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This week I’m excited to have posts from two guest bloggers, both of whom are not only great cooks but also share my love of learning about new culinary cultures.  First up is Chris, who usually blogs about cinema but has a secret life as a brilliant vegetarian cook. I more or less beg him to make me his Southern biscuits with mushroom gravy every time I see him. Since I know I have some (long-suffering) vegetarian readers, I’ve persuaded him to share his south Indian-inspired vadai curry. Over to Chris…

Like many vegetarians, I have long privileged Indian food in my diet. In fact, certain Indian dishes are comfort food for me, and I’m not of South Asian descent.  However, the dishes I crave most are not necessarily the Moghul standards that Indian restaurants specialize in here in the US but rather the homier dishes that I have learned from friends, cookbooks, and the occasional restaurant serving more regional food. Vadai (or vadi, plural of vada, sometimes transliterated wada or bada) are just the sort of thing I don’t often see on restaurant menus. Basically they’re lentil fritters, typically served as a snack with coconut chutney, and you could do the same or even treat them as an appetizer. But I find them a bit more trouble than I want for anything other than a main dish. So I make a curry with them, inspired by the vadai curry I first had at the excellent Madras Cafe, tucked into a stretch of strip-mall hell in Atlanta.  Read the rest of this entry »

It’s been a busy week at work with sadly little time for cooking. I did manage a trip to London to see David Tennant in Much Ado About Nothing, which somewhat made up for missing his Hamlet. (I had a ticket, procured after much pathetic begging from my Hollywood contacts, and then he went and hurt his back. Bah!) This time all went well, the play was hilarious and David was gorgeous in a white naval uniform. Check out my fellow theatre-goer Thrifty Gal’s post for photographic evidence. And, since no trip to London is complete without Asian food, I even managed a quick trip to C&R Café for a Singapore laksa and a Malaysian tea before the show.

But a girl can’t live on hot men in uniform alone (sadly) and come the end of the week I was ready for a different type of sensual pleasure. My friends JD and M gave me a lovely Moghul cookbook for my last birthday, and I’ve been meaning to test out some of its more complex dishes. It’s not a style of cooking I know a lot about: Moghul cuisine is associated with royalty, richness and opulence, and I’m more drawn to peasant food that draws deep flavour out of not a lot. That said, I need to learn a lot more about regional Indian cuisines and I am very interested in the connections between Moghul India and Persian foodways. So, in at the deep end, I decided to try out Shahi Rojan Josh, or royal red meat, a luxurious dish that uses 14 different spices just in its masala. It begins by soaking quite a lot of saffron in warm milk and this decadent opening gambit really sets the tone for the dish. Despite the complex masala, the saffron taste comes through as a sultry back note almost like a shaving of truffle in pasta. It wasn’t terribly red despite the name, and I wonder if it needed more dried chilies. Next time I will play around with the proportions, although I wouldn’t want to overwhelm the sweet perfume of saffron or throw off the delicate masala. The refinement of Moghul cuisine is certainly a challenge to the novice, but for now I am more than happy to appreciate some of its beauties. Read the rest of this entry »

So I’m back home in Brighton and Spring seems to have arrived, at least for today. This weekend marks the beginning of a couple of weeks off work (hurrah!) and I also have Mama Lemur visiting. Between preparing for a houseguest and catching up with all the work I missed while in New Orleans, there hasn’t been all that much time for cooking this week. But as today is my mum’s birthday, we had the perfect excuse to go out to eat instead, and we went for a celebratory lunch at the Chilli Pickle.

Brightonian foodies probably know about the Chilli Pickle already, as the restaurant has already garnered a string of awards and it’s always busy. It opened last year in a small space in the Lanes, but has recently moved to substantially bigger premises opposite the public library. The owners seem a bit frazzled from the process of moving, but the space looks chic and modern, and despite the large number of tables the service remains efficient and friendly. The concept is regional Indian food, modern in presentation and style but drawing from fairly traditional dishes. The focus is on small plates based on street food, but there are also thalis, dosa and kebabs. It’s thus ideal for lunch, and the small plate to thali range offers both light and hearty meals. There are also several creative and tasty vegetarian dishes on the menu at any time.

Mama Lemur went the small plate route, including this Indian-style kedgeree of smoked haddock, rice and dal with a poached duck egg on top. Regular readers will know that I have an irrational phobia of eggs, so I didn’t taste it, but it looks delicious. Mama Lemur felt the haddock was less fishy than the Scottish version, but otherwise the dish was a hit.

Mr Lemur and I had thalis: he his standard order of keema muttar (minced lamb with peas) and I a new dish of Rajasthani laal maas, or mutton in a fiery red sauce. He always has the keema muttar; I don’t think he even looks at the menu any more, and I can see why. It’s reliably delicious with a rich flavour of lamb, a mild but well-spiced sauce and lots of peas. It came with a lightly sweet cabbage thoran, a bright pink beet raita, potatoes cooked with curry leaf and mustard seeds, a mixed lentil dal, and a chilli pickle, as well as breads and rice.

My thali centred on shoulder of Sussex mutton braised in a dark red chili-infused curry. Laal maas is a well-known Rajasthani dish that is made with either lamb or goat and that gets its red colour and fiery character from the number of red chilies that are used in the sauce. This version wasn’t incredibly hot (by my standards, YMMV) but had a lovely depth of flavour and a good chili kick. It came with a simple cucumber raitha that balanced the heat nicely, a fresh and sour lime pickle, plus the same thoran, potato and dals as the other thali.

If you’re down in Brighton for the day from London, or if you’re a local on the lookout for a good Indian lunch in the centre of town, I don’t think you can do better than The Chilli Pickle.

The Chilli Pickle, 17 Jubilee St, Brighton BN1 1GE

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