Indian feast Masala

Rough translation: spiced Indian feast. Since Laura gave me Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking and a large bag full of Indian spices and ingredients, I’ve been excited for my first foray into Indian cooking. A weekend visit from my friend Anjali was the perfect time: I would have a well-practiced coach to guide me. 

Our list of items to make from the cookbook: onion fritters, yogurt sauce with tomato and cucumber, and rice with mushrooms and mustard seed. Anjali used her own recipe for Chana Masala, which translates to spiced chickpeas. I knew it wasn’t Indian, but I included a toned-down version of the Lebanese Fattoush salad with Romaine lettuce, cucumber, tomato, green onion, radish, and the Sumac salad dressing. 

The spices bring the scent of Indian cuisine into the kitchen

We made a list of things we needed from the store, including the spices nutmeg and cardamom, chickpea flour, and vegetables. We already had many of the spices, including whole and ground cumin, whole cloves, and whole coriander seeds, and even though the recipes called for ground versions of those, I was confident we could use the mini food processor to grind the spices.

India Sweets and Spices on Cedar and Herndon (in the same shopping center as Tahoe Joe’s and Casa Corona) provided us with chickpea flour, which was called Besan or Chana flour. Anjali also recommended an Indian trail mix of sorts called Kaju mixture, which was a spicy blend of nuts, puffed rice, potato sticks, chickpeas and spices. 

Turning whole cloves into ground

At home, as soon as we began grinding the spices, the kitchen smelled fragrantly warm and rich. The food processor, however, couldn’t get the spices ground fine enough, and the volcanic mortar and pestle wasn’t cutting it either.

Through a combination of the mortar and pestle, as well as putting the spices in a zip-top bag and hitting them with the smooth side of the meat grinder, we managed to grind them sufficiently. Next time, I’ll buy the spices pre-ground or figure out a better solution. 

Onion fritters

We made the yogurt sauce first, which combined plain yogurt with salt, black pepper, cayenne pepper, ground cumin, diced tomato, and diced cucumber. I often make a similar yogurt sauce to serve with grilled salmon, but this version kicked it up a notch with the spices.

Anjali began prepping the ingredients for the rice and Chana Masala, and quoted her mom, saying the beginning to a great Indian feast starts with oil, cumin, and onions. Soon after, she added the mustard seeds, and waited for them to start popping in the oil. The kitchen began to smell better and better. 

Fireworks on our plates and for the Fourth of July

While the rice and chickpeas cooked, we got to work on the onion fritters, which combined onions, yellow mustard seed, chickpea flour, chopped jalapeno, and spices.

We sat outside in the front courtyard and watched Jan and our neighbors set off fireworks for the Fourth of July. Our Indian feast was definitely a success and the onion fritters were the biggest hit of the night. The yogurt sauce offered a light and tangy flavor that complimented the fried bites. I also found the combination of the mushroom rice and Chana Masala to be surprisingly good. With a full stomach, a new confidence and sense of adventure, I was ready to tackle more recipes in the book.

Behold, the seven hour book club

I hosted this month’s book club at my house, and we had two new women joining us, so I was excited and determined to make sure everyone had a good time. Our book selection was Orangette author Molly Wizenberg’s “A Homemade Life,” and the plan was to make recipes from the book and/or blog.

We had an appetizer of an assortment of cheeses, breads, crackers, and fruits. For dinner, Laura made the Chana Masala, Nicea made the roasted tomatoes, and I made Burg’s potato salad. It was a challenge for me to step outside my tried and true potato salad recipe and make one with ranch dressing, dill, and caraway seeds, but I think it came out well, and there wasn’t any leftover–a  good sign.

The unanimous hit was the bread salad with cherries, arugula, and goat cheese. Beth used fresh cherries from the farmer’s market to add sweetness to the salad, and the toasted bread mopped up the juices from the cherries, balsamic vinegar, and olive oil with perfection.

Oh, and Beth showed me how to use the “food” setting on my camera, and we practiced getting more delicious food shots with about 15 different pictures of the dessert (winning entry here). Rachel made Hoosier pie: a pecan pie with bourbon and chocolate chips. It was rich and delicious, and I had to force myself to stop eating it.

It was 1 a.m. before we knew it. I wasn’t sure if everyone stayed later than usual because of all the wine we drank and their need to sober up, or perhaps that they were having such a good time they didn’t want the evening to end. Hopefully it was a little bit of both.