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Classic Indian cuisine with a fresh twist

Published Jan 28, 2011


Celebrity chef Alexis Kriel shares some exotic recipes.

Kriel established her name as the fashion editor of The Star in 1979 at the age of 19. She was known for her edgy interpretations of what was in vogue - a fashion sense that came from watching trendsetters in the clubs and bars of Joburg.

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At 25, the Jewish girl from a well-known South African family gave up everything to live the life of a mendicant in an Indian temple. Her work as a foodie comes as a result.

Today, Kriel imparts her knowledge with true inspiration, demystifying spices and presenting the flavours of a classic cuisine in a fresh style for a healthy, passionate life.

Butter lettuce with minted cucumbers and strawberries

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(Serves 6)

2 long European-style cucumbers (about 230g each)

480ml strawberries, rinsed and drained

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leaves of 1 butter lettuce, rinsed and dried

2 tbs (30ml) lemon juice

3 tbs (45ml) orange juice

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1/4 cup (60ml) finely chopped fresh mint

pinch cayenne pepper or paprika

2 tbs (30ml) hazelnut oil or alternative oil

Lay the leaves of the butter lettuce on a large salad plate, as the base of this dish.

Peel the cucumbers and cut them crosswise into two or three pieces.

Cut each piece lengthwise into four sections. Arrange the wedges in a pattern on top of the lettuce leaves. Remove the leaves and core from the strawberries. Slice each one in half from cap to tip.

Arrange in a decorative pattern between the cucumber wedges.

Whisk together the lemon juice, orange juice, mint, cayenne or paprika and oil until emulsified. Pour over the salad just before serving.

Nimbu pani lemonade with cardamom and rose essence

(Serves 4)

11/2 cups (375ml) freshly-squeezed lemon juice

3/4 cup (185ml) sugar

4 cups (1 litre) iced water

2 tsp finely ground cardamom seeds

1 tsp rose essence

3-4 cups (750ml-1 litre) crushed ice

strips of lemon rind for garnish

Combine the lemon juice and sugar in a small saucepan and, stirring to dissolve the sugar, bring to the boil over moderate heat. Simmer for 10 minutes.

Remove from the heat and set aside to cool.

Whisk together the cooled lemon syrup with the iced water and add the ground cardamom and the rose essence. Transfer into a large jug. Half-fill each chilled glass with crushed ice, and fill the glass with the lemonade, garnishing each with a strip of lemon rind.

Saffron and pistachio kulfi

4 cups full-cream milk

1¼ cups pouring cream

1¾ cups evaporated milk

1¾ cups sweetened condensed milk

seeds from 8 green cardamom pods, crushed

½ tsp saffron strands crushed and dissolved in 2 tbs hot milk

1½ tbs cornstarch (maizena)

1/3 cup chopped glacé ginger

1 tbs pure rose water (not essence)

¼ cup unsalted pistachio nuts, finely-chopped

Place the milk, cream, evaporated milk, sweetened condensed milk, cardamom and saffron in a wide 3-litre saucepan over moderate heat.

Stir constantly until the milk boils, scraping the bottom of the saucepan to avoid scorching. When the liquid boils, reduce to a simmer.

Leave the pan uncovered and simmer gently for 30-40 minutes or until the milk reduces to about one-third its original volume.

Combine the maizena with 2 tbs cold water, and whisk it into the simmering reduced milk. Raise the heat slightly and allow the milk to thicken.

Remove the pan and set it aside, occasionally stirring in the skin that forms on the surface of the milk as it cools. When cool, stir in the glacé ginger, the rose water and pistachio nuts.

Stir the mixture well, and pour into moulds, ice-cube trays, or a shallow metal freezing container. Cover with foil and freeze for 6 tor 7 hours, or until set.

Dip the bottom of the freezing container into warm water for long enough to allow the kulfi to slip out easily. Serve immediately.

* The fresh fruit to go with the kulfi dessert is at the chef’s discretion. The pistachio praline for the dessert is also at the chef’s discretion.

Coconut and cashew nut rice with mustard seed and curry leaf tempering

(Serves 4)

1 cup long-grained rice

½ coconut, grated

2 tbs sesame seeds

3 tbs ghee or oil

3 tbs cashew nuts, halved

salt to taste

For the tempering:

2 tsp oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1 tsp black gram dhal

1 tsp bengal gram dhal

1 red chilli, halved

½ tsp asafoetida powder

a few curry leaves

Pressure-cook the rice and set aside.

Dry-roast the sesame seeds, powder fine, and set aside.

Heat 2 tbs ghee, fry the cashew nuts till golden and set aside.

Heat the remaining tbs ghee and fry the grated coconut till reddish brown.

Set aside.

Heat 2 tsp oil, and add all the ingredients for tempering. When the mustard seeds splutter, add the rice, salt and the fried coconut.

Mix well.

Sprinkle the powdered sesame seeds on top.

Garnish with the fried cashew nuts and serve hot.

Golden saffron sauce (to go with baked butternut, paneer cheese and chickpeas)

3 tbs oil

6 cloves

2 bay leaves

3 cinnamon sticks

6 green cardamoms

for the paste masala:

2½ tbs grated ginger

2½ tbs crushed garlic

2 tsp ground cashew nuts

2 tsp red chilli powder

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp ground coriander

the other ingredients:

¾ cup yoghurt

2 tsp sugar

2/3 cup cream

1½ tsp garam masala

1 tsp cardamom powder

1 tsp mace powder

few threads saffron dissolved in 1 tbs milk


To make the masala paste: combine the grated ginger, crushed garlic and ground cashew nuts in a spice mill or small blender, with enough water to create a creamy consistency.

Add the red chilli powder, turmeric and ground coriander to this.

Set aside.

Heat oil in a pan; add cloves, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks and green cardamoms.

Sauté over a medium heat until they begin to crackle.

Stir in the masala paste.

Add the yoghurt, warm water (1/2 cup) and sugar.

Bring to a slow boil and then simmer until the oil separates.

Allow the curry to cool.

Remove whole spices and blend to a smooth consistency (optional).

Gingered pumpkin soup with apple chutney garnish

(Serves 8)

1 tbs virgin olive oil

700g pumpkin, peeled, seeded and cubed

1 baking potato, peeled and cubed

1 carrot, coarsely chopped

1 granny smith apple, peeled, cored and sliced

3/4 cup cranberries

1/2 tbs ground coriander

1 tbs grated fresh ginger

5 cups vegetable stock or water

11/2 cups unsweetened cranberry-apple juice

11/2 tsp salt

freshly ground black pepper

freshly ground nutmeg

apple chutney/ cranberry chutney (recipe follows)

Heat the oil in a large, heavy saucepan over a low heat. Add the vegetables, fruit and spices and cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes.

Pour in the stock and juice. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat and simmer until tender – 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the heat and cool for 10 minutes.

Puree half the vegetable mixture in a food processor. With the machine running, gradually add half the liquid and process until smooth. Strain through a fine-mesh sieve set over another saucepan. Repeat the procedure with the remaining vegetable mixture and liquid.

Stir and add more juice if a thinner consistency is desired. Reheat gently and season with salt, pepper and nutmeg. Ladle into bowls and garnish with a spoonful of apple or cranberry chutney.

Apple chutney:

(makes about 1 cup)

1 cup cranberries

12/3 cup diced apple

juice and grated zest from 1 naartjie or orange

1/4 – 1/3 cup maple syrup, to taste

2 tsp chopped fresh dhania

Cook the cranberries, apple, zest, juice and maple syrup in a small saucepan over moderate heat until the apples become soft and chunky.

Cool and stir in the fresh dhania.

For cranberry chutney, use only 2/3 cup of diced apple and cook for 5 minutes only, or until the cranberries pop.

Matthi (Indian crackers)

2½ cups brown bread flour

2 tbs caraway or sesame seeds

1½ tsp rock salt

½ tsp baking powder

2 tbs butter

vegetable oil for deep-frying

175ml water

Combine the flour, caraway seeds, salt and baking powder in a large mixing bowl.

Rub the butter into the flour and add enough water to form a fairly firm dough.

Knead well for at least 5 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. Then set it aside for a few minutes.

Fill a karhai (deep frying pan) to two-thirds with vegetable oil and put it over a medium heat.

While the oil is heating, roll out the dough into a large square, 1cm thick. With a sharp knife, cut the dough into diamonds, 5cm long.

Gently drop half of them into the hot oil. The heat should be adjusted so that the crackers become golden-brown on both sides in 4 or 5 minutes.

Remove with a slotted spoon and put in a colander to drain. Then cook the other half the same way.

Peach chutney

1 tbs vegetable oil

1 tsp mustard seeds

2 red chillies

1 tsp yellow asafoetida powder

1 medium red pepper, chopped into 3cm cubes

1 medium green pepper chopped into 3cm cubes

500g peaches, peeled and cut into halves or crescents .

500g mixed dried fruit (peaches, apricots, pears)

3/4 cup fresh lemon juice

1 cup lightly packed brown sugar

Heat the oil in a 3-litre saucepan over moderate heat. Sauté the mustard seeds in the hot oil until they crackle, then add the chilli and asafoetida and, immediately, the peppers. Cook for one minute.

Add the peaches, lemon juice and brown sugar, stir to dissolve the sugar.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer uncovered, without stirring, for 45 minutes or until the relish is thick. Towards the end it might require minimal stirring to avoid sticking.

Note: If fresh peaches are not available, substitute with an extra 500g dried fruit.

Coriander and coconut fish parcels

(Serves 2 )

1 lemon

Two 150g firm white fish fillets, rinsed and patted dry

salt to taste

freshly ground black pepper

1 tsp vegetable oil

2 banana leaves, softened in a little water, or 2 large squares of aluminium foil


3 fat garlic cloves, roughly chopped

½ tsp ginger paste

½ small onion, roughly chopped

4 tbs chopped fresh coriander (leaves and stalks)

2 rounded tbs coconut milk powder

1 green chilli, seeded and chopped

1 tsp coriander powder

½ tsp each roasted cumin powder and garam masala

2 pinches each of cardamom and fenugreek seeds, pounded in a pestle and mortar

Cut the lemon in half. Thinly slice one half of the lemon and put aside. Squeeze the juice from the other half. Marinate the fish in 2 teaspoons of the juice, together with a good sprinkling of salt, at room temperature, for 30 minutes.

Blend, process or use a pestle and mortar to pound together the ingredients for the paste into a coarse purée.

If cooking in the oven, preheat to 180°C.

Rinse the fillets and pat dry. Season on both sides and spread a thick coating of the paste on only one side. Lay a couple of lemon slices on each leaf or piece of foil and place the fish on top, paste side up. Grind a little black pepper over them and drizzle with the oil.

Enclose in the leaf, securing with a toothpick or string, or seal in the foil by bringing up the edges and crimping together so that the parcel is airtight but loose.

Lay the parcels in a steamer above a large pan of boiling water, cover with a tight-fitting lid and steam for 15 minutes or until cooked.

Alternatively, bake in the preheated oven for 10 minutes, depending on the size of the fillets.

Trickle over a little of the remaining lemon juice and serve hot.

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