The Taj Mahal is somewhat of a Bridport institution, having graced the High Street for over 30 years. For the past 4 years, as part of Bridport Food Festival, chef-proprietor Helen Choudhury has opened her kitchen to the local foodie crowd to lead a master class in Indian cookery. The Taj Mahal has a reputation for consistent quality and I was keen to learn how to recreate authentic Indian flavours at home.
Helen first led us through the basic Indian store cupboard. Although the spices used vary from region to region, with these staple spices, the majority of the familiar Indian dishes can be created. This toolkit comprises ground coriander, ground cumin, ground garam masala, chilli powder, turmeric and mixed curry powder (home mixed by the restaurant kitchen). In addition are the whole garam masala spices; Indian bay leaves, cinnamon bark, green and black cardamom, cloves and star anise. Indian bay is much larger than the bay we recognise from our gardens and with a smell rather like cinnamon. Also useful is shahi jeera, a type of cumin 15-20 times more expensive than ordinary cumin seeds which Helen adds to rice. Finally Indian 5 spice, made with cumin seed, fenugreek, black onion seed, mustard seed and fennel seed. Successful Indian cookery is the result of finely balancing and layering these spices, without allowing any one to overpower the dish.
Helen then demonstrated how to make an authentic chicken curry and explained how, by making various adjustments, it could quickly and simply be made into a Bhoona, Jalfrezi or chicken and spinach curry. Step by step, the secrets behind tarka dahl, aloo saag and vegetable pakoras were unveiled. Key to the success of the pakora is the consistency of the batter, too much flour and the centre will not cook fully, leaving a doughy texture, likewise heavily compacting the mixture will cause the same result. These pakoras were feather light and crispy, a great little snack to cook any time utilising seasonal vegetables. To complete the banquet, gajar halva or carrot pudding; an aromatic dessert, made by slowly cooking the carrot in milk or a combination of fresh milk and condensed milk, with cardamom and sultanas. Beetroot works deliciously well as an alternative to carrot we were told.
The afternoon was closed with a communal feast, which we devoured with pleasure, ravenous as we were from the scents of the cooking. The recipes Helen demonstrated and many more, are available on the restaurants website www.tajmahalbridport.com. The restaurant is open 7 days a week and takeaway is also available.
Taj Mahal Restaurant
20 East Street
t: 01308 421000