Got 30 minutes to cook dinner? Chetna Makan reckons that’s plenty of time to whip up a feast of Indian dishes.
There are a lot of misconceptions around Indian food: that it’s a “cheat” meal from your local takeaway, or can only be made at home if you spend hours slaving over a hot stove.
These stereotypes make Chetna Makan’s eyes roll. “People think it takes hours or days where you soak and ferment – which is true, but not how we cook every day,” she says.
Although it’s seven years since Chetna appeared on The Great British Bake Off, she’s still roundly referred to as a Bake Off favourite – and now she’s on to her fifth cookbook, Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian: Quick And Easy Everyday Meals.
It’s her latest challenge to preconceived ideas around Indian food; in 2019’s Chetna’s Healthy Indian she turned the idea that “Indian means greasy and unhealthy” on its head, she explains.
There was also another huge driving force behind her latest book: the pandemic.
Like so many cooks, Chetna noticed a shift in our approach to food over the past year or so.
She says her new cookbook was “written in the first lockdown (in 2020), completely at home. There was a big surge of trying all these amazing sourdoughs and breads at home, and what I saw with my friends was it started with a bang – and then after a few weeks, everyone was just like, ‘I don’t want to cook, and I don’t want to spend so much time in the kitchen!’”
This got Chetna thinking more deeply about what kind of food people actually want to cook, and she had a lightbulb moment: “Maybe it’s a good idea if I could do something in 30 minutes,” she mused.
And no, Chetna says, it’s not just a book of curries. It’s got recipes for “everything – starters, snacks, big meals, small meals, for all seasons”.
Many of the dishes in the book look truly sumptuous – there are generous plates of spicy paneer and crispy spinach koftas swimming in creamy curry sauce. Readers might be surprised these dishes only take half an hour.
Chetna gets excited when talking about her recipes, but like so many, she’s sick of eating every meal at home. Visiting restaurants is top of her to-do list: “Just to change scenery and have nice food,” she says longingly.
And for those nights you aren’t at a restaurant, and need something delicious, fast and packed full of flavour? It might be time to try some of Makan’s new recipes.
Chetna’s 30 Minute Indian by Chetna Makan, photography by Nassima Rothacker, is published by Mitchell Beazley, priced at £20.
Coconut paneer tikka
For the paneer:
- 200ml natural yoghurt
- 1 tbsp tandoori masala
- ½ tsp salt
- 450g paneer, cut into 2.5cm cubes
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
For the masala:
- 2 tbsp sunflower oil
- 1tsp black mustard seeds
- 1tbsp urad dal
- 10 fresh curry leaves
- 2-4 dried red chillies
- 3 onions, thinly sliced
- 60g fresh coconut, grated
- ½ tsp ground turmeric
- ½ tsp chilli powder
- ¼ tsp salt
- For the paneer, mix the yoghurt, tandoori masala and salt together in a bowl. Add the paneer cubes and gently turn in the marinade until well coated. Set aside while you start to prepare the masala.
- Heat the oil in a pan, add the mustard seeds and urad dal and cook over a low heat for a minute. Then add the curry leaves and chillies and cook for a few seconds.
- Add the onions and cook over a medium heat for 10 minutes until lightly golden. Then stir in the coconut and cook for five minutes.
- Meanwhile, heat the oil for the paneer in another pan, add the marinated paneer with all the excess marinade and cook over a high heat for five minutes, turning halfway through, until lovely and golden all over.
- Add the cooked paneer to the onions and coconut with the turmeric, chilli powder and salt. Mix well and cook over a medium heat for five minutes, then serve.
Gram flour sweets
- 100g ghee, plus extra for greasing
- 170g gram flour (besan/chickpea flour)
- 60g icing sugar
- 20g ground almonds
- ¼ tsp ground cardamom
- 10g toasted flaked almonds
- Heat the ghee in a pan. Once it has melted, add the gram flour and cook over a low heat for eight minutes, stirring often, until it starts to change colour and smell toasted. The mixture will start off clumpy but will gradually bubble and become smooth and creamy.
- Take the pan off the heat and let the mixture cool for five minutes.
- Meanwhile, grease a 20cm square cake tin and line with non-stick baking paper.
- Mix the icing sugar, ground almonds and cardamom together in a bowl, then add the toasted gram flour mixture and stir to combine.
- Transfer the mixture to the lined tin, then spread it out and level the surface with a spatula. Sprinkle the toasted flaked almonds on top and let it cool in the refrigerator for five to 10 minutes until firm.
- Cut it into small squares and serve. These sweets will keep in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to two weeks. Let them sit at room temperature for an hour before serving.