We are in the midst of a love affair with Indian food. It's getting pretty serious. Soupy lentil dishes, fragrant rice pilafs, vegetable curries...each meal we make surprises me with its richness and complexity. I'm learning that plain yogurt is a necessity in any number of Indian recipes and chopped cilantro isn't nearly as strong (read: awful) as I remember. If we make it through a week without an Indian-spiced main course, I'm disappointed. And, if Doug isn't careful, I'm going to make him build me a tandoor oven.
We've been encouraged by one particular Indian market, called Patel's Cash and Carry, which I drive by on my way home from work everyday. On a lazy Saturday, Doug and I went inside to explore and came away with mustard oil, tamarind paste, a huge bag of basmati rice, fenugreek seeds, and ghee. (Okay, and about ten other things that totally blew our food budget for the month.)
The cookbook that has been our guide - Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes - is out of place on my cookbook shelf, namely because there is not a single photograph inside. But, the recipes themselves, with their directives involving warm spices and brightly colored legumes, are just as enticing as photographs of the same. I'm poring over the head notes of each recipe, trying to build a culinary map of the regions of India. It's a delicious journey.
We've been making good use of our creative provisions, but what I'm enjoying about Batra's cookbook is that she acknowledges the American cook who might not have access to a range of specialized Indian ingredients. The basic supplies of an Indian pantry - cumin, coriander, turmeric, rice, lentils, hot chile peppers, ginger - go a long way.
And if you have those, there is no reason not to make the vegetarian dinner below. The cauliflower dish is simple and well-spiced (be careful with the chile peppers!) and hearty. The rice is dry in that distinct Indian manner and has a rich nuttiness from the ghee. And, the yogurt raita entirely steals the show. I never expected to enjoy a cool, tangy side to my piping hot, belly-warming food. It was my gateway drug.
Cauliflower with Potatoes
Adapated from 1,000 Indian Recipes
This is quick to make and responds well to substitutions. I didn't have fresh ginger and found ground ginger to work well. I skipped the mango powder and garam masala and didn't find the dish lacking. And, the original recipe calls for peas, but since that would have caused a small mutiny in my household, I skipped them altogether.
- 2 tbsp oil
- 3 fresh green chile peppers, such as serrano or jalapeno, or to taste
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tbsp minced fresh ginger (or 1 tsp ground ginger)
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1/4 tsp turmeric
- 1/4 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/2 lb of small red potatoes (approx 10), cut into quarters
- 1 small head cauliflower, trimmed and cut into 1-inch florets
- 1/4 - 1/2 cup water
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
- 1/2 tsp mango powder
- 1/4 tsp garam masala
Heat the oil in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and cook the green chile peppers, stirring, about 1 minute. Add the cumin seeds and fresh ginger (if using); they should sizzle upon contact with the hot oil. Quickly add the coriander, ground cumin, turmeric, and ground ginger (if using). Then, mix in the potatoes and cauliflower. Add the water gradually while stirring. (The original recipe calls for only 2 tbsps of water, but I found more water to work better. See what works best for you.) Cover the pan and cook, over high heat the first 2-3 minutes, and then over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until the potatoes are soft, 20 to 25 minutes. During the last five minutes, mix in the cilantro and mango powder. Transfer to a serving dish, sprinkle the garam masala on top, and serve.
Simple Cumin Basmati Rice
Adapted from 1,000 Indian Recipes
If you don't have, can't find, or choose to forgo the ghee, I think any oil with a higher smoke point (i.e. not olive oil) would work well here.
- 1 1/2 cups basmati rice
- 2 3/4 cups water
- 1 tbsp melted ghee or vegetable oil
- 1 1/2 tsps cumin seeds
- 1/2 tsp coarse ground black pepper
- 3/4 tsp salt
- Finely chopped fresh cilantro
In a medium bowl, soak the rice in the water about 30 minutes. Heat the ghee (or oil) in a large saucepan over medium-high heat and add the cumin seeds and black pepper; they should sizzle upon contact with the hot oil. Quickly add the rice with the water it was soaking in. Mix in the salt and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to the lowest setting, cover the pan, and cook until the rice is done, 10-15 minutes. Remove from the heat and let the rice rest, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a serving platter, garnish with cilantro, and serve.
Adapted from 1,000 Indian Recipes
- 2 cups plain yogurt, whisked smooth
- 2-4 cucumbers, grated
- 1 fresh green chile pepper, such as serrano, minced with seeds
- 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper, or to taste
- 1/2 tsp paprika
- Cilantro or mint leaves
Mix and serve.