I fashioned my own little spiral-bound recipe book before I moved to Chennai, and this is one of the first recipes that I jotted down in it. Sounds simple enough, but just you try getting a generational recipe from your grandmum whose main units of measurement are ‘palmful’, ‘fistful’, a very rough translation of a smidgen, and ‘rendu’ (which literally translates to ‘two’ in Telugu but in colloquial usage never means two.) During my rigorous note-taking, when I’d write two every time she said rendu and would ask again just to confirm, she’d laugh and say, “I didn’t literally mean two! I meant a few”. Yeah, that was a mission. But I should expect nothing less considering her mum – my great grandmum – used to hand out pickle recipes that started with “2 sacks of chillies”. And here I am writing a blog with instructions like “2 1/16 cups of water”. Well.
There are many things that I like about this recipe, aside from the most obvious that this is one that I grew up eating. I like the use of whole spices—better flavour, and they’re always fresher than their ground versions—but I don’t particularly enjoy biting into a fat clove mid-chew. Here we toast the whole spices to get their oils and flavours going, and then powder them before adding to the dish. The best of both worlds.
We call this ‘gravy’ back home, but I thought that might confuse some people. ‘Masala’ seemed fitting given that I make it in a way that the onions and spices thickly coat the mushrooms. Feel free to use the same recipe and switch up the shrooms with chicken or mutton (will add a note below on quantities). Every family has a standard chicken/mutton gravy recipe and this here is ours. For chapatis specifically, though. Will get the rice version (kozhambu) on here soon.
- 400 grams mushrooms
- 2 medium onions, thinly sliced
- 2 tomatoes, chopped
- 1" piece of ginger, minced
- 3 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2 sprigs of curry leaves
- ½ tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tbsp oil
- Salt, to taste
- 4 dried red chillies
- 4 tsp coriander powder
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp peppercorns
- ½ tsp fennel seeds
- 1" piece of cassia bark
- 2 cloves
- Rinse the mushrooms to rid them of any dirt. Quarter them with their stalks on.
- Add dried red chillies, cumin seeds, peppercorns, fennel seeds, cassia, and cloves to a dry pan. Toast them until fragrant and the spices start to lightly colour. Take the pan off the heat and stir in the coriander powder. The residual heat in the pan is enough to lightly toast it. Blend to a fine powder and set aside.
- Wipe down the pan and sauté the onions in oil until browned. Add curry leaves, minced ginger and garlic, and sauté for another minute. Tip in the tomatoes and cook until they start to break down and get jammy, about 5-7 mins.
- Add the mushrooms along with the masala powder, turmeric, about ¼ cup of water, and salt. Clamp on a lid and cook for 5 mins. The mushrooms will cook down and let out some of their moisture at this stage.
- Cook uncovered for a further 5-10 mins, adding a bit more water if necessary if it starts to dry out. If it appears too watery, turn up the heat and reduce to get the right consistency. (I like it more on the dry side with the masala thickly coating the mushrooms.) Taste and adjust seasoning. Tastes best with chapatis.