Spice things up with a Mussel Rassam curry

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There is something deeply satisfying about the process of making a curry. It seems almost like a secret formula, adding weights and measures of different and sometimes quite alien ingredients that affect the taste, colour, smell and even the noise the dish makes when cooking.

The alchemy involved is great fun though, embarking on a culinary adventure into the great unknown. One thing I have picked up is the importance of following a recipe as much down to the letter as you possibly can, guaranteeing your results will probably be as the recipe writer intended. Cooking curries can lead to feelings of great achievement in the kitchen too – and the pleasure of sitting down to a delicious end result, mostly cooked out of the kitchen cupboard.

Often they are also a wonderfully exotic lesson in frugality – costs are low but the results are so vibrant and pleasing. Mussels are a quirky and inexpensive addition to a curry – as in this one I swiped from Manoj Vasaikar, chef/proprietor at my nearly-local restaurant Indian Zing in Hammersmith.

Don’t be put off by the long list of ingredients here most of them you will probably have in your store cupboard. Just take each step at a time and the results will be fantastic.

Indian Zing’s Mussel Rassam

Ingredients (serves 4 as a starter or 2 as a main course)

  • 400g mussels                       
  • 1 large or 2 small shallots, sliced
  • 5 tomatoes                       
  • 4 green finger chillies (halved and deseeded)       
  • 2 Garlic cloves                       
  • 25g tamarind pulp                   
  • 5g jaggery or sugar           
  • ¼ tsp turmeric                                                            
  • Salt to taste                    

For the Rassam powder

  • 5 dried red chillies (whole)               
  • 1 ½ tsp cumin seeds                   
  • 3 tsp black peppercorns                           
  • 3 tsp coriander seeds                   

For the tempering

  • 3 tsp coconut or groundnut oil   
  • Thumb-sized piece of ginger, finely sliced
  • 1 tsp mustard seeds
  • 2 sprigs of curry leaves or a few freeze dried
  • ¼ tsp asafoetida

To garnish

  • A large bunch of  fresh coriander
  • 5 dried whole red chillies, fried briefly in oil (optional)

Method

Blanch the tomatoes to remove skin and roughly chop. Set aside. Coarsely grate the jaggery and set aside. Soak the tamarind in warm water for 15 minutes and strain, reserving the liquid.

For the Rassam powder, roast all the ingredients in a thick bottomed pan for few seconds and then crush in a pestle and mortar to a powder.

Crush the garlic and sauté in 2 tsp of the oil until light brown. Add the shallot and sweat until soft but not coloured. Add the chopped tomatoes and the Rassam powder.

Add the washed mussels to the pan, discarding any that are not open. Add a pint of water, bring the boil and simmer for 10 minutes.

While the mussels are cooking, make the tempering mixture. Heat 3 tsp of the oil in a pan and add the mustard seeds. When they start to pop add the ginger and sauté for a minute or two, then add the curry leaves and asafoetida and pour over the simmering Rassam – the mixture may pop and spit a bit.

Take off the heat and serve in a large bowl with the coriander and chillies scattered over and a finger bowl on the side!

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