Today we’re discussing how to make indian healthier with celebrity chef Anjum Anand. Anjum is a British indian television chef and pioneered the creation of Indian recipes catering for the health-conscious cook. Her first book, Indian Every Day: Light, Healthy Indian Food, was published in 2003 and she has since had six best-selling books on Indian Food. With family homes in Delhi and Calcutta Anjum creates with the passion and knowledge of a real insider and she’s now brought this love for Indian food to supermarket shelves with brand of authentic, quality, at-home Indian cooking products called ‘The Spice Tailor’ (huge giveaway with these products plus Anjum’s new cookbook below). I’ve interviewed Anjum about journey, as well as her tips for cooking healthy indian food at home and the healthiest options to order when you eat out. I’ve also shared her traditional butter chicken recipe for any butter chicken lovers like me!
Interview with celebrity chef Anjum Anand
1. How did you get into cooking and what has your working life looked like so far?
Cooking was a hobby and passion that became a career soon after I graduated from university. I decided I wanted to cook Indian food in some form for a living and explored the food world in general for 2 years before deciding to write a cookbook and work on a restaurant. It wasn’t easy to get my first book published, I took a lot of rejection letters before I realised I needed an agent. Once I got an agent I managed to get a publisher. I never did open up a restaurant in the end. Over my career I have written 8 books, filmed 3 TV series and launched a brand that I want to represent proper Indian food and be the best -tasting brand on the market.
2. Why did you choose to focus on Indian cooking at home?
That is what I really enjoy eating and where I felt people had many misconceptions and needed some ushering in the right direction.
3. Name 5 of your ‘can’t live without’ spices?
Cumin, black pepper, coriander seeds, garam masala ( a cheat answer as it is actually a blend of many spices) and brown mustard seeds.
4. What staples do we need in the pantry to allow healthy Indian home cooking?
Most ingredients used in Indian food are really healthy. In fact, in India we believe that everything in its natural state gives you some health benefit. But more specifically some of the healthiest ingredients used in Indian food are spices, chillies, ginger, garlic, tomatoes (cooked), yoghurt (cooked better than raw), lentils and beans, herbs (mint, coriander, curry and fenugreek leaves), nuts etc.
5. What are three swaps we can make in our at home Indian cooking to make it healthier for us?
The perception that all Indian food is unhealthy is unfair. India does have deep-fried food and rich curries but all cuisines have some deep-fried and heavier dishes. What people don’t always see is that it also has steamed foods, grilled foods, stir-fried foods, oven baked (tandoori) and really simple foods. It is also full of healthy ingredients, see above. I think switching to Indian food is a healthy swap!
In terms of what to cook, opt for tandoori style dishes, steamed foods or healthier curries. We don’t really add cream and nut pastes to our curries at home so the only thing people may find unhealthy about them is the oil used. If you are reading a recipe and there is a lot of oil in the food, you can cut it down. You can also use coconut oil or ghee which are considered better for you and better in cooking than many other oils.
6. What is your advice on the best way to enjoy Indian food whilst on a diet? What is your experience here and do you have any tips for those who love Indian food but want to lose weight and nourish their bodies with more nutrients?
I myself lost lots of weight on a diet that was at least 70% Indian food. I found that cooking with just a little oil and all the flavours that came with Indian food left me really satisfied and I didn’t crave other foods. My plate would be half full of vegetables, a quarter protein and a quarter carbohydrate. Indians cook vegetables with lots of flavour so I rarely felt short changed here. I think lentils and beans are fantastic and deeply nourishing ingredients that fill you up and satisfy you and I often had a bowl of those with my meal in the form of a curry or stir-fry.
7. Why did you decide to make The Spice Tailor range?
It really bothered me that the Indian food on the supermarket shelves wasn’t proper Indian, wasn’t tasty and didn’t have the layers of flavours that Indian curries should have. It did annoy me that the ranges on the supermarket shelves meant nothing to me and most didn’t exist in India. I felt that it was time to offer something authentic and delicious as our palates have moved on and we aren’t afraid of Eastern flavours anymore. On the contrary, we love interesting flavours but you couldn’t find them on the Indian fixture as all the sauces were murky versions of each other with different amounts of spices.
8. Would you recommend a pre made spice mix or pre-made sauce for a quick at home Indian dish?
Yes, if it tastes good and is natural. The Spice Tailor is the only brand I would and do use when I am in a hurry.
9. What is your favourite healthy Indian dessert recipe?
I love Indian desserts but don’t eat them often enough! Indian desserts can be a bit too sweet for me so I mostly eat them on special occasions or if I make them at home to suit my palate. My favourite traditional Indian dessert is Ras Malai which is like a bit of ricotta cheesecake in a sweetened, cardamom-laced thickened milk sauce. I absolutely love it and there is no added fat. I do love creating my own healthy versions of Indian desserts, my favourite is in my newest book, I Love India, where I make a lemon and mint granita based on a popular Indian drink. It is really refreshing!
10. Which Indian main dish do you think is underrated and should be the next ‘butter chicken’?
I think Indian street food needs to have its moment in the sun. This is why I launched our own indian wraps, called kathi rolls in the market. I call them street food wraps but they are based on real Indian street food that is delicious and much loved.
11. What aspect (if any) of traditional Indian cooking do you consider ‘not-negotiable’ when you are modifying recipes?
I have never used a commercial curry powder and can’t see myself doing it.
12. Indian dishes seem to have a lot of vegetarian options, which do you recommend for an easy vegetarian mid-week dinner?
I often do a yellow lentil curry with some baby spinach thrown in at the end and eat it with brown rice.
13. Which Indian dishes have the most vegetables in them?
There are so many. It is a cuisine replete with vegetables and vegetarian options. There are many mixed vegetable stir-fries and lentil curries with vegetables in it. We even add vegetables to breads, meat dishes and even desserts. One of India’s most popular desserts is a carrot halva, which is caramelised shredded carrot, it tastes MUCH better than it sounds.
14. If eating out, what are the healthier options to order at an Indian restaurant?
I always order tandoori food which is really tasty and healthy and deeply satisfying and dip it into a mint and coriander chutney.
15. Can you share with us the famous Anjum Anand’s Classic Butter Chicken Recipe?
- For the tandoori-style chicken pieces:
- For the chicken:
- 6 skinned, bone-in chicken joints, cooked as for Tandoori-style Chicken, but cook for 18 minutes
- (for original Tandoori-style Chicken when not cooking for butter chicken, cook for 20 - 22 minutes, until cooked through.)
- A slice of unsalted butter, melted
- A little paprika or Kashmiri chilli powder
- For the marinade:
- 2½ tbsp lemon juice
- 1 rounded tsp salt
- 120g full-fat plain yoghurt
- 4 large garlic cloves
- 1 Indian green finger chilli deseeded
- 15g roughly chopped root ginger (peeled weight)
- 1½ - 2 tsp Kashmiri chilli powder or paprika (for colour)
- 1 rounded tsp ground cumin
- 1 rounded tsp garam masala
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- For the butter chicken:
- 20g finely grated root ginger (peeled weight)
- 8 large garlic cloves
- 2 tbsp vegetable oil
- 80g unsalted butter, plus more if needed
- 1 bay leaf
- 2 black cardamom pods
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 2cm cinnamon stick
- 4 cloves
- 600g vine tomatoes, blended to a fine puree
- 3 - 4 small green chillies, stalks removed, pierced with a knife
- 1 tsp sugar, or to taste (depends on the sweetness of the tomatoes)
- ¼ - ½ tsp chilli powder
- 1 tsp paprika
- 2 tsp dried fenugreek leaves, finely crushed with your fingers
- 1 rounded tsp garam masala
- 80ml - 100ml single (light) cream, to taste
- For the tandoori-style chicken pieces
- Slash each piece of chicken 3 times down to the bone at the thickest parts of the flesh. Place in a bowl and marinate in about half the lemon juice and half the salt for 30 minutes if possible.
- Blend together all the ingredients for the marinade until smooth (add the extra lemon and salt if you didn’t marinate as above). Add to the chicken and leave to marinate for as long as possible - preferably overnight, covered in the fridge - but at least for 3 - 4 hours.
- Remove the chicken from the fridge 30 minutes or so before cooking. Preheat the barbecue to a medium-high heat, or preheat your oven grill (broiler) to a fan-assisted high setting and line a baking sheet with foil.
- Place the chicken on the barbecue and cook, turning often and moving around to prevent burning and hot spots, until charred, cooked for 18 minutes, turning often. Or place the chicken on the prepared baking sheet under the grill, and grill until charred on both sides and cooked through; it should take the same amount of time. If it is cooked but not very brown, move closer to the grill bars for a few minutes at the end of cooking time.
- Baste with the butter - mixed with the paprika or Kashmiri chilli powder.
- For the butter chicken:
- Blend together the ginger and garlic using a little water to help the blades turn.
- Heat the oil and half the butter in a large non-stick saucepan over a medium - high heat and add the whole spices. Once they have sizzled for 15 seconds, add the ginger and garlic paste and cook until all the moisture has evaporated and the garlic smells cooked and looks grainy. Add the tomatoes and cook down until the resulting paste releases oil, around 20 minutes.
- Now you need to brown this paste over a gentle heat, stirring often, until it darkens considerably, 6 - 8 minutes. Add 250ml (1 generous cup) water, bring to the boil, then pass through a sieve, trying to extract as much liquid and flavour from the tomatoes and spices as you can. Discard the very few, very dry solids. Set the sauce aside.
- Cut or peel large chunks off the chicken pieces and reserve with any juices and charring that is still on the cooking foil.
- Heat the remaining butter, throw in the green chillies and cook for 1 minute. Add the sauce, salt and a good splash of water and simmer for 3 - 4 minutes. Add the chicken, with any juices and charring from the foil. Add the sugar, chilli powder, paprika, fenugreek and garam masala. Simmer, stirring often, for 3 - 4 minutes, adding a little water if it is too thick. It should be lightly creamy. Take off the heat and stir in the cream, then taste and adjust the salt, sugar, cream or butter to taste as you need.
Anjum Anand’s Indian Spices and Cookbook giveaway
Anjum has kindly gifted all this for one lucky reader (valued at over $100!)! Enter below to win!