Lessons in Indian

Since my friend Anjali visited last year and Jan and I got our first lesson on cooking Indian food (see Indian Feast Masala), we were not very good students. Jan made one other dish from Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick & Easy Indian Cooking (Stir-Fried Green Cabbage with Fennel Seeds, or bhuni bahdh gobi) for me to bring to my book club when the food theme for that night was Indian (we were discussing The White Tiger), and then, we made nothing else for a while.

And then, in typical fashion for us, suddenly it was all about Indian food. Though I’ve never been a fan of curry, dinners out and about (at North India Bar and Grill and Malabar Restaurant in Santa Cruz) convinced me that there was so much more than curry to get me excited about Indian. I learned early on that I love naan, and also all the different pickles and chutneys that go along with them. Continue reading

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.