The other day I made an Indian dish of vegetable Jalfrezi, using ingredients I could find on the market plus some special spices that are also available in some supermarkets as well as in specialised stores. Indian cuisine is not as widely available in France as in Britain and in Paris there is a relatively strong showing by the Pakistani neighbours and the almost ubiquitous Vietnamese and Chinese ‘deli’s’. But for vegetarians, Indian cuisine is a good alternative to France’s rather carnivorous traditions.
In our village of Saint-Germain-en-Laye there are at least three Indian restaurants and we often go to Gandhi off place Saint Pierre (Yes, we have our own Saint Peter’s square here).
Obviously, they have meat and fish dishes but the vegetable Jalfrezi is one of my favourites.
As you well know, I am not a vegetarian but I do not mind to have no meat during a meal. It is healthy, low in calories and good against the cholesterol levels.
When I like a dish in a restaurant, I try to replicate it.
With some schooling in Indian cooking through a yellowing and now greasy book by Madhur Jaffrey, which has seen me pounding spice paste in the past, I thought I was qualified to do so without just buying a jar of Jalfrezi sauce.
After all, what is Jalfrezi? It does not appear in Jaffrey’s ‘Introduction to Indian Cuisine’. Maybe it is not traditional, just like the ‘Balti’s’ that sprung up a few decades ago in cities like Manchester and Liverpool.
Jalfrezi means hot, spicy. It was among the most popular Indian dishes in the United Kingdom. It has many meat varieties. Common elements are bell pepper, onion and tomato.
I used several more vegetables. In my restaurant example there were okra’s and lentils which I did not use, and some of my vegetables were not in theirs.
Note – it is advisable to wear plastic gloves when dealing with the peppers and chillies, especially when you wear contact lenses like I do.
- Three onions
- Three bell peppers, by preference in three colours
- Three tomatoes
- Two green chilli peppers
- Four cloves of garlic
- Two centimetres of fresh ginger
- One aubergine (eggplant for US readers)
- A handful of green beans
- A handful of peas
- Several cubes of frozen spinach
- A tin of chopped tomatoes.
- A tablespoon of green curry paste
- Some garam masala and cardamon pods
- Sun flower oil
- A bunch of fresh coriander.
- In a skillet roast the cardamon pods. Let them cool and pound with a mortar and pestle.
- Peel and slice the onions.
- Wash the peppers, slice off the top, remove the seeds and white bits and cut in slices.
- Wash the tomatoes, slice in quarters and then in eights, remove the inside with pips and liquid.
- Wash the chillies, slice them open length wise, remove the seeds and with bits, cut in small parts.
- Peel the cloves of garlic and slice them. Peel the ginger and slice.
- (I used some frozen vegetables so I took the beans and peas and spinach out of a large bag and put a bit in small containers. Fresh beans and peas or spinach are not in season and would have been a bit more cumbersome but not impossible, you would have to have them almost fully cooked at the ready and the spinach blended)
- Finally, because it would turn blackish if left unattended for long, peel the aubergine and cut the flesh into cubes.
- Heat the oil in a large pan or casserole or wok (then you may call it a balti…).
- Add the aubergine and brown it all over. Put aside.
- Check for the oil in the pan, add if necessary. (Aubergine soaks up oil at the beginning but if you brown it well it will render the oil back. This may be too watery though and then you need to remove it with paper cloth and refresh the oil, heat it until smoking)
- Add the onions and stir while browning, add the garlic and ginger. Return the aubergine, add the tomato, the bell peppers and the chilli pepper. Cook and stir for several minutes.
- Add the cardamon pods and the garam masala. Stir and taste. Correct if needed. Stir and cook for several minutes more.
- Add the curry paste and the tin of chopped tomatoes, stir thoroughly and taste again. Add garam masala or paste or pepper or other spices if you want.
- Add the defrosted vegetables, lower the heat and cook for 20 minutes.
- Chop the coriander and sprinkle it over the dish.
I served naan bread with this dish, rice is also possible.