mairead’s killer chicken curry


500g chicken breast or thigh fillets, whichever you prefer, chopped into bite-sized pieces
2-3 tbsp olive oil
1-3 large green chillies, fresh, chopped
1/2 tbsp black mustard seeds
1 star anise broken into pods
2-3 cardamom pods
2-3 cloves
1 piece cinnamon, broken up (optional)
1/2 tbsp garam masala
1/2 tbsp turmeric
1/2 tbsp other meat masala (if available from Indian shops)
2-3 cloves garlic, chopped finely (optional)
1 medium onion, chopped
2-3 carrots, chopped
1-2 potatoes, chopped (optional)


Heat the oil in a large stove-top pot.
Throw in the black mustard seeds and cook until they just start popping.
Throw in the chillies and cook for 2-3 minutes until pungent.
Add the star anise, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric and both masalas. Stir vigorously and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add a little more olive oil to moisten if necessary.
Add the garlic and chopped onion, stir into the mixture and cook for 3-4 minutes until softened and beginning to brown.
Add the chicken pieces, stir in well and cook for 3-4 minutes or so.
Add the carrots (and potatoes if you wish) and enough water to just cover all ingredients. Stir well.
Cook slowly over a very low heat – or transfer to a low heat in the oven – for about an hour. Check occasionally, adding more water as necessary to make the curry have as much or as little gravy as you wish.

The longer you cook this curry, and the older the pot you cook it in, the better it will taste. Works pretty well in a slow-cooker too, but you have to cook all the spices manually first (method up as far as adding the chicken) as laid out above, then you can leave to simmer in the slow cooker if you wish.

>Balti, Perth

>Balti Restaurant
3/2 St. George’s Terrace, Perth 6000

A chilly evening in Perth, and I am three hours jet lagged. In search of sustenance close to my hotel, I try Balti Restaurant nearby, which I have walked past a dozen times.

It’s early Monday evening, in Perth CBD, and all I am hoping for a place with at least some fellow diners. This is the place – even before 7pm it is nicely buzzing. The walls are decorated with candid portraits of beautiful Indian people, a few desultory Christmas decorations, and anonymous but pleasant modern Indian music on the sound system.

I am placed at a table right by the bar where the restaurant manager is keeping the engine-room going. The wait staff buzz by, kept busy by the diners. I choose a glass of local Ringbolt cabernet sauvignon and a few poppadums to get me started, don my old-lady reading glasses and settle down with my book. Just as well. My main course took an hour to arrive.

My Goan fish curry is delicious, although not as coconutty or as sharp-tasting as it could be, but it is good. I wonder if the listed Redsport Emperor fish is really salmon, the colour is so pink, but it is indeed a white fish nicely marinated.

My relaxing evening is punctuated occasionally by the raised voice of the restaurant manager yelling (I am not exaggerating) down the phone at a member of staff or a contractor, I am not sure, and again later by the same person standing right by my table and threatening to fire a waitress if she didn’t raise her professional game. All very admirable, in that he was on both occasions trying to keep standards of customer service high. Ironic, then, that my experience is being diminished slightly by having to witness this carry-on as I eat.

I finish my meal, and my book, and head to the bar to pay my bill. I try to pay for my wine separately, and the manager tells me quickly that they do not split bills under any circumstances, “madam”. I wonder who he thought I was splitting the bill with, as the sole occupant of a table for one. I try again, explaining that I would like to pay $26 (the price of my wine) in cash, and the remainder by card. This time he accepts quickly: cash is king, it seems.

I compliment the manager on the food and the service, but suggest very gently that perhaps my experience could have been better if I’d not heard staff being threatened with the sack right at my table. He asks very politely: “Have you ever worked in hospitality, madam?”. I answer yes. He asks whether I’d ever managed a restaurant that busy. I answer no. I hadn’t thought it was that busy, to be honest.

And there you have it. Apparently in Balti Restaurant, the customer’s opinion counts for nothing. Pity. If the attitude had been different, this could have been a regular haunt. As things stand, I can’t say I can recommend the place.

Balti on Urbanspoon

feeding the five thousand

… well, the hungry team of five, anyway. We have our team meeting on Tuesday at a secret (and cheap) beachside venue. I have volunteered to feed us and our esteemed guests for lunch. We are the Red Cross, and voluntary service is fundamental to us. Plus: I get to choose what we eat.

With two coeliacs and one vegie amongst us, I am challenged to make a single meal to suit all. India comes to the rescue, as always.

A huge pot of brown and red lentils simmer away whilst I make up a very large quantity of tempering for my dhal and chole. I fry some black mustard seed in a generous lug of olive oil until they pop, add chopped tiny green chillies and cook until they smoke (they’re hotter that way), then in goes the holy trinity of cardamom, cloves and star anise. Last, a generous helping of garam masala, garlic and turmeric.

A pile of chopped onion gets fried quickly in a hot pan. The trick is to fry the onion well before you add anything to it.

I fry a mound of chopped mushrooms, small quantities at a time so they get nice and crisp rather than soggy. I add them to my onions. In goes chopped Roma tomatoes to sweeten the mixture.

Half of the tempering and the onion/mushroom/tomato mixture goes to make the basis of Charmaine’s dhal, and half to my chole. Not traditional, but I am a fan of the incidental consumption of vegetables. I add more chole masala to my pot of chickpeas: I can’t figure out what other spices are in this masala but somehow it makes the difference.

When both are cooked and simmered and well settled, I decant into containers and stir some fresh spinach leaves into both. I shall serve sprinkled with kasoori mehti, accompanied by plenty of Afghan bread, gluten-free wraps for the Gluten Girlies, lime pickle and yoghurt. And of course, a plate of freshly-grilled jerk chicken breasts for the non-veg people amongst us.

Home-cooked goodness, healthy, low-fat food, cheap as chips, idiot-proof recipes. Perfect.

punjabi kitchen king masala

>We are lucky enough to have a great Indian supermarket nearby in West Footscray. Along with freshly-made vegetable samosas, Hindu statues, Bollywood DVDs and Indian crisps and snacks, I can pick up proper Parachute coconut oil for my hair, rose water for my face, karahis and masala dhabas for the kitchen. And, of course, whatever spices I want.

One of my favourites is Punjabi Kitchen King Masala, which I picked up one day without knowing what it was. A mixture of coriander, chilli, turmeric, cumin, dal, fenugreek, pepper, salt, cardamom, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mustard, garlic, mace and asafoetida, it has a really decent kick to it without additional chilli, and turns your food a lovely golden colour.

Mangal do a good one but there are other brand names around. Perfect for barbeque season, you can marinate fish, shellfish or meat for literally a few minutes and they chargrill up a treat.

For lunch I quickly tossed some black mustard seed into a hot pan with some olive oil, added some fresh tiger prawns and kitchen king masala when the seeds started to pop, then threw in some quartered cherry tomatoes in there when the prawns were cooked. I served it all up with some fusilli pasta instead of rice, but if I’d had some naan bread nearby that would have been perfect too. It was ready in less than three minutes. Divine.

>Blu Ginger Canberra

>5 Genge Street

A farewell dinner with the lovely Shanna before her Grand Tour of Europe, meant no Italian or French food for us. On a chilly Canberra night, we settled into Blu Ginger with a couple of glasses of bubbly, and toasted our friendship and the joys of travel.

The staff at this modern city centre restaurant were lovely: friendly bit not overly so, professional but warm. Our Blu Ginger platter of chicken tikka, tandoori prawns and steamed fish wrapped in a banana leaf was a good way to start. Our mains were well chosen. The delightfully-named aloo mattar tamatar (peas, potatoes and tomatoes) was a perfect foil to our lamb vindaloo, which was spicy but not too hot. The plain naan we shared was cooked perfectly.

The kitchen is visible from the restaurant through a large window, where you can see the chefs hard at work in a spotless space. Even mid-week, this space was buzzing with both businessmen and groups of friends.

There are not many places would entice me to dine in Canberra’s CBD, but I’ll definitely be back to Blu Ginger.

charmaine’s dhal

>On a chilly autumn evening after a power walk I was ready for comfort food. Still trying to lose one more kilo before our trip to Laos, the healthy option was also necessary.

The decision: Charmaine’s dhal, the perfect spicy healthy food. Charmaine, a colleague at Red Cross and a food writer, is an Indian food expert and lover. She has written a few books on Indian cookery, several of which were published in India, and has just come back from another four-month stint collecting more recipes and stories.

Her dhal recipe is perfect every time.


400g dry lentils of any colour (I do a mix of 3/4 brown, 1/4 red)
1 medium onion finely chopped
1-2 cloves garlic
1 green chilli finely chopped
1 tbs olive oil
2-3 medium tomatoes finely chopped
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp black mustard seeds

Rinse lentils a few times then cook in boiling water for at least 45 minutes.
Meanwhile add the olive oil and black mustard seeds to a frying pan and wait until the seeds start to explode. Then add the chopped chilli and fry vigorously for a minute or two.
Add the onion, garlic and other spices and fry until the onion is soft and brown. Add the chopped tomato and stir in. Cook until the tomatoes are soft and breaking down.

When lentils are cooked tip them into the frying pan – don’t bother draining all the water off them. Stir in and cook further until desired consistency is reached (I prefer my dhal a little bit runny) or add a little more water as required.

Serve on steamed white rice with a little chopped coriander or kasuri mehti as a garnish.

Serves 6