Neighbours’ Korma (Vegetable Korma)
Hyderabad today has restaurants and eateries of every size and description. But in the 70s and early 80s, there were only a few iconic places where most people we knew went. Udupi, Punjabi restaurants like Havmor and Apollo, restaurants with a la carte menus such as Mohini, Peacock and the restaurant in Hotel Siddarth.
That is what I saw from my perspective as a young person suitably limited by exposure, budget and recalcitrance.
The first time we ate at Hotel Siddarth is distinctly etched in my memory. We had ordered puri bhaji, expecting huge puris and potato masala of the masala dosa variety. Instead, the puris came out with this korma.
After our initial disappointment at this wasting of perfect puris on this spicy dish, we began to explore the plethora of flavours and textures.
Here was a dish that had the known flavours of khus khus and coconut of Aai’s domesticated rassa made exotic by the addition of cream. The familiar spectrum of spices had a mystery element. We later identified it as fennel. This notched the korma's to our hitherto largely Brahminical palate.
The cherry on the top, literally and figuratively, was the surprise collocation of the chickpeas, the pineapple and glacé cherries. Another first for us, as it balanced the base and the bizarre, the sweet and the sour.
This was like something come from a neighbour’s home.
At this juncture, I must tell you about this family meme of “neighbours’ food”. Food varies in flavours and techniques from home to home. That’s why one likes those surprise offerings from neighbours' homes. Arriving in little bowls and plates covered with paper napkins or doilies they used to brighten up a Sunday.
In my home, whatever my husband cooks always tastes like neighbours’ food, tasty, spicy. Mind you, his dishes always have more oil and spice and chillies than I would ever dare use, and more onions in one dish than I would use in a whole week.
But it’s most welcome because I haven’t had to make it.
I often make this korma. Skipping the cherries, and whilst keeping the distinctive features of the korma viz the poppy seeds, coconut, fennel, chickpeas and pineapple, I do what comes to my mind and hand and don’t have a set recipe for it.
That’s the reason why it always tastes like neighbours’ korma.
Here’s what I did this time.
Neighbours’ Korma (Vegetable Korma)
¾ cup chickpeas, soaked for 5-6 hours
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cubed (I don’t peel them as we get washed potatoes here)
1 medium carrot, cubed
10-12 fresh green beans, ends trimmed and cut
2 cups cauliflower florets
½ cup frozen peas
1 cup paneer cubes
½ cup fresh pineapple chunks (tinned will also do)
¾ can chopped tomatoes (or 1 cup blanched tomatoes, chopped)
½ cup creamy yoghurt, beaten
1 tbsp ginger/garlic paste
½ tsp turmeric
1 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
1 tbsp coriander powder
2 tbsp coriander, chopped for garnish
Salt to taste
2-3 tbsp fresh cream
For the tadka
2-3 green cardamoms
1 black cardamom
1-2 Bay leaves
½ tsp shahi jeera
1-2 petals mace
10-12 curry leaves
1-2 green chillies, slit
2 tblsp oil
1 tsp ghee
For the paste
2 large onions, sliced and fried (reserve some for garnishing)
¼ cup fresh grated coconut
¾ tsp jeera
¾ tsp saunf
1 tsp khus khus, lightly toasted
8- 10 cashew nuts or almonds
2 tbsp melon seeds
Grind the ingredients into a smooth paste with some water.
Place the chickpeas in a saucepan and add 3-4 cups of water and a little salt and bring it to a boil. Remove any scum that arises and when the chickpeas are half done, add the cubed potatoes, carrots, beans and the cauliflower and frozen peas in the order of their cooking time. Keep the chickpeas and vegetables al dente.
Heat a heavy bottomed pan and heat oil and ghee. Add all the whole garam masalas and allow them to crackle. Add the ginger, garlic paste, curry leaves and the green chilies and sauté for a minute. Then add the turmeric and red chili powder and the powdered garam masala. Add the beaten curd and cook for a minute. Then add the chopped tomatoes and cook till the colour changes. Then add the coconut, cashew, onion and melon seed paste and cook till the oil starts leaving the sides.
Add the cooked vegetables and chickpeas along with the stock. Add the paneer cubes and pineapple pieces. Check and adjust the salt. Add the sugar/sweetener if using. Avoid if you are using canned pineapple.
Add water if required, based on how thick you want it. Cover and simmer for a few minutes till everything comes together. Add the cream and gently mix it in.
Garnish with chopped coriander and browned onions.
Serve with pooris, parathas or jeera rice.