A tempting dessert sampler.

Paris in India in London

Lois Manno India Leave a Comment

Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Email this to someone

Story by Dave DeWitt
Food photos by Tony Le Duc


Cassoulet de Fruits de Mer
(Curried Seafood Stew)

Poulet Rouge
(Chicken in a Creamy Red Sauce)

Onion Sauce

Goan Pork Vindaloo

Mirichi ka Salan
(Mild Chiles in a Nutty Sauce)

Yelemecam Sadam
(Lime Rice)


A tempting dessert sampler.

Pat Chapman, the King of Curries and England’s foremost authority on Indian cuisine, had decided to take Mary Jane and me to the best Indian restaurant in the U.K. So he and his wife Dominque picked us up at the hotel and in fifteen minutes we were inside the gorgeous Porte des Indes, the only Indian restaurant to win the Best Restaurant award twice, beating more than 8,500 other competitors. The head chef, Mehernosh Mody, dropped by our table three times, and during his first visit decided that he would order his favorite dishes for us and we, of course, agreed enthusiastically.

A street scene in Pondicherry A temple elephant greets visitors
A typical street scene in Pondicherry (Puducherry). Photo courtesy of Flikr user Melanie-m. Temple elephant greets passersby. Photo by Adam Jones adamjones.freeservers.com

French Cuisine in India?
It is not commonly known that France had a colony in India—Pondicherry, south of Madras on the eastern coast—from 1670 to 1954, minus a few years because of seizures by the British. In 2006 the region was renamed Puducherry (the name it had prior to foreign rule). Pondy, as the city is nicknamed, developed a cuisine that is a fascinating combination of classic French dishes with the spices and techniques of southern Indian cooking. So bouillabaisse, the seafood chowder, is transformed by chiles, ginger, coriander, cumin, and turmeric into Cassoulet de Fruits de Mer, while a simple French roasted poulet, or young chicken, is curried with masala powder and enriched with yogurt and double cream. Even the famed French lamb chops are treated to chiles, masala, cardamom, and mace and become Adrak ke Panje when they are grilled outside on the barbecue.

Vintage postcard showing Pondicherry

This map portrays Pondicherry during the French colonial occupation.
Courtesy of Blue Elephant Group

Pondy in London
Chef Mody and his wife Sherin were specifically recruited by the Blue Elephant Group to open La Porte des Indes in London, and to model it after the highly successful restaurant of the same name in Brussels, Belgium. In 1993 he began the transformation of an abandoned ballroom hidden behind the “sober façade of a London city street.”  Two years and two and a half million pounds later, La Porte des Indes opened, backed by the most talented team of Indian regional chefs possible. And that team triumphed during our seven-course lunch of 21 different dishes that took us two hours and forty-five minutes to finish. Chef Mosy proved that the food was every bit as wonderful as the décor of this Parisian port of India in London.

The Spice-Laden Recipes
Note:  Forget commercial curry powder, because each of these recipes requires its own combination of spices. These recipes are representative of what we enjoyed but reflect only a small fraction of the menu at La Porte des Indes.

Curried Seafood StewCassoulet de Fruits de Mer
(Curried Seafood Stew)

This Pondicherry favorite is Chef Mody’s southern Indian version of bouillabaisse. You can use any combination of available seafood, but I recommend that mussels and shrimp should always be included. This dish is very quick to make—about 15 minutes. Serve it with or over the Lime Rice recipe included here, or with your favorite version of saffron rice.

The Spice Paste:
4 small hot red chiles, such as santaka or cayenne, stems and seeds removed
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped fine
4 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon powdered turmeric
6 black peppercorns
1 tablespoon malt vinegar

The Cassoulet:
2 teaspoons vegetable oil
1 sprig fresh curry leaves, or dried curry leaves that have been rehydrated and patted dry
1/2 mild onion, chopped
1 one-pound assortment of seafood, including shrimp, cooked mussels (removed from the shells), scallops, crab meat, lobster meat, and fish of choice
1 cup coconut milk (not sweet coconut cream)
2 teaspoons lemon or lime juice
Salt to taste
Cilantro leaves for garnish

To make the paste, combine all the ingredients in a blender or food processor and grind to a fine paste.  Set aside.

To make the Cassoulet, heat the oil in a large, deep frying pan and add the curry leaves and the onion; stir-fry until the onion is soft. Add the spice paste and sauté for 2 minutes.

Add the seafood except for the fish, lower the heat, and simmer for 2 minutes. Add coconut milk, bring to a boil, add the fish and lower the heat and simmer for 5 to 7 minutes or until you can flake the fish.

Season with the lemon juice and salt, stir gently and serve garnished with the cilantro leaves along with rice.

Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Medium

Chicken in Creamy Red Sauce
Poulet Rouge
(Chicken in a Creamy Red Sauce)

Chef Mody calls this easy-to-prepare dish “mild and sinfully rich,” and it’s one of the top sellers at La Porte des Indes. Serve it with naan bread and your favorite chutney.

5 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
2 tablespoons butter
2 tablespooons masala powder
1/4 cup yogurt, Greek preferred
1 cup Onion Sauce (see recipe below)
1 cup whipping cream
4 legs roasted young chicken, meat cut from the bone in strips
Salt to taste

Crush the garlic in a mortar with a little water to make a paste. Melt the butter in a large frying pan and lightly brown the garlic paste in it.

Add the masala powder and sauté for a few seconds, then lower the heat and add the yogurt. Simmer the mixture for 2 minutes, stirring occasionally and add the onion sauce, mixing it well. Add the cream, bring to a boil, lower the heat and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the chicken strips and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes until the meat is heated through. Adjust the salt if needed and serve.

Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Mild

Onion Sauce
1/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 bay leaves
4 cloves
1 one-inch piece of cinnamon stick
1 black cardamom pod
3 large Spanish or mild onions, thinly sliced
1 1/2 cups water

Heat the oil in a saucepan, add the bay leaves, cloves, cinnamon stick, and cardamom pod and cook for 1 minute over medium heat. Add the onion slices, lower the heat, and simmer until they are soft.

Add the water and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for 30 minutes.

Remove from the heat and cool, then puree the sauce in a blender.

Yield: About 2 cups

The view from our table The view from our table.

Goan Pork Vindaloo
Created by Goan chef Francisco Marques, this is La Porte’s take on the classic, hot curry that is called “vindaloo,” a name that is derived from the Portuguese dish Carne de Vinha d’ Alhos, a combination of meat (usually lamb) with wine and garlic. Of course, Indian curry spices have transformed the original recipe. I’ve eaten many, many variations on vindaloo, but this one is my favorite. Serve with any rice dish. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

Spice Paste:
12 dried red Kashmiri chiles, or substitute santakas or mirasol, seeds and stems removed
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
3 teaspoons coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 cloves
1 two-inch piece of cinnamon stick
2 cardamom pods
1 two-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and finely chopped
6 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
3 tablespoons malt vinegar

The Vindaloo:
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1/2 teaspoon red chile powder, New Mexican preferred
1 pound pork meat, cut into small, bite-sized cubes
1/2 pound bacon, finely chopped
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
3 bay leaves
1 large Spanish or mild onion, finely sliced
2 tablespoons tomato paste
12 cocktail onions
Salt to taste

In a bowl, combine all the spice paste ingredients and set aside for at least 1 hour. Grind the ingredients in a blender to a fine paste.

Combine the turmeric and the chile powder and rub onto the pork with your fingers. Set aside for 2 hours or preferably overnight.

Heat the bacon and the vegetable oil in a large pan and add the bay leaves and onion. Fry until the onion is a light golden brown. Add the Spice Paste and fry for 3 to 4 minutes, stirring well, then add the pork and the tomato paste and a little water to prevent sticking.

Cook uncovered over medium heat for about 25 minutes. Add the cocktail onions and salt to taste and serve.

Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Hot

Mild Chiles in a Nutty SauceMirichi ka Salan
(Mild Chiles in a Nutty Sauce)

Chef Sundeep Bhagat from Lucknow, La Porte’s specialist in vegetarian cuisine, created this marvelous recipe for chile lovers that combines the fresh pods with coconuts and other nuts.

For the Nutty Sauce:
2 cups freshly grated coconut meat
1 ounce raw peanuts
1/2 ounce raw cashew nuts
2 teaspoons sesame seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon tamarind sauce

For the Chiles:
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1 teaspoon turmeric
5 teaspoons Onion Sauce (see recipe above)
1 small fresh tomato, chopped
1/2 teaspoon New Mexico red chile powder
Salt to taste
1/2 cup yogurt
8 fresh New Mexican chiles, sliced on the side to remove the seeds, stems left on
1/2 teaspoon mustard seeds
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves, or 1/2 teaspoon dried curry leaves, rehydrated and patted dry
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice

To make the nutty sauce, dry-roast all the ingredients except the tamarind sauce in a frying pan, then add them to a blender with the tamarind sauce and a little water and process to a fine paste.  Set aside.

To make the chiles, heat 2 tablespoons of the vegetable oil in a large frying pan, add the turmeric and onion sauce, and heat gently. Add the tomatoes, chile powder, and salt.

Whisk in the yogurt and mix well. Continue to stir until the mixture thickens, about 5 minutes. Add the nutty sauce paste and cook for 10 to 12 minutes, stirring occasionally.

In another frying pan, heat the remaining oil and lightly sauté the chiles for 2 to 3 minutes, turning several times. Transfer the chiles with tongs to the yogurt mixture and add the mustard seeds and curry leaves to the oil and heat until the mustard seeds pop.

Then transfer this oil to the yogurt mixture and stir everything together. Cook on low heat for an additional 2 to 3 minutes. Check for salt and add the lemon juice.

Yield: 4 servings
Heat Scale: Medium
Lime Rice
Yelemecam Sadam
(Lime Rice)
This is a popular Southern Indian recipe that is either served as a side dish to curries or on its own with mango pickle or chutney. Note the tradition of adding a thinly sliced chile to the rice. Channa dal is dried yellow chickpeas, available in Asian markets. Note: This recipe requires advance preparation.

2 cups Basmati rice, washed and soaked in water for 1 hour
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 level teaspoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon channa dal
1/2 medium Spanish or mild onion, sliced
2 serrano chiles, stems and seeds remove, very thinly sliced
1 sprig fresh curry leaves or 1/2 teaspoon dried curry leaves, rehydrated and patted dry
1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
1 quart water
Juice of 4 limes
Salt to taste
Chopped cilantro, whole cashew nuts, and lime wedges for garnish

Preheat the oven to 250 degrees F. Drain the rice.

Heat the vegetable oil in a casserole on top of the stove and add the mustard seeds and channa dal. As soon as the mustard seeds pop, add the onions, chile slices, and curry leaves. Fry until the onion is soft, and then add the turmeric powder.

Pour in the water, bring to a boil, and add the lime juice and salt to taste. Mix in the drained rice, bring to a boil, lower the heat a little, and boil gently until the water evaporates to the level of the rice, about 5 minutes.

Cover the casserole with a lid and transfer to the oven. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve the rice garnished with the cilantro, cashew nuts, and lime wedges.

Yield: 6 servings
Heat Scale: Mild


Share on Facebook0Tweet about this on TwitterShare on Google+0Email this to someone