas promise.

The diminutive capsules also look a little like posh pots of sauce you’d get with a fast food delivery. Although they do indeed deliver food, fast, these mixtures will give a saucy supper rather superior to any takeaway. As soon as you rip off the foil lids, the smell takes you away somewhere sunny.

As we all know, you can’t be all mouth and no pajamas. So when it comes to the product, I’m delighted to say there’s nowt brash about the spice blends contained within the ‘little dabbas’ of the eponymous range – each variety made to a 4th generation Gujarati family recipe.

You choose you blend according to intended ingredient – just pop the pods on shuffle until you get to the one that suits your supper; be it seafood, meat, veg or paneer.  In addition to the core four, Little Dabbas ‘no garlic’ versions are perfect if you’ve an allium aversion – or a hot date.

The box proudly proclaims ‘no outside food inside’, which necessitates me to raid the fridge for a hefty wedge of pumpkin. Shredding open the box (and shedding a little tear at having done so), I reveal a recipe for masala chickpeas and spinach tomatoes to which I do not adhere.

Instead, in my kitchen, the latter is left out, pumpkin stands in place of the pulse, and some green stuff is foraged from the freezer. In a rare effort to do as I’m told, a single Little Dabba is upended into hot oil – okay, so it’s ghee – and the masala fried until aromatic.

In goes the pumpkin I’ve grated into a great mound. I give it all a good stir around, add my spinach, dump in a handful of chopped coriander; and Bodh’s my Uncle, Farah’s my Aunty, and a super, simple, spicy supper’s mine for the scoffing.

You might well scoff at the simplification of a complex cuisine so steeped in tradition and shrouded in mystery; but then when you scoff something made with Mistry and Co.’s masalas you’ll probably need to eat your words. Not only do Little Dabbas look good;  gor, blimey, they taste bloody damn good too.

Rani’s Quality Mixture

Rani's Quality Mixture

Once you dip your hand into the world of Indian chevdo, you fast discover there are enough varieties to get you all agog. There’s much more to these munchies than Bombay Mix –indeed, a quick scan of most Tesco World Food aisles will reveal Gujarati Mix, Cornflake Mix and even London Mix.

Then there’s the heavenly hotchpotch known merely as ‘Mixture’. Down South and in Sri Lanka, the term describes something similar but blended and seasoned with a different hand; a Southern sensibility. If you’re a fan of any type of chevdo, it’s only sensible to put it to the taste-test.

And you could do a lot worse that Rani’s Quality Mixture – a preparation every bit as marvellous as George’s Medicine from Roald Dahl’s classic tale, but with absolutely none of the nasties of that particular potion. Indeed, so superlative is this snackerel that it was described as ‘virtually flawless’, and Rani’s packets firmly slapped with a badge of honour in the form of a Great Taste Award.

It’s great to see a niche product up-styled as a sleek snack with mass appeal. You usually have to seek out Mixture in Tamil-run corner shops, your search often yielding a budget bag from a brand whose offering tastes more of stale cooking oil than the deep savour of curry leaves and roasted dal.

But then Rani’s does call itself ‘Quality’ Mixture – so one would expect, like Ronseal, that the contents do what it says on the tin – or in this case, black-and-gold bag. Forget the stunning sites of the world; Rani’s uses ‘seven wonders’ to describe the ingredients that take your tastebuds on a journey with every multi-textured mouthful.

The list begins with boondi – those diminutive deep-fried batter drops Bernard Matthews would no doubt deem ‘bootiful’. Omapodi is what Mixture’s Bombay Mix brethren would know as ‘sev’- crisp gram flour noodles. Cashews, so bountiful in the South, add a little luxury to the nuttiness provided by peanuts. Roasted channa, crunchy cassava chips and curry leaves complete the collection.

What makes it so superior? Rani’s is lighter and brighter than so many spicy snack mixes, with just the right ratio to enjoy every inclusion without any one character dominating the snack’s delicate savour. Speaking of savour, it’s deeply, devilishly so, drawing your hand in for just a mite more, and…Oh, I’ve reached the bottom of the bag.

So I’ve crunched, munched and waffled away, but the last word on Rani’s Quality Mixture must surely go to wizard wordsmith, ‘Chris from London’. This fellow wholeheartedly believes; ‘Happiness encapsulated in a plastic bag. If heaven exists, it’ll probably be similar to the inside of a resealable Rani’s Mix bag’.

Afia’s Wheat- & Gluten-free Samosas

Afias Wheat and gluten free samosa

A well –made samosa is a beautiful thing indeed. And, indeed, not being able to enjoy such a simple, splendid pleasure is a punishment one shouldn’t wish on their worst enemy. Yet that’s precisely the plight suffered by the increasing number of food-lovers living with wheat or gluten sensitivities –the apogee of which is Coeliac disease.

The Afia of the same-named brand has a mother – and business partner – who copes with Coeliac. Yet her mum Rukhsana is every inch the merry, samosa-munching, pakora-popping lady, in fine fettle and rude health. So how on earth does she sate her Indian savoury cravings without painful repercussions?

That was the question that drove Afia to develop a range of wheat- and gluten-free snacks and condiments, eagerly snapped up by formerly samosa-deprived folks at farmers markets throughout the Midlands. With wheat- and gluten-intolerances, when it comes to a conventional specimen, the filling’s fine – but the pastry poses problems.

Afia’s wheat- and gluten-free samosas use an ingenious blend of gram flour and alchemy to create a super shell that can be baked or fried just like a standard version. I know what you’re thinking – the pastry’s physical properties all well and good, but the proof’s in the eating. It’s a ‘free-from’ product, so that quite possibly applies to taste and texture, too.

Not a bit of it. In fact, Afia’s employees often express a preference for the special samosas over their classic counterparts. Anyone who’s dipped a top into the weird and wonderful world of ‘alternative grains’ will acknowledge that it’s no mean feat to make a ‘free-from’ pastry which behaves just like a wheat flour dough. But that’s exactly how Afia’s rolls – and bakes, and fries…

These cook up crisp, not cardboardy or crumbly, with the slightly sweet taste of the crust reminiscent of a corn tortilla. They’re not cheap chow, by any stretch of the imagination, but if you’ve been deprived of deserved samosa satisfaction, the payoff more than justifies the outlay. And with Afia’s, it’s safe to say you get what you pay for – top-drawer, small-batch products born of family necessity, developed to suit a discerning Indian mother’s scrupulous specification.

Many ‘free-from’ ranges are limited to say the least, but here you’re spoilt for choice with 10 varieties made to family recipes with locally-sourced ingredients. Paneer and Traditional Vegetable fillings are beautifully delicate, whilst meaty fillings with ‘chilli’ or ‘spicy’ in the title definitely live up to the description. If your otherwise delicate digestive system is impervious to heat, the incendiary Scotch Bonnet samosa is worth a (cautious) nibble, too…

  • For more information on Afia’s wheat and gluten-free savouries, plus details of stockists and mail ordering, visit www.afias.co.uk

Seasoned Pioneers’ Indian Spices

Seasoned Pioneers chaat masala

This delivery announces its contents long before the Stanley knife is wielded to negotiate the ample application of Scotch tape. There was really no need for the excess. Seal the contents in foil pouches, wrap the box in tape till it resembles a mummy, or even slap it with an ASBO, but you will never take these aromas’ freedom. Whatever the container, these spicy smells won’t be contained.

But then I did order asafoetida – deriving its name from the so-called ‘fetid’ aroma and also known by the charming alias, ‘Devil’s Dung’. I happen to rather like the strong, strange sweet onion aroma of hing, actually – but gor blimey it’s pervasive. Particularly paired with the sulphurous, ozone odour of kala namak – black salt. Inhaled as a duo the combo is, um, ‘invigorating’.

The scent could certainly revive any number of delicate Victorian ladies suffering from an attack of the vapours. But I wouldn’t be willing to engage in swapsies – I’d far rather sprinkle my jaljeera with kala namak than lavender smelling salts. And somehow I don’t think they’d stand in too well as an alternative to asafoetida in a Southern sambhar, either.

Down South, you’ll also find tamarind lending a sour-meaty savour to that sambhar. When it comes to adding that vital twang and a twinkle to a multitude of dishes, amchoor is another agent that acts as an addictive additive. I assure you this particular amchoor is a cut above, less ‘dried unripe green mango powder’ than ‘magic dust’. Beetroot powder is just as brilliant – in terms of quality and hue, too. It may be used predominantly for colour, but also boasts a subtle, earthy sweetness.

At the other end of the spectrum, let’s chat about chaat masala. This marvellous mixture is unashamedly brash; anything – and everything – but sweet. Salty, savoury, sour; indescribably weird; and incredible addictive, chaat masala gets tongues wagging. And when it comes to Seasoned Pioneers’ version, I’m happy to talk it up a storm.  The blend is much simpler than most, but by ‘eck it announces its most pleasant presence.

The little re-sealable foil packages might command a premium to perturb my fellow penny-pinchers, used to paying rock-bottom prices for big-brand bulk bags, but sometimes, sadly, you do actually get what you pay for. A particularly bitter truth for an old miser like me, but one I’d do well to swallow.  Because shelling out for Seasoned Pioneers’ stuff has made my food even easier to swallow. Gulp. Here comes the bank manager…

Sweet Karma Dessert Samosas

Sweet Karma dessert samosa

I must confess, when I read of Sweet Karma’s dessert samosas, I was less than convinced. The notion smacked of Christmas 1994, when Dad struck upon the innovative notion of filo mince pies – merely replacing the traditional casing with brittle pastry leaves. These triangular treats seemed to slant toward ‘nouvelle novelty’, at least from my angle.

Because I’m an Indophillic mithai purist, innit? To my thinking, crisp, fruit-filled pastry pockets might well be tasty, but are surely no more ‘Indian’ than any snackerel plucked from an Iceland party platter. From Sweet Karma’s frozen dessert samosas, I expected little more. More than that, I expected to be proven both wholly and smugly right.

But then I sceptically extracted a single specimen. And this samosa actually smelt like something I might quite like to sample – rather like a fresh-fried farsan from the houses of temptation otherwise known as Indian sweetmarts. The belly grumbled at me to rustle up the full range, so I shovelled apple-, chocolate-, mango- and raspberry-filled into the oven to fill the greedy gut.

Although gratification was to be delayed. I’ve oft fallen foul of skinless-roof-of-mouth syndrome owing to consumption of lava-like preserves when I’ve been jamming with red-hot chilli peppers or getting in a pickle with mangoes, so I knew that the instruction to let the samosas have a rest post-cook wasn’t simply reward for their own oven-based exertion.

Hey, these guys had it easy. I was the one exercising all the self-restraint. Although the reward for the punishing – if fleeting – regime of abstention justified the effort. Quite the afternoon tea spread, with all those requisite afternoon tea spreads contained within neat parcels. Things were looking up. Apple; Chocolate; Mango; Raspberry. ‘Ip, dip, sky, blue. Who’s it? Not YOU!’

Actually, stuff the pretense of playful playground pontification. I was too busy stuffing my face. Forget ‘Man Vs. Food’ – this was ‘Ravenous Woman Vs. Sweet Samosa’. And, in this particular battle, Ravenous Woman emerged sticky and victorious, her scepticism somewhat revoked and swallowed down with the final crumbs of comfort food. ‘Sweet Karma‘, indeed.

But I’m no pushover. To fully adore these samosa-esque snacks, I’d need the plain pastry pimping – a few sweet fennel seeds, perhaps; or the slinky whisper of ground cardamom. There’s a pleasant waft of cinnamon to the Apple, but Chocolate, Mango and Raspberry really want their lives spicing up in order to keep me captivated.

 ‘Sweet Karma’ founder Neeta Mehta does not lack the gumption to boost sweet samosa consumption. But I’d gently suggest these delicacies need a slightly heavier hand with the spice spoon. If she may be so bold, The Spice Scribe prescribes a bit more boldness. Make ‘em true Karma chameleons with a few well-judged tweaks, and I could well be a true fan.

Anjula Devi’s Bombay Mix

Anjula Devi Bombay Mix

I’d espouse the excellent of this mixture even more effervescence were there not severe danger of spraying you with a delicious geyser of bits o’ Bombay Mix. As a runner-up on ITV’s ‘Food Glorious Food’, Anjula came within a samosa’s throw of getting her champion chicken tikka on M&S’ shelves. In a rather uncharitable manner, I must say I’m glad she lost.

Because it’s enabled her to devote more time to this marvellous munchy mixture. Anjula’s is an agglomeration according to her dear old Dad’s doctrine, although she’s fiddled and tweaked it to make it all the more moreish. I may be a glutton for punishment, but I’m even more of a glutton when it comes to downing sweet-savoury-spicy-salty snacks by the fistful.

And this fist clutches a well-seasoned selection of crisp potato sticks; pleasingly chewy raisins; crunchy-fried lentils; rice flakes; a good few dead posh cashews and almonds, all hand-blended by a well-seasoned pro. Forget crisps – step away from the salt and vinegar and mix up your snacking with a packet of this brilliant Bombay Mix.

Deema’s Sri Lankan Curry Spices

Deema's Sri Lankan spices

As soon as I open the envelope containing my eagerly-awaited sachet of Deema’s, I deem it decent. Actually even before that – I can smell the Sri Lankan spice blend the instant it pops through my letterbox. And, when I finally ‘unleash the beast’, the full force of the roasty, toasty masala is a mind-blower. This mix is a Sinhalese recipe, the baby of a woman born in Sri Lanka who settled in Singapore.

To my mind, Sri Lankan roasted curry powder speaks of meat. You see, for me, it imparts a deep, rich, umami savour that ordinarily comes only from animal origin – and evokes an animalistic, primal hunger in the diner. To my mind, whether paired with seafood or vegetables, there’s something somewhat sausage-y to the smell.

It’s probably partly down to the fact that I rightfully associate many of those Sri Lankan spices with the good old-fashioned British banger – after all, the spice trade meant we’ve been seasoning our sausagemeat with cloves, black pepper and coriander for centuries. But there’s more magic in this mix – an alchemical agglomeration adding all sorts of extra excitement.

In Deema’s version, a dozen indispensable ingredients go into the blend. Along with the aforementioned trio, there’s cardamom, fenugreek, chilli, turmeric, curry leaf, mustard seed, cumin, that wonderfully sweet, aromatic locally-grown cinnamon, and the lemongrass that makes Sri Lankan masalas exotic to even seasoned Indian palates.

If you look closely, you’ll note this mix ‘also contains rice’. And this, my friend, is the secret. Roasting and grinding rice grains in with the spices lends that characteristic flavour that’s absolutely unmistakeable, yet all but impossible to guess from whence it came. So now you know. Similarly, certain spice blends use dry-roasted dals in the same manner for that essential extra savour.

Using dal or rice in a spice blend also acts as an effective thickener – a coconut-milk-based gravy made with one of these masalas feels beautifully full-bodied. Deema’s mix is also full-flavoured; compiled from a diverse yet well-balanced cast. Each spice brings unique power to the party, no one character dominating your dinner.

Deema’s masala isn’t quite as dark and brooding as some Sri Lankan spice blends, which can verge on pitchy-black. This one boasts a suave, tawny shade – like a proud holidaymaker returning from a few months basking in the Sri Lankan sun. It’s made somewhere rather less exotic, though – Edinburgh; where Deema’s irreverent daughter, Deepthi de Silva-Williams, manufacturers her Mum’s masala with reverence.

Successful roasted curry powders take serious skill – a firm handle on judging the fleeting moment between ‘burnished’ and ‘burnt’ for each individual spice; the ability to gauge the perfect proportions for the intended blend. Deema’s is a smoky, smouldering triumph. If you’ve not tried Sri Lankan curry powder before, be prepared to be wowed. And if you have – ditto.

Ferns’ masala pastes & pickles

Ferns

Watch your trolley. These days, you can’t afford a wonky wheel in the ‘World Food’ aisle. Shelves from foot to forehead are crammed with more jars of pastes, pickles, chutneys and condiments than you would care to be flattened by, and a single ill-judged move could be dangerous. And messy. Very, very messy.

And, death trap aside, how do you sort the sublime from the ridiculous? How do you live a liberated life free of a fridge full of half-empty horrors? How do you tell the lovingly-made, time-tested tandoori paste from the celeb-endorsed curry sauce or the restaurant-branded ranch dressing? Well, for a start, you could have a careful rootle ‘til you turn up ‘Ferns’.

Mrs. N. Fernandes might not grace the pages of glossy food mags, slink her way across our TV screens, or have her name inextricably linked with a particular protein, but when it comes to business, she’s a star in her own right. A success story since 1937, if you will. From her hometown, this little lady set up a pioneering range of prepped preserves that pleased even Pune’s pickle purists.

A factory followed, as did the notion of the jarred paste, providing an alternative to the available dry spice blends – the ‘wet masala’ keeping the flavours both intact and vibrant. As Brits finally ventured beyond Vesta, ‘Ferns’ moved into export, and the rest is the proverbial ‘history’. Back in India, the third generation of the Maharashtran family still manage the masalas’ march across the globe.

Now Waitrose is firmly on the ‘Ferns’ wagon, so I suggest you hop on board. The fruit in the tangy, twangy lime pickle is hand-picked from farms that butt against the Western Ghats. The pastes may be named for our beloved Indo-Brit curryhouse favourites – Madras, Tikka Masala, Korma – but these are recipes rooted firmly in tradition, produced with integrity. Steer your wonky-wheeled trolley firmly forth.

Curry Cuisine’s condiments

Curry_Cuisine_jams

On first consideration, Curry Cuisine‘s jams sound a shade scary. But once your grey matter moves beyond any ‘curry in your condiment’ connotations, they become spreads to really savour. From the U.S. obsession with cinnamon at brekka, to Scandinavian pastries spiked with cardamom, to Italian fruit mostardas, ‘spice with sweet’ is a combination that just makes sense.

By happy happenstance, Prett and Paresh Tejura’s company hails from ‘Tingley’.  The preserves certainly warrant the adjective, although the jars call ‘em ‘Scrumees’. They’re that, too. Rich, wine-y plum and cinnamon takes me straight back to Christmas, hovering over a mulling cauldron. It works favourably in cold roast pork sarnies, through hot kale, and ladled over buttered toasted teacakes.

On a particularly inspired Friday night, the lairy green kiwi and lime find its way into a tequila cocktail, standing in for gomme syrup and adding oodles of zesty flavour to boot. The tropical combination is a treat thinned down and used as a dunk for coconut-crusted, deep-fried prawns or goujons of sweet white fish. There you go, Prett, a new recipe to add to your cookery class repertoire.

I do return to the tried-and-tested raspberry and chocolate combo rather regularly, so I found Prett’s suggestion of using Curry Cuisine’s raspberry and black pepper jam as a chocolate cake filling particularly agreeable; that tingling, tickling warmth at the back of the throat infinitely preferable to the mouth burn offered by the more modish chilli-choc combo. Good, too, with game.

Strawberry and cardamom is a surprise, pairing the spice so closely associated with India with a fruit associated not at all. But the cooling, menthol elements and burnt orange notes of the cardamom are both happy bedfellows with the juicy red berry. Rippled through thick Greek yogurt with a few crushed fruits, it makes a virtuous brekkie ‘Eton mess’…  And a lush peanut butter and jam toastie.

Curry_Cuisine_chutneys

So you’d expect the jammy duo to deliver savoury condiments to draw equal compliments. Curry Cuisine doesn’t disappoint, with a pickles and relishes range rewarded with almost as many Great Taste Awards as there are nigella seeds in the ‘Luxury’ mango chutney. A real preserve for the Brits, its sweet ‘Major Grey’ style is literally elevated to gold standard with a sprinkling of sunny saffron.

Curry Cuisine is a fiercely proud user of local produce. Strawberries are a shocking success in a spiced chutney, and Yorkshire rhubarb sticks its ribs into quite a few recipes; a splendidly sour-sharp pickle with mango and a limited-edition PDO rhubarb and chilli jam full of flavour and texture, with a pleasing set a lot softer than many sticky chilli jellies and a proper pungent rhubarb aroma.

You’ll also find a rich tomato chutney that should rightfully relegate the Heinz firmly to the subs bench, and a vibrant beetroot relish that’s a treat with a few walnuts and some goats’ cheese. There are spicy salad dressings, too, and, as a final course, fruity, lemongrass- and ginger-spiked sauces – surely a slop of chilli-cherry-chocolate on your ice cream is only giving it just desserts.

This is a company that understands fusion – of ingredients, of geographically-diverse foodstuffs, of co-existing cultures. I find Prett and Paresh’s hearty embracing of Yorkshire wares and drive to chivvy Curry Cuisine’s chutneys past the poppadoms to become real storecupboard staples every bit as pleasant a treat as finding a cardamom on my croissant. Now we’re really jammin’.

Duke of Delhi’s ‘Delhi mix’

Delhi mixes

‘Chocolate?’ asks the Kitchen Nazi incredulously, turning up his nose as he picks around the offending chunks, ‘What’s chocolate doing in the Bombay mix?’ Well, first of all, mate, you’ve made a geographical error- this is Delhi mix. Secondly- have you tried it? Apparently yes, and despite protestations about the wrongness of the pairing, I notice my precious tin depleting at an alarming rate. ‘Still checking you don’t like it?’ I ask, catching him tipping the last few crumbs into his gob.

Luckily he doesn’t know about my secret stash- the Orange and Nut and Honeycomb varieties that make up Duke of Delhi’s delightful tiffin triumvirate. ‘Khatta-meetha’- sour and sweet- is a much loved flavour combo in all manner of snack-y Indian chaat dishes, and the intense savour of the snack mix is no less worthy a pairing for those novel sweet inclusions. Flecks of bright green coriander, nuts and myriad crisp morsels come together in an adventurous agglomeration that certainly floats my boat.

Choc chunk Delhi mix

Despite the grandiose title, Duke of Delhi is a humble operation, dreamt up by a brother-and-sister team as an edible allegory evoking India’s street food culture and childhood treats from their Granny. Innovative semolina biscuits flavoured with Lemon, Chilli & Seeds or Cardamom, Clove & Vanilla are inspired by classic nankhatai, whilst the Delhi mix has its root in that train station favourite snackerel, chevdo.

Ingredients may be thoroughly British, but Duke of Delhi is also admirably committed to giving back to the country which set the company wheels in motion. A nostalgic love for seeing elephants roaming wild teamed with a chance encounter with a group of the magnificent beasties sporting rainbow hues in central London led to a noble pledge- 7% of all profits donated to the Elephant Family charity. Tastes good, does good- it’s really a no brainer. Just go easy- the object is to help the elephants, not grow as large as one.

The Spice Tailor sauce kits

Spice Tailor Korma_Curry

Three unassuming sachets sit in front of a skeptical me. Nice packaging design, colourful, clean graphics- and the reassuring photo of Anjum Anand, noted for championing authentic, tasty Indian food. But, ambient curry sauces? Really, Anjum? With all due respect, I’m not sold. Until, of course, I unequivocally am. Tail firmly between my legs, I award a resounding victory to ‘The Spice Tailor‘.

A good old cook-up always ignites a hunger for more knowledge, so as I slice, weigh and fry I’m simultaneously flipping the pages of regional Indian cookbooks to discover more about what I’m going to scoff. Using the sauces mean I’m free to let my mind wander without a culinary car-crash- simply frying the included sachet of whole spices in oil, adding the main ingredient and cooking the dish through with the sauce. Easy- and actually tasty- as you like.

Etymologically speaking, the term ‘korma’ simply means braised in a little liquid. In the UK, at least, it’s come to mean the lavish, thick sauce beloved by the English since they began indulging in the Moghul dish on arrival in India in 1608. Dairy ingredients were drawn from the Lucknowi Oudh region, and the Persian trick of thickening with ground almonds deployed. These Moghul chefs were revered, perfecting, over time, the rich, luxurious preparations for which they remain so well known.

If I was really pushing myself, I’d serve Anjum’s ‘Delicate Korma Curry’ up as part of a Kashmiri feast, or ‘Wazwan’; but tonight a bowl of greens and some chapattis do me. As for the meat itself, inspired by Cyrus Todiwala’s Parsee meat pickles, the Rajasthani warriors’ ‘shikaar’ (hunting) habits, and a freezer full or game, it’s pheasant which makes this particular korma so pleasant. For a sprinkle of authenticity, I strew over a handful of ‘char magaz’-a four seed mix popular in Lucknow.

Spice_Tailor

If I were being strictly authentic, of course, I should be cooking the ‘Keralan Coconut Curry’ in a shallow ‘man-chatti’; but my trusty, just-this-side-of-rusty frying pan does the job just as well. In goes a cornucopia of exotic veggies with the spices and sauce, in approximation of the festive dish, avial. The coconut palm is revered and extensively utilised in the coastal state- ‘Kerala’ itself translating as ‘the land of coconuts’. In the kitchen, even the bowl of the ladle-like ‘chiratta thavi’ is fashioned from a coconut shell.

Karnataka, meanwhile, the state providing the inspiration for Anjum’s ‘Mangalore Herb Curry’, is known as ‘the fragrant state’- and my kitchen’s definitely in a pretty fragrant state as I, deviating from the on-pack recommendation, cook it up with some meaty white fish. Were I a Mangalore Brahmin, I might have opted to use cubes of fresh pineapple. But, alas, I’m not that high-caste, or even high-class. Nevertheless, the tangy, herbal sauce is delicious, heady with coriander, tempered with cashew and coconut and given the perfect, correct bite of Guntoor chilli.

With ‘The Spice Tailor‘, Anjum’s achieved a rare thing- a ‘can’t be bothered’ product for people who actually could be, if time and pantry space were no issue. But for most of us, they are- and taste is the absolute issue. These sauces hit the mark, delivering consistently authentic, palatable results post-haste. And, when it comes to setting the table, it pays to heed the words of one notable Persian Shah who claimed; ‘Eating with a knife and fork is like making love through an interpreter’. All hands on deck…dig in.

Ritu and Sula’s Indian wines

url The wine list in the local Indian restaurant has long since been a source of amusement, befuddlement and woeful disappointment. And the appearance of bottles originating in the subcontinent is rare, if not exceptional. Perhaps because, until recently, the wines themselves were anything but. Acidic, thin, one-dimensional. But no more- with companies like Soul Tree, and now Ritu and Sula, slowly but surely seeping into the wider public consciousness. And, hailing from the subcontinent, it stands to reason these wines should have an affinity with Indian food. Making pairings is notoriously tricky, owing to the complex and diverse profiles of both the dishes and the beverages themselves. Conventional wisdom preaches that, the more going on in a dish, the less should be going on in your glass- fresh, clean, unconflicting. But does that always need to be the case? Some of the dishes trickling out of La Porte des Indes‘ kitchens are pretty busy- flavour, texture, aroma- and so they should be with Ethnic Chef of the Year Mehernosh Mody at the helm. Yet we’re all merrily quaffing right across the vinous spectrum from lush, floral whites to brooding, oaky reds. And we’re all simultaneously munching away, the sounds of mastication drowned out only by murmurs of both surprise and satisfaction. The rich, silky notes of both fois gras on puris anointed with fig and ginger chutney, and star-anise-spiked chocolate mousse tartlets, lets the Shiraz slips down very nicely indeed. The fresh spicing of Southern snacks like Malabar crab salad and masala dosas, meanwhile, call out for the aromatics in Viognier. Mango mess is a natural partner for the tropical notes of Chenin Blanc- yet the ethereal whisper of cardamom could marry it equally well to the Cab. Sav., if you’re so inclined. The diversity of the regional canapes is ideal for showcasing the versatility of these wines- the general consensus having already found them to score very highly indeed in terms of quality. The reds prop up dishes like lamb nargis kebabs and hunks of charred tandoori guinea fowl, and come into their own alongside the cinnamon, garlic, clove of an Gloucester Old Spot vindaloo. Whites are especially gluggable with Amritsari-style battered fish, or the zesty ginger notes in pakoras. url Ritu draws its name from the Sanskrit for ‘season’. Head winemaker Abhay Kewadkar got himself an education in France, lending a discernable Francophone accent to the vineyard’s output- and the chateau styling of the building. The brand is the first to bring Indian wine to the supermarket shelves, following an unsolicited approach from Waitrose at a major wine fair. Accolade indeed. Sula currently holds the title of India’s leading premium wine producer, headed up by young entrepreneur Rajeev Samant. The Nashik valley location, Northeast of Mumbai, provides a similar climate to the Loire or South Africa, yielding fruity, off-dry Chenin Blanc and drier, crisp Sauvignon Blanc tasting of grass and green peppers made by Californian winemaker Kerry Damskey. Both vineyards are based in Maharashtra, one of India’s three vinegrowing areas- Ritu in the Sahyadri Valley, Southeast of Mumbai. Himachal Pradesh, in India’s colder North, and Karnataka, in the searing South, complete the triumvirate. Both international and indiginous grape varieties are cultivated- Anabeshahi, Arkavati and Arkashyam some of the natives. The Indian wine industry grew by 200% last year alone- so, clearly, they’re doing something right. So, the next time you’re cooking up a curry or ordering in a takeaway, give the low-gas lager a wide berth and seek out a subcontinental in the wine aisle. Think about the flavours you’re working with and what will work with them. Cast aside preconceptions and past experiences, and challenge the conventions. This is one industry that has very definitely progressed as many others are in decline. You’ll be surprised- hopefully, pleasantly so.

Patak’s Stir-fry sauces

Patak's stir-fry sauce ‘People are always ashamed to admit they use their leftovers in curries,’ Anjali Pathak declares in her broad Northern accent, ‘But that’s what Indian families do. Whatever’s around, you throw in a few spices and turn it into something tasty- nothing’s wasted’. Hopefully the notion is one which won’t be wasted on the British public, either- especially when we’re all in dire need of a cheap yet fulfilling feed. Family brand Patak’s are pushing people to get more creative in the kitchen, launching a range of regionally-inspired stir-fry sachets designed to be used pretty much however you please. Anjali’s squidging a sachet of Goan Hot & Sour sauce into a pan of Indian-style egg-fried rice, simply allowing it to get piping hot before whacking in a generous handful of coriander, She reckons it’s great as a wake-up call, conceding that spicy rice might not be quite what some people would constitute suitable daybreak fodder. But c’mon- from sickly glazed donuts to huevos rancheros, pretty much anything goes these days- why not this? If you can’t quite reconcile the notion of opting for curry over Cornflakes, the pungent masala of vinegar-spiked cinnamon and cloves suits seafood spectacularly. Indeed, the recipe is inspired by prawn balchao- a classic Goan pickle preparation. The wonderfully bland, creamy flavour of paneer works a treat, too- just don’t use that polystyrene stuff, please. Patak's stir-fry The other side of the country, the Eastern technique of using white poppy seeds as a thickener means the Bengali coconut sauce scores remarkably well, paradoxically, on both nutritional value and creaminess. Anjali’s paired this one with tiny roasted potatoes- suggesting that, for a drier result, you just cook the dish for longer. Fans of Thai food would enjoy this one- indeed, another suggestion of a prawn stir-fry hints at a Southeast Asian influence on the East coast. Achari pickling spices are popular in the Punjab- and have been picked up by Patak’s in the Punjabi 5 Spice sauce. Paanch phoran, that delicious quintet of nigella, fennel, mustard seed, cumin and fennel lifts a tomato-and-cream base. Lending a tangy bite to tender lamb or fried up with juicy, sweet chicken, it packs a ‘paanch’ indeed. Those Punjabis do like their meat, but this one pppicks up peppers pretty nicely, too. Anjali isn’t worried about fusion confusion, either- just firmly focused on expediency, value, and most importantly, taste. To put it simply- there’s no doubting the Patak’s brand’s integrity when it comes to the authenticity of their recipes, but there’s absolutely no harm in slipping a bit of Pancetta into your proper Punjabi 5 Spice should the urge strike. Personally, I might have to class you as a bit of a wrong-‘un, but each to their own. And that, friends, is the message we take away. Indian food isn’t to be feared, or overly revered. It’s a huge cuisine worth endless exploration, that should be deliciously accessible whether you hail from Toxteth or Trivandrum; have five minutes or five hours; can barely boil an egg or have a Michelin star; are broke or benefit from a bumper bonus. Patak’s claim to be ‘Why Britain Loves Curry’. Go on, feel the love.

Dos Santos Goan foods

Dos Santos Foods

Having held colonial status for nigh-on half a millenium, Goan cuisine is a melting pot in the truest sense of the word- indeed, so fiery it’s in danger of burning through the toughest cooking vessel. As Gregg Wallace might phrase it, ‘cooking doesn’t get hotter than this’.

Or, perhaps, more intriguing. Goa only achieved independence in 1961, and, fittingly, has a fascinating culinary legacy- informed and influenced by many groups of invaders and insurgents, not to mention the native populus. The coastal location delivers bounty from the Arabian sea, whilst the searing temperatures of the West demand a similar heat on the plate.

Religion has played a major part in filling the Goan pantry and shaping the kitchen. Although the state has Hindu roots, the Christian community continues to be a major presence thanks to four hundred years of Portuguese colonial rule. Metaphorically sitting cheek by jowl at the dining table, each religion has brought something to the feast, as have myriad peripheral minority groups.

When Goans party, it’s a safe bet local hooch fenny will be central to the celebrations. Fermented from cashew fruit, it’s rough, ready and packs one hell of a punch, and is as much of a staple to many as rice and seafood. Pork is widely consumed and much enjoyed amongst Catholics, with that Portuguese influence showing through in chorizos and sausages spiked up with the Goan flavour treatment.

Pork is the classic meat in the most famous Goan dish, vindaloo- its name derived from the Portuguese for wine (vinho) and garlic (alho), and a traditional means of preserving meat. It also forms the basis of sorpotel– a curry not for the squeamish, replete with liver, heart, tongue and blood. A regional fondness for offal also renders beef tongue a common celebratory dish. Chillies are widely adored- helping Goans break a sweat since their introduction by the Portuguese.

Dos Santos

The ocean supplies Goa’s fish markets with some 117 varieties, used in curries like ambot tik and riechard– a pungent, tangy preparation. Balchão is a dry, fermented prawn pickle, the tiniest amount adding savour to a vast mound of rice. Intense dried prawns also combine with their fresh counterparts in the dish called samarein chi kodi; and dried, salted cod, ‘bacalhau’, is used in myriad ways.

The coconut is much revered- indeed, a Goan Christian version of the Christmas story tells of Mary and Joseph finding shelter beneath the branches of a palm. A beloved sour taste is obtained variously with lime, tamarind, vinegar or kokum- a sour fruit which imparts an addictive smoky tang. Thin, tomato-rich gravies are sopped up with sannas– fermented rice-and-coconut sponges much like Chennai’s idlis; or perhaps pao- leavened, Western-style bread.

The taste for coconut pervades the sweet palate, too- the harvest-time Pathoyeo consists of turmeric leaves stuffed with coconut, jaggery, dahl and rice. The intricate, multi-layered bebinca is a popular Christmas dessert, made by painstakingly grilling wafer thin layers of a coconut-and-egg batter until a cake a good few inches thick is formed- tasting like the most luxuriant baked custard ever.

Goa is known as ‘the pearl of the Orient’- perhaps initially coined to describe the verdant splendour of the diminutive state, but surely, too, an apt description of the people and their cuisine. Goan food is, by turns, rich, searing, tangy, soothing, vibrant, sweet, sour, savoury… in short, all things to all its people. A fascinating, endlessly complex table demanding- indeed, deserving- further exploration. Goa-on- your palate will thank you.

  • For a taste of Goa in your own home, Dos Santos Foods offer a selection of specialities including sorpotel, sannas, savouries, pickles, bebinca and chorizos- including unusual venison and boar options.
  • To view the range and place an order, visit Dos Santos Foods at http://goanfood.co.uk
  • Visit the factory shop, open 12- 4 p.m. six days a week by appointment (call 0843 289 6588), at 118 Windmill Road, Croydon, Surrey, CRO 2XQ

Donald Russell’s prepared curries

Donald Russell korma

A particularly noxious Indian takeaway lubricated with copious amounts of cheap cooking oil and redolent with raw spices left me feeling somewhat dirty and used. Heck, they didn’t even throw in a couple of poppadoms. So it was with due trepidation I took delivery of a large box of curry ready meals from Donald Russell– akin, if you will, to Superman handling a polystyrene crate of Kryptonite.

Perhaps marginally less traumatic- by this stage sheer hunger was imbuing me with the courage to face my nemesis afresh. Coupled with the fact I had a dozen naan burning a hole in my kitchen counter, bequeathed to me by the upstart wrapstars @tavawava, this surely called for a feast.

Volumes like these require an army- as we all know, armies march on their stomachs, and mine are a crack team. Utter the words ‘ready meal’ though, and the greedy gluttons go all le snob. Time to pull out the big guns- my own kitchen arsenal and a trusty copy of Manju Malhi’s ‘Classic Indian Recipes’. No-one would be any the wiser.

Donald Russell CTM

Unpacking the box didn’t inspire me with any more confidence. Black containers, plastic film lids- so far, so standard. But as I dished up dahl and stirred a sizzling tarka, a veritable olfactory assault emanated from the microwave- and most pleasing it was too. Curry leaves, roasted cumin, ginger- the primal scents of real scratch cooking, not the idle ignominy of instant.

But a pretty perfume only gets you so far. Looks help- and peeling back the film revealed a rather dishy dish. No smooth gloopy gloop here- these sauces were a bit rough and ready, proudly wearing their whole spices on their sleeves. Decanted into ceramic, with a quick gussy-up of fresh coriander, beef madras and chickens korma and tikka masala were ready for a night on the town- or table.

And so, dinner was served. And so, the hungry crowd was appeased- indeed, delighted. As you’d hope from meat masters Donald Russell, the curries delivered big hunks of top-drawer protein. Chicken was juicy, not woolly; beef melted in the mouth. Naan bread was pressed into heavy service to scrape up satisfying sauces. Troops were dispatched for clean up which, as is the beauty of the ready meal, was minimal. The only leftovers, in fact, were my own back-up dishes. Point proved, and proved well, Donald.

Rani’s Quality Mixture

Once you dip your hand into the world of Indian chevdo, you fast discover there are enough varieties to get you all agog. There’s much more to these munchies than Bombay Mix –indeed, a quick scan of most Tesco World Food aisles will reveal Gujarati Mix, Cornflake Mix and even London Mix.

And then there’s the heavenly hotchpotch known merely as ‘Mixture’. Down South and in Sri Lanka, the term describes something similar but blended and seasoned with a different hand; a Southern sensibility. If you’re a fan of any type of chevdo, it’s only sensible to put it to the taste-test.

You could do a lot worse that Rani’s Quality Mixture – perhaps the ‘George’s Marvellous Medicine’ of the spicy snack sector. So much so, it was described as ‘virtually flawless’ and its packets firmly slapped with a badge of honour in the form of a Great Taste Award.

It’s great to see a niche product up-styled as a sleek snack with mass appeal. You usually have to seek out Mixture in Tamil-run corner shops, your search often yielding a budget bag from a brand whose offering tastes more of stale cooking oil than the deep savour of curry leaves and roasted dal.

But then Rani’s does call itself ‘Quality’ Mixture – so one would expect, like Ronseal, that the contents do what it says on the tin – or in this case, black-and-gold bag. Forget the stunning sites of the world; Rani’s uses ‘seven wonders’ to describe the ingredients that take your tastebuds on a journey with every multi-textured mouthful.

The list begins with boondi – those diminutive deep-fried batter drops Bernard Matthews would no doubt deem ‘bootiful’. Omapodi is what Mixture’s Bombay Mix brethren would know as ‘sev’- crisp gram flour noodles. Cashews, so bountiful in the South, add a little luxury to the nuttiness provided by peanuts. Roasted channa, crunchy cassava chips and curry leaves complete the collection.

What makes it so superior? Rani’s is lighter and brighter than so many snack mixes, with just the right ratio to enjoy every inclusion without any one character dominating the snack’s delicate savour. Speaking of savour, it’s deeply, devilishly so, drawing your hand in for just a mite more… And, oh, I’ve reached the bottom of the bag.

So I’ve crunched, munched and waffled away, but the last word On Rani’s Quality Mixture must surely go to wizard wordsmith, ‘Chris from London’. This fellow wholeheartedly believes; ‘Happiness encapsulated in a resealable plastic bag. If heaven exists, it’ll probably be similar to the inside of a Rani Mix bag’.

Rani’s Quality Mixture- http://www.ranismixture.com

Store locator: http://www.ranismixture.com/where-to-buy-bombay-mix/

Follow @ranimix on Twitter https://twitter.com/ranimix

Like Rani’s Mixture on Facebook https://www.facebook.com/RanisMixture

2 responses to “Products

  1. Pingback: An inimitable Indian Christmas, Part 4 – Nice little nibbles and rocking recipes | The Spice Scribe·

  2. Pingback: Get grilling – barbecue basics, Indian-style | Culinary Adventures of The Spice Scribe·

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