Two SSI staff members introduced refugees and people seeking asylum to the versatile cashew nut at a recent SSI Community Kitchen.
Head chefs Sangeetha Srinivasan and Subadra Velayudan – who work in SSI’s People and Culture and SRSS teams, respectively – whipped up two curries, a dessert and a salad, but the star of the day was the humble cashew nut.
"Cashew nuts are a very common ingredient in Sri Lankan and Indian cooking, but in Australia, they’re eaten a bit differently, so we wanted to show people how they’re used in our part of the world," Ms Valayudan said.
Ms Srinivasan is originally from India – the third top producer of cashew nuts in the world – while Sri Lanka, where Ms Velayudan was born, is in the top 20. Cashews are native to Brazil but have become important agricultural crops in both India and Sri Lanka since Portugese traders introduced them in the 16th century.
"People in Australia tend to eat cashews by themselves as a snack, but in our cultures, they’re mostly used in curries and as a starter with drinks, particularly for special occasions,"Ms Velayudan said. "Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim – irrespective of your religion, everyone use cashews in their curries. They’re like a peacemaker."
Along with a cashew nut curry, a team of SSI staff and volunteers, and people seeking asylum also cooked up a simple south-Indian style chicken curry from Ms Srinivasan’s recipe.
"This is really easy to make and goes well with rice, roti and naan bread. Try this curry with some pappadums and a simple yoghurt raita," she said.
Both chefs acknowledged that curry was a particularly complex dish to serve for the big crowds at Community Kitchen.
"We couldn’t have done it without the help of our colleagues, who came in hours early to help prep 17kg of onions and 3kg of ginger and garlic!" Ms Velayudan said.
Cashew nut curry
Ingredients: (for 3–4 servings)
1 cup of cashews that have been soaked for 12 hours
1/2 cup green peas that have been soaked for a few hours or frozen peas
1 green chili sliced lengthwise
1 onion sliced
1 sprig curry leaves
1 inch piece pandan leaf/rampa
1 tsp chilli powder
1/4 tsp turmeric powder
1 pinch of chilli flakes
Stick of cinnamon
Salt to taste
1–2 tbsp cooking oil
3 tbsp Coconut cream or Kara milk
Wash the soaked cashew and boil them with salt for 30 minutes, and keep to the side.
Heat oil in a pan and, when hot, add the onions, cumin seeds, ginger garlic paste, cinnamon, cardamom, curry leaves, green chillies, pandan leaves, chilli flakes and sauté for few seconds.
Add more water if required and salt to taste.
Once all the ingredients are cooked through, add the coconut milk. Stir well and then simmer.
Add boiled cashews, green peas, and mix well.
Take off the flames and serve.
Tip: Adding 1/2 a teaspoon of baking powder to the water when soaking the cashew and peas will make them softer. Adding a spoon of sugar at the end of the process will also make the cashew nuts taste better.
South-Indian style chicken curry
Ingredients: (for 3–4 servings)
500g skinless chicken, cut into two-inch pieces and coated in turmeric and salt
2 brushed potatoes
4 brown onions, chopped
2 green chillis
3 tsp ginger and garlic paste
30g Baba’s chicken masala mix
20g curry powder
1/2 cup coconut milk, thick
1/2 bunch of coriander, chopped finely
2 sprigs curry leaves
5 tsp cooking oil
Juice of half a lemon
Salt as required
Pinch of cloves, cinnamon and cardamom spice mix
Grind up the green chillies and half of the chopped onions.
Heat oil in the pot; add cloves, cinnamon and cardamom. Then add the chopped onions, the onion and chilli paste, and a little salt. Sauté until golden brown.
Add the chopped tomatoes and sauté well. When the oil separates, add the ginger and garlic paste. Sauté until the paste smells cooked.
Add the washed chicken pieces and cover with the onion, tomatoes and ginger garlic paste. Once coated, add the potatoes.
Add the chicken masala and the curry powder. Cover with water and close the pot with the lid on tightly.
Remove lid after 20 minutes to check the seasoning and spices are to taste, and adjust accordingly.
Add the lemon juice and the coconut milk, then cook for a further five minutes.
Switch off the stove and garnish with the finely chopped coriander and curry leaves.
Close the lid again and do not open until serving.
Tip: When lifting the lid to check your curry, make sure none of the condensation mixes into your dish as this will alter the smell.