Chef Mahipal Singh shares the secrets of the award-winning Nirvana restaurant in Bahrain
Time Out Bahrain staff
Often, when people think of Indian cooking, the first thing that comes to mind is the inedibly hot phal you’ll be served in some curry houses in the West. We’ve always had the impression this is India’s revenge for the days of Empire and can’t help a sneaking feeling the waiters are just watching our reactions for entertainment.
But there’s a very basic lesson to be learned here, most of the bewildering array of cuisines from this hugely diverse country have little to do with heat and much more to do with a blending of delicate flavours. Yes, there is hot stuff in there and, without a doubt, of the last few cooking sessions we’ve tried, this one has to have the most dazzling selection of herbs and spices. But what it’s really not about is looking for spice or heat over taste.
Chef Mahipal, who’s been with Nirvana for nine years, showed us one of the house specialities, raan-e-haider, tender lamb shank cooked for four to five hours to let those flavours really soak in and served on a bed of spicey potatoes.
First off, an introduction to that famous spice rack. Are you ready for this? Green cardamon, dry ginger, fennel, star anise, nutmeg, coriander, black cardamon, bay leaves, cloves, cumin, mace, cinnamon, turmeric powder, mustard seeds, dried chilli, coriander powder, funnugreek leaves, garam masala and chilli powder.
Mix pinches or all of these together (quantities to taste), apart from chilli powder, turmeric and coriander powder and chuck into a pan with a good amount of heated oil. Add sliced onion and fry gently to brown Add ginger and garlic paste and continue to fry over a high heat then add the lamb shank with the outer fatty layer removed and lower the flame.
Add chilli powder, turmeric, coriander powder, tomato paste, tomato puree, natural yoghurt and water to just cover and leave to simmer for four to five hours.
As the sauce reduces add fenugreek leaves, garam masala and salt and continue to gently simmer while you prepare the potatoes.
Take parboiled potato chunks and fry with a little cumin seed, turmeric, chilli powder, salt, garam masala and chopped coriander. As you’re frying constantly beat the mix so the potatoes are still quite chunky but mashed enough to be used as a base for the lamb shank.
Once browned, form the potatoes into a round and stand the meat in the middle with the sauce around the sides. Garnish with fresh chopped coriander, sliced tomatoes and fresh ginger.
This dish would normally be served with bread or rice but we reckon the potatoes are enough to really bring out all the great flavours and the prolonged cooking time leaves the lamb fall-off-the-bone tender. And since there was just a bit of cooking time to kill, we also picked Mahipal’s brains on recipes for the standard curry sauces that make up the basics of pretty much all Indian dishes.
He told us there are just three, the chana masala or onion and tomato sauce above, white gravy, which is used for mild korma dishes, and makani, found in one of our fave dishes, butter chicken.
For white gravy you’ll need cashews, yoghurt, milk, white pepper, salt, green cardamon and cooking oil.
First boil the cashews and mince to make a paste with oil.
Heat oil in a pan to a high temperature add cashew paste and yoghurt and turn down flame to simmer before adding milk, pepper, salt and cardamon.
This sauce can be used to cook fish or chicken, just let the flesh simmer in it for around 10 minutes.
To make the makani sauce, take a mix of tomatoes, ginger, garlic and the full range of spices again. Add together in a pan with water and simmer for around three hours. Once all the ingredients are soft, blend and strain till you are left with a puree and add salt, fenugreek leaves and butter cream before using as a base for your meat.
And there you have it, the idiot’s guide to Indian cooking. What could possibly go wrong? Dinner at our house next week then folks.