As an Indian student living in America, I often crave food from my hometown. But mostly, the offerings that the Indian restaurants have to offer here, are so far off the mark, that I submissively go back to bland, tasteless pizza.
But on some days, I experience a mix of frustration and inspiration. And then, I go to my secret stash of dried raw spices that my grandma and aunt packed for me when I last went home for the holidays.
Just opening the bag of spices fills my heart with an inexplicable joy. And then, I can’t resist cooking. And when I do cook, it has to be more than boring, old Aloo- Gobhi.
A few days ago, I made Navratan Korma. My trigger? Funnily enough, the poor excuse for korma that I ordered from a restaurant called Royal Indian Grill. It was fake yellow with nasty food coloring, disgustingly sweet, and extremely heavy on the cream. Tasteless. Revolting. Insulting.
It was upsetting to see so many patrons in the dining room of the establishment, consuming stuff they thought was authentic Indian food. And while I am not as big a prick as I’d like to be in order to shut down such bogus Indian restaurants, I am definitely going to try and educate people about how to judge a good Indian meal from a bad one.
But before we do that for Navratan Korma, it is important to know what goes into an actual Korma that is made well. Here is a recipe from the kitchen of my favorite aunt.
Navratan Korma gets its name from two words– Nav, which means nine, and ratan, which means gem. The korma of nine gems. This is a Mughlai dish which is rich, flavorful, and certainly not meant to be inexpensive. It is packed with nutrition and taste.
The nine gems in this dish refer to nine vegetables. Here’s what they are and what you do with them. This recipe serves 2-3 people.
You will need:
Paneer (Solid Cottage Cheese)- 200 grams, cut into cubes
Peas- 50 grams, shelled
Red Carrots- 2, medium, chopped into small cubes
French Beans- 250 grams, cleaned and chopped into small cubes
Potatoes- 1 large, chopped into small cubes
Cauliflower- 250 grams, chopped into small pieces
Green Capsicum- 1, medium, chopped into small pieces
Corn- 1/2 cup, boiled (Optional. I like corn so I add it. My aunt usually doesn’t)
Onions- 3, medium, finely chopped
Fresh Tomatoes- 2, small, finely chopped/pureed
Garlic- 10 cloves, finely chopped
Ginger- 1-inch-long piece, cut into juliennes
Green Chilis- 2, finely chopped
Coriander/Cilantro- 10-20 grams (only leaves)
Dried Fenugreek Leaves- 1 teaspoon
Cashew Nuts- 50 grams, crushed
Black pepper- 1/4 teaspoon
Red Chili powder- 1/2 teaspoon
Sugar- 1/2 teaspoon
Turmeric- 1 teaspoon
Ginger-Garlic paste- 1 teaspoon
Salt- to taste
Cumin Seeds- 1 teaspoon
Cardamom pods- 5-6, crushed
Garam Masala- 1 teaspoon (I usually make my own and store in a jar for weeks. You can also use the store-bought variety available in many supermarkets. Best options for the packaged one are MDH and Catch. Those are the brands I buy when I don’t have the time to make my own masalas)
Subzi Masala- 1/2 teaspoon (I usually make my own and store in a jar for weeks. You can also use the store-bought variety available in many supermarkets. Best options for the packaged one are MDH and Catch. Those are the brands I buy when I don’t have the time to make my own masalas)
Yogurt- 1/2 cup
Milk- 1 cup
Vegetable Stock- 1 cup (You can use the vegetable peel to make this)
Oil- For frying
- Pat the Paneer dry and marinate it with the yogurt and the ginger-garlic paste. Let it rest for an hour in the refrigerator.
- In a large wok or frying pan, add some oil and heat it. Once the oil is sufficiently hot, add the cumin seeds and the cardamom pods and let them crackle a little. But take care to ensure that the seeds don’t turn black. Lower the flame to medium and add the chopped ginger, garlic, and the onions. Fry till slightly pink. Add the sugar and stir uniformly till the mixture is golden-brown. Add the coriander leaves and fry for another 2-3 minutes.
- Add the tomatoes and continue cooking till the mixture is relatively dry and a deep shade of reddish brown. After that, turn off the heat and set the mixture aside. The tadka for the korma is ready.
- In a separate large, non-stick, heavy-bottomed pan, heat some oil and fry the cubes of the paneer till they are firm and a warm shade of golden. Add the remaining vegetables and continue frying on a medium flame. Fry only for 2-3 minutes because we don’t want the vegetables to lose their flavor and their crunch.
- Add the tadka slowly to the cooking vegetables while stirring constantly. Once all the tadka has been added to the vegetables, add half of the stock to make it easy to stir the dish and to avoid burning/sticking at the bottom of the pan. Add the pepper, the red chili powder, the turmeric, the subzi masala, and half the garam masala. Stir well and mix the spices into the curry uniformly.
- Blend the crushed cashew nuts with the milk using a blender or a food processor. Slowly add it to the bubbling curry and mix well.
- The sauce should not runny. It should be thick but the dish should be moist. At no point should it be devoid of a generous amount of moisture. According to your own sensibilities, add the vegetable stock if needed. Simply ensure that your curry is thick and rich at the end of the cooking process.
- Add the crushed fenugreek leaves and the remaining garam masala. Stir lightly only once.
- Cover the pan and lower the flame as much as you can. If you want, add the rest of the stock to the dish at this point. Seal the lid with whole wheat dough and let the dish cook for 10-15 minutes. If the quantity of your curry is more, this time period can be increased to half-an-hour.
- Uncover the dish at the end of the slow-cooking period and stir it. Add the salt and mix it before transferring the korma to a serving dish.
- Serve hot with fresh chapatis or naan.
You can make variations to this recipe to suit your own tastes as well. Adding shredded coconut, or frying some curry leaves and mustard seeds instead of the cumin seeds and the cardamom pods will give this dish a slightly Malabari twist. If you do go ahead with that variation, then also take out the fenugreek seeds from the recipe and halve the portions of the milk and the cashew nuts. Also, replace the paneer with bottle gourd.
Let me know how this turned out for you. And don’t hesitate to ask any questions you may have.