Anjula Devi has made Indian food her career, passing on the wealth of knowledge accumulated from her father.
She founded her own cooking school, demonstrates at BBC Good Food Shows, has been appointed Brand Ambassador for the world’s largest Indian food company TRS Foods and created her own brand – ‘Route 207’ which is named after the London bus journey Anjula and her father used to make to buy spices, vegetables and fresh fish from Shepherds Bush Market.
Anjula says, ‘The art of Indian cooking is not about formulas or even science, or how long it takes to cook a recipe. The secret lies in your palate. The moment you eat something and notice that a spice is missing, that’s when you really understand Indian food’.
During the 40 years that it has taken Anjula Devi to release ‘Spice for Life’, she has read many books, articles and press features on Indian food which have inspired her. Anjula believes that to cook anything well, not just Indian food, you need to understand the cuisine that you are cooking. For Indian food, a pestle and mortar or an electric grinder and a masala dabba are essential items when it comes to cooking great Indian food.
Anjula advises that, ‘You then need to recognise the taste of each spice before you begin to cook with it. If you taste cumin on your palate, you’ll notice it’s a little salty and that mustard seeds contain heat. You will learn that cassia bark is nowhere near as sweet as ‘real’ cinnamon and therefore is a much better spice for savoury Indian cuisine. Cinnamon can easily overpower your dish with sweetness. Coriander seeds are floral with citrus tones, but once plunged into oil they lose their floral tones quite quickly leaving you with just a hint of citrus. Turmeric is known as a wonder spice, not just for its culinary earthy tones but also for its amazing healing properties. Overuse turmeric and you’ll be left with a noticeably bitter taste in your curry.
Once you know what each spice delivers to your dish and are able to identify the taste of each spice, that’s when you really understand Indian food. That’s when you have the knowledge’.
Here Anjula shares her recipe for Stir-Fried Asparagus with a Hint of Ginger, Lime and Cumin. I use mild olive oil instead of groundnut oil due to my intolerance.
Preparation time 20 minutes. Cooking time 10-12 minutes. Serves 4.
450 g asparagus, washed, trimmed and dried with some kitchen paper.
½ tsp cumin seeds
¼ tsp black peppercorns
Pinch of red chilli flakes
1 tbs groundnut oil
4 spring onions, chopped finely
1 tsp pulped ginger
2 tbs lime juice
Zest of one lime
½ tsp grated jaggery
Sea salt to taste
Fresh coriander, a handful chopped finely
The best tip for trimming is by bending the asparagus spear, it snaps at exactly the spot where the tough stalk meets the tender spear.
Take a small dry frying pan set on a low heat, add the key spices and gently warm through for 1 minute – remember you just want to tease the spices to release a little of their oils, and rest of their flavours need to be retained to be infused into the asparagus.
Remove from the heat, place in a pestle and mortar, and grind to a powder. Set aside.
Heat a wok on a medium to high heat. One of the keys to successful stir-frying is pre-heating the wok before adding the oil, which should only take 1 minute. The wok should be just starting to smoke slightly. Add the oil which will heat up really quickly, then add the spring onions and ginger. Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon.
Add the contents of the pestle and mortar along with jaggery and sea salt to taste, stirring all the time. Add the asparagus and ensure it is coated well with the other ingredients.
You should then only need 1-2 minutes to stir-fry the asparagus.
Remove from the heat, add the lime juice, lime zest and fresh coriander.
Spice for Life – Healthy and Wholesome Indian Cooking, by Anjula Devi. Published in hardback in April 2017, by Clearview Books.
Priced at £25 and available from all good bookshops.