Sunday, January 18, 2009

My first crack at cooking Indian

I have always loved Indian food. All of it - the curries, the biriyanis, the chaat, dosas and idli. I love it all. I love it even more if it's unpretentiously served in the cafe that doubles as a grocery store. I love it most if it's homemade. I have been blessed to have Indian friends who cook for me and love having me over for dinner. They are why I know the difference between a chapati and a naan, how to make curd rice at home, and that curry is not always yellow. Despite the fact that I know how eat Indian food, I don't know how to cook it. I have always wanted to learn how.

Thanks to my good friend, LWD, I now have the spices needed to make Indian food at home! LWD and her mother picked out some basic Gujurati spices and mailed them to me in India. It was so incredibly thoughtful and sweet for them to take the time and effort to select spices for the beginner Indian cook. LWD and her mom sent me packets of tumeric (urdur), fenugreek seeds (methi), cumin seeds (jeera), anise seed (ojmo), paprika powder (murcha), mustard seeds (ruy), coriander seed and cumin powder (dhana jeeru), asafoetida powder (ing), and garam masala. The minute I opened the cannister, I was enveloped by the warm smell of the spices. In addition to the wonderful smell of the spices, all the packets of spices were so neat, labeled and colorful. They brought immediate inspiration.

For dinner, I wanted to make my favorite Indian dish - aloo gobi (potatoes and cauliflower). I had a friend once chide me for ordering aloo gobi at an upscale Indian restaurant in London but I didn't care - I love aloo gobi. What I made tonight was not the aloo gobi that I love. I made a few big mistakes with this dish. When mixing the spices, I added a spice that did not belong because I misread the package - I thought it was a garam masala instead of a tandoori masala. Oops. The curry was a bit more sour than I expected but I balanced it out with a little bit of sugar. In addition to the extra spice, I also burned the cumin. Also, I didn't have any coriander powder or any fresh coriander (cilantro) so I tried to make my own out of coriander seeds. I tried to grind them with my spice grinder but that didn't work so I broke them up with the back of a wooden spoon and tossed it in. In hindsight, I shouldn't have done that. In addition to the mistakes I am prone to making on my own, the directions on the recipe I found were...lacking. The directions did not provide instructions on what to do with half of the ingredients so towards the end, I used my best judgment. All in all, it wasn't a great aloo gobi but it was edible. Just goes to show that if you throw enough salt into something, it can taste good.

In addition to the aloo gobi, I tried to recreate an Indian taro fry that a friend made 5 years ago. Let me preface this recreation with the circumstance which led me to taste this dish. I worked with this friend, really a very shy colleague, years ago and he brought this taro fry into work for lunch one day. Because I did not know that Indians used taro, I was curious about how the fry tasted and asked if I could sample it. He graciously let me eat out of his lunch box - I have no shame. It was so good that I am STILL thinking about it today. Since I had some taro and some fun new spices, I decided to try and make the taro fry at home...and the result was pretty darned good. I have included the recipe below.

Indian Taro Fry
1/8 cup oil
4 small taro, peeled and cut into 3/4 inch pieces
1/2 onion, diced
2 cloves garlic, finely minced
3/4 tsp cumin seeds (jeera)
1/2 tsp mustard seeds (ruy)
1 tsp garam masala
3/4 tsp tumeric powder (urdur)
3/4 tsp of coriander seed and cumin powder (dhana jeeru)
1/4 tsp dried ginger powder
1/8 tsp asafoetida powder (ing)
1/4 tsp salt

Mix the garam masala, tumeric, dhana jeeru, asafoetida, and ginger powder in a small bowl with about a 1/2 tsp of water to create a dry paste. Heat the oil at medium high heat in a non-stick saute pan. When the oil is hot, put the cumin seeds and mustard seeds into the pan and saute. You want the seeds to pop without getting burned. After about a minute, add the onions and garlic and saute until soft. To the onions, add the diced taro and the spice paste and stir vigorously to evenly coat the taro. Add a little bit of water, about a quarter cup, to the mixture and reduce the heat to medium/low. Add the salt and let the taro cook until it is tender. Check for seasoning. The taro will be a bit viscous but it tastes lovely.

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