Stews and Curries
If you stop and examine closely the contents of many of our favourites, the ingredients by themselves aren't all that sinful. There are two things which hike up the calorie count. Firstly, in this comparatively affluent age, we are likely to include a much higher proportion of meat, chicken or whatever than our ancestors did. Secondly, I return to my old nemesis, fats. In my case I blame the classical French recipes which inspired me when I started off. Think of Chicken with Tarragon, a creation of loveliness with a beautifully flavoured cream sauce. Or Julia Child's Beef Bourgignon to which you add brown braised onions (browned in butter before braising) and sautéed mushrooms which have had 100g of butter in the pan. Then our Julia would have you thicken the sauce with beurre manié, little chunks of butter and flour mixed together.
And likewise with restaurant style Indian cuisine. For the depth of flavour, you generally start with lots and lots of onions, very slowly sweated down. If you're disciplined, you can sweat onions with minimum fat in a heavy pan with a tightly fitting lid, but it's easier to make sure they're well lubricated with oil or ghee, and that's what causes the problem. Being strict with the calories is trickier in a curry, so let's start with a simple stew.
Chicken Stew with Mushrooms
Ingredients (serves 4 - 259 calories per serving)
300g chicken thighs, skin removed and trimmed of surplus fat; 1 onion, quite finely chopped; 1 stalk celery, peeled and quite finely chopped; 1 red pepper, deseeded and quite finely chopped; 2 cloves garlic, crushed; 300g mushrooms (net weight after stalks and skins removed) chopped into 1cm cubes; 1 tin tomatoes; about 300ml chicke stock; 1 bay leaf; 1 tsp dried thyme; a very little olive oil (a few skooshes from an aerosol are good at 1 calorie per skoosh - the calorie count is based on 10); s & p.
Cut each thigh into 4 - 6 pieces. In a heavy pan, brown the chicken pieces in as little oil as you can get away with. Stir to prevent sticking. Remove the chicken pieces and set to one side. In the same pan, start to soften the onion, celery and pepper, seasoning with a little s & p. After a minute or two, add the garlic and cook for a further minute or two, taking care that it doesn't burn. With just a tiny amount of oil, the veg will start to brown before they're soft. Add a small amount of stock and continue to bubble till the veg are soft, topping up the liquid if need be. Return the chicken and any juices to the pan, stir all together and pour in the tomatoes and enough stock to cover the chicken. Add the mushrooms, bay leaf and thyme and stir together. This will need more salt, but if you are using a stock cube, leave for a few minutes (a) as these things are quite salty, and (b) you will be reducing the liquid. Simmer for 10 - 15 minutes until the chicken is cooked through.
Allow to cool slightly, then pour off the liquid through a large colander into another pan. Reduce over a high heat until the gravy is the consistency you like. Return the chicken and veg, and check the seasoning. Make sure it's all piping hot before serving, especially if reheating.
Basic Chicken Curry
In Indian cookery they don't brown their meat at the start. I've allowed you a tablespoonful of oil for the onions.
Ingredients (serves 6. With 1 thigh per person, 341 calories per person. With 2 thighs 591 calories per serving)
For the paste
2 onions; 4 cloves garlic, peeled; 10g ginger peeled; 2 green chillies (remove the seeds if you wish, leave in for a bit more of a kick); a little water.
For the curry
6 or more chicken thighs, skin removed, bone in; 2 onions, sliced lengthwise; 1 tbsp sunflower oil; 1 tbsp tomato purée; 1 tin tomatoes; 1 tsp ground cumin; 1 tsp ground coriander; ½ tsp turmeric; 1 tsp ground cinnamon; 2 tsp garam masala; cold water; salt.
First make the paste by blitzing the paste ingredients in a blender. Sweat the onions very gently in the oil, stirring occasionally. This is similar to the last recipe, in that you would normally want a lot more oil. You can use more, but it's 120 cals per tbsp. In an ideal world the onions would be sweated for 20+minutes until golden brown. Yours will probably threaten to dry out before then, but keep them going for as long as you can. Add the paste, then fry for a few minutes until it start to go golden. You may need to add a little water (again, the non-diet recipe would suggest more oil.) Stir in the spices and cook for a further few minutes. Put the chicken pieces in the pan in a single layer, and sprinkle with a little salt. Pour in the tomatoes, then add enough water to make sure the chicken is covered.
Bring to the boil and simmer until the chicken is cooked through, turning once or twice. Check the seasoning and serve with cauliflower rice or, if you have enough calories remaining, boiled rice. Not quite the real thing, but not bad at all.