ED2016 Columns ED2016 Theatre ED2016 Week2 Edition

Recipe Corner: Chopping up some chillies with Clair Whitefield

By | Published on Wednesday 17 August 2016

Clair Whitefield

Here we go with your second set of recipes of the Festival, from Clair Whitefield.

Most people leave my show, ‘Chopping Chillies’, craving a curry. I love Indian food and I love cooking it. When I was younger I wanted to run my own restaurant, so in this show, where one of the characters opens a cafe serving Keralan food, I get to fulfil that ambition even if it’s just on stage!

Yoga took me to India and kept me there for several months while I did my teacher training. I have incredible memories of the hot spicy samosas sold by street food vendors, mouth-watering vegetable biryanis, paneer pulled straight from the Tandoor and drinking spicy warm chai sitting on a beach wrapped in blanket.

For me a curry is also about the accompaniments: a tower of crisp poppadums, fluffy basmati rice and plenty of raita, lime pickle and mango chutney, and a lot of chilled beer.  If I had to pick two dishes to cook and share they would be: lentil dhal (my go-to comfort food) and marinated paneer.

Food is central to my show, it’s the thread that joins two very different people together: Katie, the young and hapless English chef and Ajna Jan, the story’s hero, a martial artist and magical cobbler from Kerala who moves to Camden.

They strike up an unlikely bond, which transforms both their lives and ‘Chopping Chillies’ is their tale, one of love, loss and re-finding your footing in the world.

Lentil Dhal

400g red lentils
2 tsps turmeric
2 tablespoons of oil
2 tsps cumin seeds
1 small onion, finely chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, finely sliced
1-2 fresh green chillies, prick them with a fork.
1 tsp garam masala
1 tsp ground coriander
thumb-sized piece of fresh ginger, finely grated
2-3 tomatoes, chopped


1. Place the lentils in a pan and cover with cold water. Bring to the boil and reduce to a simmer. Stir in the turmeric and the whole pricked chillies. Cover and leave to cook gently. You may need to add more water so they don’t boil dry. So keep an eye on them. The consistency you want is a porridge-like sludge.

2. In a small frying pan, dry-fry the cumin seeds over a medium heat until toasted and fragrant (no more than a couple of minutes). Remove from the pan and set to one side.

3. Add some more oil to the same frying pan and gently fry the chopped garlic, onion and the grated ginger and tomatoes. Once the garlic is golden, mix in the toasted cumin seeds and the garam masala and ground coriander.

4. Give your gloopy – and now tender – lentils a good stir and then mix in your fried spice mixture. Serve topped with a sprinkling of freshly chopped coriander and some basmati rice.

Marinated Paneer

For the marinade:
125ml/4½fl oz Greek-style yoghurt
small knob fresh ginger, peeled and roughly chopped
2-3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped
salt, to taste
½ tsp chilli powder
1 tsp garam masala
2 tbsp lemon juice,
2 tbsp vegetable oil
1 tbsp gram flour
1 tsp cumin powder
seeds of 6 green cardamom, ground

For the skewers:
300g/10½oz block of paneer, cut into 2.5cm/1in cubes
1 large onion, cut into 2.5cm/1in cubes
1 green and 1 red capsicum pepper, cored and cut into 2.5cm/1in cubes
oil, for greasing
6 wooden skewers, soaked for an hour
2 tbsp butter, melted, for drizzling
chaat masala to serve

1. For the marinade, mix together all the marinade ingredients in a bowl and add the paneer, onion and peppers. Cover with cling film and allow the paneer and vegetables to marinate for at least 30-40 minutes, in the fridge. If you can, leave it for longer so the flavours seep in.

2. Preheat the oven to 200C/400F/Gas 6 and oil a baking sheet. Or you can do them on the BBQ. But watch them. Constantly.

3. Thread the vegetables and paneer onto the skewers. Bake in the oven for seven minutes, drizzle over the melted butter, turn and cook for another 5-7 minutes or until the veggies and the paneer char at the edges.

4. Sprinkle with chaat masala and serve.

Clair performed ‘Chopping Chillies’ at Assembly Roxy at Edinburgh Festival 2016.

Photo: Christa Holka