Young kids have absolutely no filter, they are born food critics. If it sucks, they will let you know in no uncertain terms. It’s even more potent in non-verbal format – the nose wrinkling, the suspicious sniffing, flared nostrils, the corners of their sweet, puckered lips twisting downwards. Each reaction is a stab to my pride. All that effort!
A universal truth every home cook has been forced to acknowledge – you can’t please everyone at the table. The adults may like it but the kids won’t or, more annoyingly, only one of them doesn’t. It’s like almost making the finish line, almost, but never crossing it. We cooks care about what we put on the family table, there is consideration and love going into the preparation of a meal and a scowl at the result can feel like a rejection of our affections. At least it does for me. It’s a perpetual battle; to shrug it off with a, ” Oh well” or to restrain myself from screeching, “Do you know HOW LONG it took me to cook this?”
I have raised my kids to eat what they’ve been given. Don’t like it? Tough, it’s this or starve honey, there isn’t anything else on offer. Lil Lassie caused me so much heartbreak. Or rather I let the situation cause me hurt. I’ve since learnt to relax, to give her more trust and respect her tastebuds. As a result, she’s blossomed into a rather adventurous eater (we are taking relative to her previous food pattern…don’t ring for sushi yet!). She will try something once, give it a bash and then, if she says she isn’t keen, fair enough. We all have our own palates and it’s futile to fight against it. Her love of food looks determinedly towards the West, with Italian featuring heavily – Lasagna, Pizza, Spaghetti Carbonara, Chicken Pie, any pie!
Cutlets (or patties as you might know them) was the only ‘Indian’ food that Lil Lassie would happily accept when she was a toot. I have sneaked all manner of foods in there in a bid to get her to eat healthily. For the most part it worked. Tuna Cutlets also happen to be the recipe I get the most emails and feedback about and the greatest compliment folk could give, was to say it was a hit with their children. Halle-bloomin-lujah!
I had a hunk of roast beef left over from a weekend topside roast. Besides gorging on sandwiches with lashings of mustard and sweet, caramelised onions, I thought it best to put the leftovers towards a proper meal. Here, mashed potatoes are combined with a spiced onion and meat mixture, formed into patties, breadcrumbed and fried. Beef, pepper and cumin are a match made in heaven and those are the predominant spices in the mix, with a hit of garam masala to boot, giving it a bit of a Shammi Kebab vibe. The heat and acidity come from pert, green chillies, the favoured chile of Southern India where it’s grassy, acidic, capsicum flavour marries well with the coconut based food there. I like to serve this with a coriander chutney, or rather yoghurt blitzed with the herb. To make it more of a meal, I serve it with my go-to shredded vegetable salad, dressed with lime juice balanced with sugar. Done.
I’ve often served cutlets made with fresh beef mince, or lamb, or leftover chicken or vegetables, for a robust lunch, filling but not vulgarly so. The proportions here are not set in stone. Consider your spices and remember that you need to flavour the mashed tatties too. Put in more meat if you have it lying around, or bump up veg content. Carrots work nicely with beef, for example. Add chillies if you want some serious heat, or leave them out entirely. The acidity in the chutney will offer a piquant counterpart to the earth spices in the meat mix. The breadcrumb coating can be fresh breadcrumbs or dried and Japanese panko makes for a super crispy bite.
You can make the cutlets ahead, right until the point it’s ready to shallow fry. After cooking too, it will stay happily in a warm oven, though you might lose the crunch of the crispy carapace after 10 minutes. Either way, know that there is some flexibility, which to be honest, we all need.
I’ve placed it here firmly as a family-kids oriented meal, but cutlets are often served as appetisers or nibbles in Indian homes. Uncles chugging down cold beers munch their way through dinky sized peppery cutlets, along with the aunties demurely sipping their soft drinks or sweet red wine (if it’s a special day like Easter or Christmas). I find these are great to serve if you’ve got friends popping round for a few drinks later on in the evening. Inevitably people get peckish and cutlets offer more sustenance than crisps and a dip! Enjoy!
Indian Spiced Beef Cutlets
150-200gm leftover, cooked beef
185gm onions, finely chopped
5 cloves of garlic, minced
2″ piece of ginger, minced
1-2 tsp of freshly ground black pepper (add to taste, this should have some peppery heat)
2 teaspoon ground cumin
1 level teaspoon garam masala
3-4 green chillies, deseeded and finely minced (wear gloves!)
350-400gm potatoes, peeled, cooked and mashed with a knob of butter
4 slices of bread, blitz in the food processor for breadcrumbs
1-2 eggs, beaten
Oil for frying
Blitz the leftover beef in your food processor (along with a touch of stock or leftover gravy or just water) until finely minced. Or you could chop this by hand. Sweat the onions with the ginger and garlic in a non-stick pan with a couple of tablespoons of oil. Cook till it’s soft and starting to turn a nice golden colour. Add the spices and cook till the raw smell of it changes to a deeply savoury, roasted flavour and the oil starts to release from the oniony-spiced paste. Add the beef and toss with the masala until it’s well coated and fully warmed up.
Combine with the mashed potato and green chillies. Taste and season carefully and you might find that it takes a fair bit of salt. Roll into patties, flatten and coat in egg and then the breadcrumbs. Should you choose, the patties will sit like this, covered with cling film in the fridge until you are ready to fry. Heat up oil in a large non-stick frying pan and when hot, add the cutlets carefully and fry till a deep golden on both sides. Place on a plate lined with kitchen paper to drain the excess oil. Continue till all the cutlets are done. Serve with chutney.
250ml of natural yoghurt, preferably full fat
a good bunch of fresh coriander
1 deseeded green chill (optional)
lemon juice and salt to taste
Blitz all the above, except the lemon juice and salt to make a runny dip. You can make this ahead though it might separate on standing. A quick whisk will bring it back together.
Sweet & Sour Salad
This can be easily scaled to your taste and what you have in your veg box. I find this quantity serves 2.
2 carrot, grated
2 cucumber, grated
1/2 small cabbage, finely shredded (optional, or use chinese cabbage)
1 spring onion, chopped
Fresh coriander and mint leaves, optional
2 tablespoons lemon or lime juice (or any acid such as red/white wine vinegar)
1/2 – 1 tablespoon caster sugar
Salt to taste
Whisk the lemon/lime/vinegar with the sugar and taste. You want a pleasing balance of sour and sweet. Tweak with either more sugar or acid until you get a balance you like.
Place the grated veg and herbs if using, into a large bowl, pour over most of the dressing and mix thoroughly. Taste. If you need more dressing add the rest. Serve immediately. If you want to make this in advance, keep the grated veg separate from the dressing and mix just before serving.