Indian Quails with Eggs and Spinach

This was inspired by my many trips to India, where quails are often cooked with spices and aromatic sauces. The dish should be accompanied by basmati rice and a bowl of yoghurt. If you don’t have all the spices, simply add a little more of the ones you do have. The spices and tamarind paste should be available from oriental grocer’s, good delicatessens and some large supermarkets. Buying whole spices and grinding them freshly makes all the difference as they will be far more aromatic.

Ingredients

  • 2 medium to large onions
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 1 fresh green chilli
  • 3 teaspoons coriander seeds
  • 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  • 2 blades mace
  • 5-6 whole cloves
  • 1 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • piece cinnamon stick, approximately 2.5 cm/1 in long
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 2 medium to large red peppers
  • 2 tablespoons groundnut oil, plus extra for brushing
  • 75 g/3 oz butter
  • 400 g/14 oz tin chopped tomatoes
  • 1 level tablespoon tamarind paste
  • 2 teaspoons caster sugar
  • 6 quails
  • chilli powder
  • 6 large eggs
  • 450 g/1 lb fresh spinach
  • fresh coriander leaves, to garnish
  • salt

Method

Peel the onions and garlic, cut them up roughly and put into a food processor. Cut open the green chilli under cold running water, discard the seeds and stem and put the chilli halves in the food processor with the onions and garlic. Whizz very thoroughly until the mixture has become as smooth a mush as possible.

Put the whole spices and the bay leaves into a coffee grinder and whizz until finely ground. Mix these spices with the ground turmeric. Cut the peppers in half lengthways, discard the seeds and stem and slice thinly. Preheat the oven to 180°C/350°F/gas mark 4.

Put the oil and butter into a large cast iron casserole over a high heat. When melted, add the ground spices and then the onion mixture. Allow to bubble in the open casserole, stirring on and off, for about 5 minutes. Then add the chopped tomatoes, sliced peppers and tamarind paste and season with the sugar and some salt. Cover the casserole and cook in the centre of the oven for half an hour. Then brush the quails with a little oil and dust with salt and a very little chilli powder. Remove the casserole from the oven, place the quails on top of the sauce, cover and return to the oven for another hour. Uncover for the last 20 minutes or so to allow the quails to brown a little.

Meanwhile, semi-hardboil the eggs, then plunge them into cold water, peel and cut in half lengthways. Wash the spinach, remove any thick stalks and chop up only roughly. After the quails have cooked for an hour, take them out of the casserole and set aside on a plate. Stir the spinach into the hot sauce just until limp. Check the seasoning and add salt and a little chilli powder if needed. Then replace the quails on top of the sauce, interspersed by the halved eggs yolk-side upwards. Cover the casserole again and cook for 8-10 minutes, until the spinach is quite soft, just before serving, roughly chop some coriander leaves and sprinkle them over the top.

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