Celebrate 60 years of Indian independence with these piquant summer snacks

Mark Hix hooks up with Atul Kochhar to cook some spicy dishes
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Indy Lifestyle Online

London is currently hosting the India Now Festival – it's on right through the summer and ends in September – and it celebrates the 60th anniversary of Indian independence with a great selection of Indian art, music, fashion, film, food and theatre. So I thought it might be a good time to hook up with Atul Kochhar, from the Mayfair restaurant Benares, to cook some spicy Indian summer snacks. When I was cooking alongside Atul on the Great British Menu, he showed me how a little bit of British influence in the hands of a brilliant Indian chef can really work. He's a great guy who is really highly rated by his staff at Benares and his customers alike.

London is currently hosting the India Now Festival – it's on right through the summer and ends in September – and it celebrates the 60th anniversary of Indian independence with a great selection of Indian art, music, fashion, film, food and theatre. So I thought it might be a good time to hook up with Atul Kochhar, from the Mayfair restaurant Benares, to cook some spicy Indian summer snacks. When I was cooking alongside Atul on the Great British Menu, he showed me how a little bit of British influence in the hands of a brilliant Indian chef can really work. He's a great guy who is really highly rated by his staff at Benares and his customers alike.

Coorgi mince puffs (from Karnataka province )

Serves 4

200g strong white flour
1/4tsp salt
50ml water (approx)
40ml oil
600g lamb mince
1/2tsp red chilli powder
1/2tsp turmeric powder
1/2tsp coriander powder
1/2tsp cumin powder
1 finely chopped green chilli
1tbsp ginger, chopped
100g peas (frozen will do)
1tsp salt
Oil for deep frying

For the seasoning

2tbsp oil
1tbsp garlic purée
I medium-sized onion, chopped

Make a soft dough with the flour, salt, and the water (as required) and oil. Set it aside, covered with a wet cloth, until needed. Cook the minced lamb with the salt, powdered spices, ginger, green chilli and a little water.

In a separate pan, heat the oil, then add the garlic paste, and sauté along with the onions until golden brown in colour. Add the cooked lamb mince, green peas and correct seasoning.

Divide the dough into 12 balls and roll them into flat rounds 4 inches in diameter. Place 1 tbsp of mince on one side and fold to make a half-moon shape. Moisten and seal the edges. Refrigerate the pastries for 10-15 minutes, and then deep fry in hot oil until golden brown.

Deep fried prawns coated with vermicelli (Jhinga Til Tinka)

Serves 4

Atul has recommended that you serve these deep-fried prawns with the crab and coconut salad below; or you could also serve them with a chutney and salad.

8 large raw sea-water prawns, heads removed and peeled, leaving the tail shell on
Vegetable or corn oil for deep frying

For the marinade

2 cloves of garlic, peeled and crushed
1/2tsp red chilli powder
The juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
3tbsp yoghurt
1tbsp ginger, scraped and finely grated
30g Cheddar cheese, grated
1tsp ajwain seeds (or you could substitute with fresh lovage leaves)
2tbsp single cream
1tbsp toasted gram flour
1/4tsp green cardamom powder
1tsp salt

For the coating

2 tbsp sesame seeds and 50g vermicelli (uncooked) mixed together

Mix all of the ingredients for the marinade then mix with the prawns and leave in a non-reactive container for 45 minutes. Remove the prawns from the marinade, scrape off any excess and coat liberally with the sesame and vermicelli mixture, then rest them for 5 minutes.

Meanwhile pre-heat about 8cm of oil to 160-180C in a large, thick-bottomed saucepan or electric deep-fat fryer. Deep fry the prawns for 2-3 minutes until they are golden brown, then drain on some kitchen paper.

Crab salad with coconut and curry leaves (Salada de caranguejos)

Serves 4

This is a Goan dish, hence the colonial Portuguese name. You can use freshly picked white crab meat or even spider crab. It's great served with the kumquat chutney below.

3tbsp vegetable or coconut oil
11/2tsp mustard seeds
10 curry leaves
1tsp finely chopped or grated root ginger
1/2tsp finely chopped green chilli
1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped
300g freshly picked white crab meat
1tsp turmeric
A couple of good pinches of salt
3tbsp coconut milk
1tbsp freshly grated coconut
1tbsp chopped coriander leaves

Heat the oil in a wok or frying pan, add the mustard seeds and cook for a couple of minutes on a medium flame until they start to pop. Add the curry leaves and cook for another minute; then add the ginger and chilli, and continue cooking for another minute, stirring every so often.

Add the onion and continue cooking for a minute without colouring. Add the crab meat and turmeric, then season with salt and cook on a low heat for a minute. Add the coconut milk, grated coconut and coriander, then remove from the heat, transfer to a bowl and leave to cool.

Kumquat chutney (Chote Santrae ki)

Makes about 500g

This is one of Atul's inventions and it goes brilliantly with the crab salad above.

500g kumquats, thinly sliced
150g palm sugar or raw cane sugar
150ml white wine vinegar
2tsp cumin seeds
1tsp coriander seeds, toasted and crushed
3 dried red chillies
2tsp melon seeds toasted
2tsp salt

Put the kumquats in a heavy based saucepan with all of the other ingredients. Bring to a simmer, stirring, and cook for about 45 minutes to an hour until you have a thick chunky consistency. Allow to cool, then spoon into sterilised Kilner or preserving jars and seal the tops. Store in the fridge for up to a month.

Crispy fried John Dory with cucumber salad, crushed peas and grilled tomato chutney

Serves 4

Atul cooked this for the recent Great British Menu competition – it was a great dish and the perfect twist on British fried fish with mushy peas.

You can also use accompaniments such as ready-made chilli jam, lime pickle, etc.

For the cucumber salad

1 small cucumber, peeled, deseeded and thinly sliced
2 medium tomatoes, deseeded and thinly sliced
Half a medium red onion, halved and thinly sliced
10 sprigs coriander

For the dressing

2tbsp ready-made chilli jam
2tsp lime juice
2tsp vegetable or olive oil

For the grilled tomato chutney

4 medium tomatoes
2 garlic cloves
1 tbsp olive oil
1 small green chilli
3 tbsp chopped coriander leaves
1 tsp finely chopped fresh ginger
1/2tsp toasted cumin seeds, crushed
2 tbsp lime juice

For the John Dory

4 John Dory fillets, each 100-120g, skin on
1tbsp lime juice
A pinch of salt
Groundnut oil, for deep-frying
1tsp chaat masala

For the batter

11/2tsp each ginger and garlic pastes, mixed
1/2tsp ground turmeric
1/2tsp red chilli powder or crushed black pepper
1/4tsp garam masala powder
1/2tsp dried mango powder
1/4tsp ajwain seeds (optional)
100g gram flour
1 tbsp cornflour
120ml/4fl oz sparkling water

For the crushed peas

100g freshly shelled peas
15g unsalted butter
2 tsp vegetable oil
A pinch of asafoetida
1/2tsp cumin seeds
1/2tsp red chilli flakes
1tbsp vegetable stock or water
1tbsp single cream
Salt and freshly ground black pepper

For the cucumber salad and the dressing, mix together all the ingredients for the cucumber first. In a separate bowl, mix the ingredients for the dressing, adding just enough lime juice and oil to slacken the jam, and to your taste. Chill the salad and dressing.

For the grilled tomato chutney, lay the whole tomatoes and garlic on a baking tray and drizzle with olive oil. Grill until well charred. Peel the garlic, then place on a large chopping board with the tomatoes and the rest of the chutney ingredients. Chop finely to combine or pulse in a food processor. Keep chilled until required.

For the John Dory, marinate the fish in the lime juice with a pinch of salt for 20 minutes.

For the batter, mix the garlic and ginger pastes and all the dry ingredients in a bowl, then slowly pour in the sparkling water, whisking as you do so. Wipe the fish with kitchen paper to remove excess moisture, then coat the fish in the batter. Leave for 10 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the crushed peas. Lightly blanch the peas in boiling salted water for one minute, then drain. Heat the butter and oil in a frying pan. Add the asafoetida and, as it foams, add the cumin seeds. When the cumin seeds crackle, add the chilli flakes and the blanched peas. Cook for 3-4 minutes, then stir in the stock (or water) and cream, and season with salt and freshly ground black pepper. Remove from heat and, with a wooden spoon, crush the peas. Keep warm while you fry the fish.

To fry the fish, heat the groundnut oil in a deep, heavy-bottomed saucepan. Deep-fry the fillets for 3-5 minutes or until golden and crisp on both sides. Carefully remove with a slotted spoon and drain on kitchen paper. Sprinkle with the chaat masala.

To serve, toss the cucumber salad with dressing to taste. Spoon the crushed peas on to four large warm plates. Place the fish on top, then pile some of the cucumber salad on the fish. Spoon tomato chutney around each plate.

Chickpea, mango and coconut salad (sundal)

Serves 4

Sundal is a street food snack and salad from Tamil Nadu. Other than chickpeas, this snack can be made with boiled peanuts, dried green peas or any other bean.

When raw mango is not in season, various other fruits can be used instead, such as papaya. In Chennai this is a perennially popular snack on the beach.

250g chickpeas, soaked and cooked or good quality canned
2tbsp freshly grated coconut
Half a firm mango, peeled & cut into thin strips
1 green chilli, finely chopped
The juice and grated rind of 1 lemon
1tbsp chopped coriander
A few sprigs of coriander

For the seasoning:

2tsp ground nut oil
1tsp mustard seeds
1tsp black gram lentils (optional)
1 dried red chilli
1tsp curry leaves, chopped (these are not always easy to find, but you can buy them fresh or dried from some Indian supermarkets)
1/4tsp asafoetida

Heat the groundnut oil in a pan then add the black lentils & mustard seeds, when they begin to pop stir in the red chilli, asafoetida and curry leaves. Add the chickpeas and cook on a low heat for 4-5 minutes. Leave to cool, then toss with all the other ingredients. Scatter with sprigs of coriander.

Hara kebab

Serves 4

This delicious kebab from Uttar Pradesh is named after the vibrant green colour of its spinach. It's got a great combination of flavours and the preparation and cooking is dead simple.

1kg spinach, thick stalks removed and washed
300-350g potatoes, boiled in their skins
75g gram lentils
1tsp turmeric
A piece of root ginger (about 20g), scraped and finely grated
1 green chilli, seeded and finely chopped
1tsp ground fenugreek
1/2tsp red chili powder
1/2tsp garam masala
A good pinch of salt
1tsp cornflour
20g fresh white bread crumbs
2-3tbsp vegetable oil for frying

Bring a pan of salted water to the boil and blanch the spinach for 1 minute. Squeeze all the water out of the spinach using a cloth or using your hands. Chop the spinach roughly and put it into a bowl.

Peel and grate the boiled potatoes and mix with the spinach.

Boil the gram lentils in lightly salted water with a little salt and turmeric until just cooked, keeping them slightly under-done.

Mix in all the ingredients, except the oil for frying.

Shape the mixture into balls about 40g each, flatten them a little, then place on a tray lined with greaseproof paper and refrigerate for 40-50 minutes.

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan and cook the pieces for 3-4 minutes on each side until golden and crisp, then drain on some kitchen paper.

You can serve these kebabs with any favourite Indian chutney or relish and just a simple salad of herb leaves such as coriander, mint and parsley dressed with a little oil and lime juice.

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