Nanima's Kadhi

Kadhi (pronounced ‘curry’) is a classic, timeless dish which is made from a gram flour and yoghurt-based sauce, to which pakoras (bhajis) are added. I always ask my nanima (nan), to make me some when I visit her. Saag and kadhi are two of her traditional specialities, and she always cooks both dishes in large quantities, as my late nanaji (grandfather) would insist on sharing them with local friends or relatives – he took great pride in showing off her culinary skills. Even today, my nanima still makes a generous quantity of kadhi, and shares it out, remembering my nanaji’s generous hospitality with food.

When my nanima cooks and talks about kadhi, I can’t help but smile to myself at both the pride she takes in this dish, and how she appreciates its regional variations in India. For example, some people add sugar to their kadhi, but nanima says that where she was raised in the Punjab, kadhi is known for its unique ‘katta’ (slightly sour) taste, so she would never do that! In short, this is a dish very close to her heart, and one which connects her with her northern Indian heritage.

When I learnt this recipe, I saw a lot of multitasking going on, which of course is no problem for my nanima, who has been making kadhi for many years. From the length of the recipe, it may not look like it, but I have simplified my nanima’s steps a little!

I’ve made tiny tweaks by adding mustard seeds, curry leaves and tomatoes – something which I’ve learnt from other talented dadimas. With elegant confidence, nanima Kamla says that kadhi is a really rewarding dish to make, but there is an art to it. She emphasises that it requires love, patience, and attention to detail. With these words of wisdom, I leave you now to recreate this winter warmer in your own kitchen.

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My nanima’s (Kamla’s) top tips for making kadhi: 

  • Kadhi has two key cooking parts: the pakoras and the yoghurt sauce. To save time, make your pakoras on a separate day and freeze them. Alternatively, make them the day before. As my nanima works full-time, she always does this.

  • The yoghurt for the sauce needs to be slightly sour. This is the secret to the sauce’s distinctive taste. To achieve this, my nanima leaves her yoghurt out in the kitchen, the night before cooking.

  • Use a large, stockpot-style pan to boil the kadhi. It needs plenty of space to bubble and simmer.

  • Kadhi is a dish which showcases the sauce - therein lies the beauty. Therefore, do not add too many pakoras to the sauce. With each serving of a pakora, nanima says that there should be a generous helping of sauce.

  • For ayurvedic reasons, my nanima adds fenugreek seeds, a pinch of asafoetida, and more garlic and ginger than she usually would, as she says it aids digestion.

  • In my nanima’s opinion, kadhi is best served with plain boiled rice as an accompaniment. Kadhi is a heartwarming, hearty, and wholesome dish, so we need a simple and equally comforting accompaniment, that is rice.  

For the pakoras, I direct you to my dadima’s ‘aloo palak pakoras’ recipe in the first chapter of dadima’s cookbook. I’ve also added the recipe on the blog for you here.

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Serves 8-10 as a main dish 

Prepare ahead: I strongly recommend preparing the pakoras a day in advance to save time and effort. Alternatively, make and freeze the pakoras, then thaw and use as per method. The yoghurt for the kadhi sauce will need to be left out overnight ideally, unless it’s already sour-tasting yoghurt.  

Pakoras: See my dadima’s recipe for aloo palak pakoras (with the quantity specified, you will only need around half of the pakoras, but I always make a batch and freeze them). (See p.50 of the cookbook or read the recipe on our blog.)

Kadhi sauce:

  • 1kg natural yoghurt (ideally the runny yoghurt, not the set one)

  • 1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice, plus extra to taste

  • 100g gram flour (known as ‘besan’ in Indian supermarkets)

  • Half cup of cold water

  • 5 tablespoons rapeseed oil

  • 1 heaped teaspoon cumin seeds

  • 1 teaspoon mustard seeds

  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds

  • Pinch of asafoetida/hing (a pinch –no more!)

  • 1 large onion, diced into medium-sized chunks

  • 5 cloves garlic, finely chopped

  • 35g fresh ginger, peeled and grated

  • 2 green finger chillies, finely chopped (or to taste)

  • 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste

  • 1 teaspoon pomegranate powder (anardana)

  • 2 tablespoons turmeric powder (haldi)

  • 5 curry leaves (optional)

  • 100g tomato passata

  • 1-1.5 litres boiling water

  • 1 teaspoon freshly ground garam masala

  • Fresh coriander, to garnish

1. The night before cooking: mix the yoghurt in a large, deep mixing bowl until it reaches a smooth consistency. Add the lemon juice, cover, and leave out overnight at room temperature (don’t leave for more than 24 hours).

2. Now prepare the yoghurt mixture for the sauce. Sift the gram flour over your bowl of yoghurt (the more gram flour you add, the thicker the sauce will be and the more water required later). Add half a cup of cold water to loosen the consistency. Use a hand-blender to blend the mixture until it reaches a smooth consistency with no lumps. This can get messy, so do it over the sink if possible. Set aside whilst you make the tharka (onion masala base).

3. Heat the oil in a large, deep pot. Add the cumin seeds and mustard seeds, allowing them to sizzle before adding the fenugreek seeds and asafoetida. Cook for 1 minute, stirring regularly.

4. Add the onions and cook until medium brown and softened, stirring regularly. Then stir in the garlic and ginger, cooking for 2 minutes with the onions.

5. Add the green chillies, salt, pomegranate powder, 1 tablespoon of the turmeric powder and the curry leaves. Stir regularly over a low heat for 2 minutes, before adding the tomatoes to complete your tharka.

6. Stir regularly until the tharka is ready. This is when the oil separates from the tomatoes in bubbles around the mixture, and the tharka has thickened.

7. Boil your kettle now with 1.5 litres of water.

8. Carefully tip the yoghurt mixture into the pan. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring constantly.

For the next steps, we’ll be adding boiling water gradually. You will need just over a litre as a base, and the remaining half a litre is a cushion in case the sauce becomes a little thick (it will also make a larger quantity). It’s important that you don’t leave your cooker unattended until the simmering stage, as the kadhi sauce can easily boil over. Nanima Kamla advises that boiling water is really important – if there’s not enough, the sauce can taste of uncooked gram flour.

9. Add around 500ml of the hot water, stirring over a moderate heat until you feel the sauce thicken up slightly. Watch out for the spitting action from the pan.

10. Add the remaining turmeric powder at this stage. We’re aiming for a colour like Dijon mustard. Add a further 500ml of hot water, stirring until the sauce starts bubbling around the edges and thickening further.

11. Bring to a boil (this is the part to stand by your cooker; it won’t take long as the water is already boiling). When it comes to a boil, reduce the heat to medium and stir until the bubbles at the surface have reduced.

12. Simmer on a very low heat, partially covered, for 15 minutes.

13. Taste the kadhi. It should have a delicate but noticeable sour taste. If you prefer more of a sour taste, add a tablespoon of fresh lemon juice.

14. Simmer for 1 hour, partially covered, until the sauce is of a medium consistency. Stir occasionally in between to check that there is no sticking. If the sauce is on the thick side and is sticking, use the remaining boiling water to loosen the consistency.

15. Simmer for a further hour, until the sauce has a rich, medium consistency. Stir occasionally. The longer you can leave it to simmer, the better it will taste.

16. Stir in the pakoras – add enough so that they are fully coated and swimming in the sauce. Add the garam masala and stir through.

17. Serve immediately and garnish with coriander. Good luck trying to resist seconds!

Freeze note: My nanima doesn’t recommend freezing kadhi, but it lasts in the fridge for a couple of days.