Spice up your life
Wednesday 21st August 2013, 11:41AM BST.
Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh love food.
They both believe traditional British fare is among the finest in the world, while our home-grown produce is the very best money can buy.
Their passion for British grub is also the reason the pair, who call themselves The Incredible Spice Men, first met back in 1999.
Singh, a fourth-generation Scottish Sikh, had won a local cooking competition in Edinburgh and headed to London soon afterwards.
His food philosophy – cooking British classics with an Indian twist – led him to seek out Todiwala, who had recently relocated from Mumbai.
Todiwala’s mission was to cook Indian classics using the finest British ingredients, and he quickly became known as one of the most exciting chefs in London.
Fast forward almost a decade and a half and the duo are releasing a book, The Incredible Spice Men, and have a five-part BBC Two series of the same title.
“We’ve thought about doing something like this series and book, independently, for so long,” says Todiwala.
The TV series shows them delivering a batch of recipes which are a blend of their cooking styles, while travelling the length and breadth of the UK, in search of the finest produce.
When they find an item they return to their kitchen where they offer up a spicy new recipe as an alternative to tried-and-tested methods.
Todiwala and Singh say it’s important to let people know what they mean by ‘spice’.
“What do you think when someone says that word?” asks Singh. “Everyone just thinks it means chilli, but there’s so much more than that.
“People already eat spices – things like vanilla ice cream, cinnamon doughnuts, nutmeg on hot chocolate, or pepper, the most common of all.
“Wars were fought for the stuff, explorers went all over the world looking for it,” he adds. “Spice is about all sorts of things, all sorts of flavours and interesting combinations that serve to enhance the taste of the main ingredient.
“We’ve used spices since the Romans were in Britain, but we’ve drifted away from that.”
The two chefs’ recipes include a goats’ cheese tart flavoured with caraway seeds, and an orange and fennel Victoria sponge which they tried out on the notoriously hard-to-please ladies of the WI.
Then there’s strawberries dusted with black pepper and cinnamon; turmeric and cinnamon honey-roast chicken, and traditional fish and chips with spiced batter, which they bravely served to a gang of bikers.
“I was scared when they turned up, I tell you,” says Todiwala. “But they were fabulous people and they took to it brilliantly. The main thing is they all said they’d order it again.”
Their spicy delights went down well with almost everybody, the exception being an ice cream-maker who wasn’t too impressed by the addition of chilli. “But she was pregnant,” explains Singh. “She was worried it was going to bring on her labour.”
He sums up their philosophy thus: “All we want is for people to get over the hurdle of spice equalling hot, and to think about easy ways to liven up their food.”
Todiwala adds: “Pick things up in the supermarket and try them. Experiment with an ingredient you haven’t used before. Let your palate be your guide, and try a bit of something different.”
To get you started, here are three recipes from The Incredible Spice Men.
Smoked salmon with spiced beetroot salad
(Serves 4-6 as a starter)
200g sliced smoked salmon
For the beetroot salad:
Juice of 1 lime
3tsp clear honey
½tsp smoked paprika
¼tsp ground cinnamon
1 fresh beetroot, very finely sliced
3tbsp raisins, preferably golden
3tbsp (heaped) torn mint leaves
For the horseradish cream:
Juice of 2 limes
½tsp clear honey
4tbsp horseradish sauce
150ml double cream
Pinch of chilli powder, or more to taste
A small handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley
For the beetroot salad, first make the dressing – whisk together the lime juice and honey in a small bowl, then mix in the smoked paprika, cinnamon and a pinch of salt.
In a separate bowl, mix together the beetroot, raisins and mint leaves and pour over the dressing. Chill for an hour. Taste and add more seasoning if necessary.
To make the horseradish cream, whisk together the lime juice, honey and horseradish sauce in a small bowl. In a separate bowl, whisk the double cream until soft peaks form when the whisk is removed from the bowl.
Stir the horseradish and lime mixture into the whisked cream. Add the chilli powder and salt to taste, and sprinkle on the parsley.
Set the salmon slices onto individual plates, and serve with the beetroot salad and a dollop of the horseradish cream.
Pulled pork with cinnamon and clove
2kg rolled pork loin, shoulder or collar
50ml vegetable or rapeseed oil
Baby gem lettuce leaves, cleaned and well drained
3tbsp fresh coriander or coleslaw, to garnish
For the masala marinade:
1tbsp broken pieces cassia bark or cinnamon
2 large dried red chillies
5cm (2in) piece fresh root ginger, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves
2 small red onions, coarsely cut
1 longish fresh green chilli
2½tbsp tamarind paste
100ml palm vinegar (you can also use cider vinegar)
½tbsp brown sugar
25ml sunflower or rapeseed oil
Preheat the oven to 180C/gas mark 4.
For the masala marinade, coarsely crush together the cassia bark or cinnamon and cloves with a pestle and mortar. Gently toast this mixture in a dry frying pan over a low heat, until a spicy fragrance emanates from the pan. Tear the red chillies into pieces and add to the pan. Continue to dry-fry the mixture for a short while but do not burn. Set aside to cool.
Later, put the cooled spice mix in a blender. Add all of the remaining masala ingredients and blend the mixture to a relatively fine paste – this is your masala paste. Taste and adjust seasoning if necessary.
Rub the masala all over the pork, and place the meat in a dish in which it fits snugly. Set aside any remaining masala. Cover the meat and set aside in the fridge for a few hours, if possible.
Pour the oil into a roasting tin and heat on the hob over a medium heat. Scrape any excess masala from the marinated pork, place the pork in the roasting tin and brown well on all sides. Transfer to the oven and cook for 30 minutes.
After that time has passed, reduce the oven heat to minimum. You can now pour a few tablespoons of marinade over the pork for extra flavour, and any leftover can be set aside to use for another dish.
Cover the pork tightly with aluminium foil, well tucked in so that it steams in the tin and the meat literally falls off the bone when cooked. Cook for a further three to three-and-a-half hours if using a rolled joint; if using smaller pieces or individual chops, adjust your cooking time accordingly.
Remove the pork from the oven and shred using two forks.
To serve, put some pork on top of a lettuce leaf. Top with some coleslaw or some coriander.
Apple crumble with star anise
For the crumble topping:
300g plain flour
200g brown sugar
200g unsalted butter, cubed and softened to room temperature, plus extra for greasing
Pinch of salt
For the filling:
75g unsalted butter
1kg eating apples (such as russet or cox), peeled, cored and chopped into large chunks
150g caster sugar
5 star anise
1 cinnamon stick
To serve (optional):
Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6.
To make the crumble topping, put the flour, salt and brown sugar in a large bowl and mix well. Taking a few cubes of butter at a time, rub them into the flour mixture until it resembles breadcrumbs.
Sprinkle the mixture onto a baking sheet in a thin layer, using two sheets if necessary. Bake in the preheated oven for five minutes or until lightly golden brown. Remove from the oven and break with a fork, then return to the oven and repeat the process a couple of times, until you have a lovely crunchy biscuit topping. Set aside; if continuing to cook the apple crumble immediately, do not turn the oven off.
To make the filling, heat a wide, shallow, heavy-bottomed pan and melt the butter until it foams. Add the star anise and fry for a minute, then add the apples, sugar and cinnamon, and cook, stirring frequently, until the sugar has dissolved and the apple is soft at the edges. Remove the cinnamon and the star anise, and add a little bit more sugar if you like.
To assemble, grease a medium-sized ovenproof dish with butter. Spoon the fruit mixture into the bottom, then sprinkle the crumble mixture on top. Ensure the oven is preheated to 200C/gas mark 6, and bake for 20 minutes until the crumble is browned and the fruit mixture bubbling. Leave to cool slightly.
To serve, put some creme fraiche into a small bowl and mix in some pomegranate seeds. Drizzle with a little pomegranate syrup and serve alongside the crumble.
- The Incredible Spice Men by Cyrus Todiwala and Tony Singh is published by BBC Books, priced £20. Available now
- An accompanying five-part series of the same name is currently on BBC Two on Mondays until September 16. Missed episodes can be viewed on BBC iPlayer
Three of the best
- Milk Choc Ices, £1 for 8, Sainsbury’s
- Chosen By You Milk Choc Ices, £1 for 8, ASDA
- Milk Choc Ices, £1 for 8, The Co-operative