On Thursday, I was at home sorting out some domestic chores with some builders and my mind wandered to food and more specifically curry. I craved a great balti, so I whipped one up, together with some dhal.
The balti is now a modern classic curry that came out of traditional curries from Northern Pakistan and was nurtured and loved within the Birmingham restaurant scene. It is an inexpensive and simple way of making a curry once you know how. Also, it fits well into the stir-fry & wok scene, so while not strictly fusion food it does cross-over nicely between the Chinese cooking styles and curry culture up here in the North.
I love it because of its sheer flexibility – effectively you make up a sauce that is chocka with vegetables and add your meat to this.
And of course while here we have made the masala mixes from scratch you can buy a balti masala curry mix or make your own and store it and seriously cut back the amount of thinking time to create a balanced meal. We tend to eat ours with dhal – in fact we are always eating dhal and pureed pulses with everything – and mop it all up with naan bread.
Stage 1: the smooth Balti tomato sauce
2tbsp butter, or ghee
1 medium onion (125g / 4½oz), roughly chopped
2 cloves of garlic, roughly chopped
2tsp freshly grated ginger
½tsp cumin seeds
½tsp coriander seeds
¼tsp fennel seeds
½ – 1tsp chilli powder (you could replace this for a fresh green chilli, deseeded)
½tsp Fairtrade turmeric
125g / 4½oz chopped tomatoes
The first stage is to make the balti tomato sauce. In a heavy bottomed pan, dry roast the coriander, cumin and fennel seeds for about 2 minutes, then take out of the pan and put on a cool plate.
Now add the butter (or ghee for a richer balti) to a heavy bottomed pan and heat to sizzling hot. Add then stir fry the onion and garlic until translucent which will take about 4 – 5 minutes. Add the fresh ginger and stir once. Add the toasted spices and the spice powder and stir these in, turning for about half a minute, making sure it does not stick to the pan. Finally add the chopped tomatoes and simmer for about 15 minutes.
Blitz the sauce either with a hand held blender or take out and pulse in a Magimix until smooth. Return to the pan and keep on a very low heat with the lid on.
Stage 2: the Balti stir fry
3tbsp sunflower oil
500g / 1lb 2oz chicken breast, cut into 2cm x 2cm cubes
1 green pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1cm x 1cm pieces
1 red pepper, deseeded and chopped into 1cm x 1cm pieces
1 – 2 green chillis, deseeded, halved and thinly sliced (we have 1 chilli to keep heat lower)
100g / 4oz spring onions (or 150g / 5oz normal onions)
200g / 7oz button mushrooms, chopped in half
½tsp cumin powder
¼tsp fenugreek powder
¼tsp cinnamon powder
¼tsp cardamom powder
2tbsp chopped tomatoes
1tsp Steenbergs garam masala
100ml / 3½ fl oz / ½ cup water
Handful chopped fresh coriander leaves
Heat the oven to 100C / 212F. Add half of the sunflower oil to a wok and heat until smoking hot. Stir fry the chicken cubes in batches until sealed. Put the cooked chicken pieces into the warmed oven. When complete, clean the wok. While frying the chicken, measure out and mix the ground spices together.
Add the remainder of the sunflower oil to the wok and heat until hot and smoking. Add the red and green peppers, green chilli and button mushrooms and stir fry for 4 – 5 minutes, stirring constantly, making sure it does not burn and is fried well. Tip in the mixed spices and stir through twice, then add the smooth Balti tomato sauce and mix in, plus the tablespoons of chopped tomatoes. Heat until simmering, then add the water and reheat to a simmer, mixing all together. Cook on a gentle simmer for 15 minutes.
Add the cooked chicken pieces and mix together. Add the garam masala. Cook for a further 10 minutes. About 2 minutes before the end add the chopped fresh coriander and stir through.
Serve hot with naan, plus we like dhal with it.