Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Studio 5: Indian Food 3 ways

Indian food has become a popular dining-out option in Utah with more and more restaurants opening up.  As soon as I walk into my favorite Indian  restaurant, I sigh.  Everything about Indian food smells like home to me and I'm not even Indian!  The aroma is heavenly.

I hear one of two things from people...they either love it or hate it.  I have yet to meet an in-between person.  It's unfortunate, because I think people tend to associate Indian food with curry and then think there is only one kind of curry.  They also think Indian food is very spicy.

Curry is just an all-purpose term devised by the English to cover the whole range of Indian food spicing.      Indians have a vast collection of spices (about 25) that they regularly cook with.  The spicy hot we associate with Indian food was actually introduced to India by the Portuguese, who got those hot peppers from...wait for it...the new world...US!  The good news is you can easily alter the heat level of any dish, whether in a restaurant or cooking at home.

For those who love Indian food, it can be intimidating to try and cook it at home.  I remember my first google search years ago and feeling overwhelmed by the list of ingredients, many of which were foreign to me.  Some of the cooking techniques were daunting as well.

The gauntlet was thrown, I would conquer this!  Fortunately, I have an entire family who love Indian food so I've had plenty of opportunities to cook up Indian food feasts and practice, practice, practice.  I am by no means an expert, but I have learned a few things I want to share.  Most importantly, there are many ways to bring Indian food into your kitchen depending on your budget and inclination.

I've broken it down into 3 approaches...
Mom-in-a-hurry Curry
Namaste-at-home and cook
Grandmasala Authentic

Mom-in-a-hurry Curry
{As simple as Spaghetti...just open a jar}

Fortunately, our grocery stores are carrying a much larger Ethnic Food section than ever before, so we have greater choices for simmer sauces.  A simmer sauce is often the foundation of a lot of common Indian dishes.  You have probably heard of Butter Chicken, Tikka Masala, Korma Curry, Vindaloo.  There are so many brands now, it might be daunting to pick.  You can google "Best Bottled Indian Simmer Sauces" or check out this review by Cooking Light Magazine.

Once you've picked one, it's easy!  Such a great last minute kind of meal.  Cook up a protein; this could be anything, from chicken, shrimp to a vegetarian alternative, like chick peas.  Add sauce.  Heat.  Dish over rice, add some store bought Naan bread, or whatever bread you have, as it's nice to have it to sop up what's left in the bowl...yes, you'll want to.

You can also 'doctor' up a bottled sauce with little effort.  I love a bright, fresh element, so I'll throw in a handful of frozen peas, or chop up some Cilantro or even parsley.  Another thing I might do, if I find the sauce too spicy is adding a few Tbsp of Yogurt, cream, milk or coconut milk, this will mellow it out and make it more creamy, or stretch out that bottle to feed more people.

If you want more of a kick, add hot chilies (fresh or dried).

Dinner.  Done.

Namaste-at-home and cook

{From scratch, with a little spice help}

If you love to cook, or regularly cook from scratch, then this is a great option for exploring Indian food at home.  You'll find most Indian food recipes (except the spice preparation) quite easy and even familiar.  It frequently starts with onions, garlic, ginger...adding some kind of protein, then something to 'sauce-it-up, like tomatoes,  coconut milk etc...

The magic really happens when you add spices to your dish.  Indian almost always add their spices to hot oil to cook it.  This removes any raw taste and really can transform the spice.  You can find spice blends and pastes next to the simmer sauces in the Ethnic Food aisle.  But you can also find spice blends in the spice aisle.  You can also order these on-line.

You can achieve a pretty authentic Indian taste with a prepared and purchased paste or spice blend, but to truly get 'Grandma' authentic, you would make your own.  This is the last, and most time consumptive approach to cooking Indian at home, but very do-able and pretty awesome!

Grandma-sala authentic

{Lots of love goes into truly authentic Indian food}

Let's face it, Grandmas often have the time and the history of cooking everything from scratch in every culture.  But Indians take this a step farther with a Masala Dabba, or Indian Spice Box.  Created and used with love on a daily basis.  I can only imagine how sentimental Indians must feel about their Grandmas Masala Dabbas, especially if it's made with the wood and the smells have permeated it forever. 

Here we learn a whole new approach to cooking by creating Masalas.  Masala is a Hindi word which means a blend of spices, whether dry or in a paste.  Homes in India will have their own particular Masala.  One famous Masala is Garam Masala, found in the spice section in your grocery store.  Garam means heat, so it's a spicy blend.

Combinations are endless, but here are a few common Masala pastes that chef Jamie Oliver made easy. 

After years of collecting spices, stores in large ziplock bags, I received my own Masala Dabba this past Christmas from my husband.  It doesn't hold everything I use, but is so nice to have this handy by the stove...plus it's just pretty.  Sometimes I just open it to smell.

You can use a spice grinder, small food processor or go old school with a Mortar & pestle to create your own spice blends and paste. 

Of course, I am just scratching the surface, there is a history and depth to Indian food that will probably take me a lifetime to understand, but I have enjoyed every level I'm showing you here, yes, even the Mom-in-a-hurry Curry.  

Spices to start with...
{Whole spices will keep longer and the taste will be fresher and more intense}

Basic(how many do you already have?)
Chili Peppers
Cumin (seeds or ground)
Cinnamon (whole or ground)
Mustard Seeds
Garam Masala
Cayenne Powder

Add more...
Saffron (expensive)
Amchoor (green Mango Powder)
Fennel Seeds
Fenugreek Seeds
Nigella Seeds

Other ingredients to have on hand
Fresh Ginger
Coconut Milk
Chicken or Vegetable Stock
Ghee (or butter, or oil)
Canned Tomatoes
Tomato Paste
Fresh Cilantro (Also known as Coriander)

Just two of my favorite Indian Food Website/Cookbooks.



My Favorite IndianRecipes

Cilantro-Yogurt Sauce

{nice dip for Koftas and naan}

1/2 small onion, finely chopped
2 cups chopped fresh cilantro
1 1/2 cups whole-milk yogurt (if Greek, you will have to thin it with a bit of water)
2 tablespoons chopped fresh mint
1/4 teaspoon ground coriander
2 tablespoons (or more) fresh lemon juice
Kosher salt, freshly ground pepper

Taste, add more lemon juice if necessary.

Cucumber Raita

{to cool the palate, served with spicy curries}

2 cups plain whole-milk yogurt
1 7-inch-long piece English hothouse cucumber, peeled, coarsely grated
1 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
2 tablespoons (packed) finely chopped fresh cilantro
4 teaspoons finely chopped fresh mint
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice

Squeeze shredded cucumber in paper towel to remove excess liquid.  Mix all ingredients.  Let sit in fridge for a few hours for flavors to combine.

Garlic Naan Bread

{almost an essential with an Indian dinner.  You can buy this at the store, but homemade is best}

1 (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 cup warm water
1/4 cup white sugar
3 tablespoons milk
1 egg, beaten
2 teaspoons salt
2 cloves garlic, crushed and minced
4 1/2 cups bread flour
3 tablespoons butter, melted
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water (about 10 minutes).
Stir in butter, sugar, milk, egg, salt , garlic and enough flour to make a soft dough. Knead on a lightly floured surface until smooth.
 Place dough ball into an oiled bowl, cover with a damp towel, and set aside to let rise until doubled in size (about 1 hour).
Punch down the dough, and break off small handfuls to roll into balls (about 2-3 inches in diameter). Place rolls on a tray, cover with towel, and allow to rise to double its’ size (for about 30 minutes).
Preheat a grill pan on high heat. Roll out a dough ball as thinly as possible, lightly oil the pan, and place the rolled dough on to grill. Once it starts to puff and get some brown spots, flip to the other side and repeat. Continue this until all of the naan is done.  I like to do a final brush with butter after taking off the grill. 

Indian Basmati Rice Pilaf
{This is my tried & true best Basmati Rice recipe...the pre-soaking makes a super fluffy rice}

2 cups basmati rice
1 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
8 green cardamom pods
1 teaspoon crushed coriander seeds
1 cinnamon stick
8 cloves
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
4 cups water
1 bay leaf
Salt to taste
2 cups fresh green peas
Ground pepper

Wash rice by rinsing in cold water. Then soak in cold water for about 30 minutes. Drain.
In a large sauté pan over medium heat, heat 1 tablespoon oil. Add onion and cook, stirring, until onion is tender. Add garlic, and sauté for about a minute. Add cardamom, coriander, cinnamon, cloves and ginger. Sauté for another minute and add the rice. Sauté until rice is translucent and begins to brown. Add water, bay leaf and salt and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, partly covered, for about 10 minutes. Most of the water will evaporate and steam holes will show through rice
Once rice is done you can leave it covered in the pan for 20 minutes or so, it will stay warm.  Be sure to take out cinnamon stick/cloves/Cardamom pods before serving.
For added color & texture, you can add frozen peas to the rice.  Defrost them in some water and gently fold them into the rice right before serving.

Mozzarella Gobi Koftas
{Super yummy appetizer, great served with Cilantro-Yogurt sauce}

1 cup finely grated cauliflower
1/4 cup grated mozzarella cheese
2 tablespoons chickpea flour
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 tsp kosher salt
4 Tbsp vegetable oil (or use a deep fryer)

Mix all ingredients gently until fully incorporated.  Roll into small balls and fry in hot oil until brown and crispy on the outside and soft and melted in the middle.  cook one first then check to make sure your temperature is good.

Chicken Mango Curry
{one of my favorites!}

2 Tbsp vegetable oil
1 lb. skinless boneless chicken thighs or breasts, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 large onion, chopped (1 1/2 to 2 cups)
1/2 red bell pepper, chopped
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 Tbsp fresh minced ginger
2 Tbsp Red Curry Paste OR 2 Tbsp yellow curry powder
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
2 mangos, peeled and diced
2 Tbsp cider vinegar or white vinegar
1 13.5 ounce can coconut milk (If using lowfat coconut milk, add 2 Tbsp heavy cream)
Salt and pepper
Cilantro for garnish

Heat oil in a large sauté pan over medium heat. Cook chicken until browned, but not fully cooked through.  Remove from pan and set aside.
Add onions and bell pepper to pan and cook (add more oil if necessary), stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and ginger and cook for another minute. Add the curry powder and cumin, cook for a few more minutes. The spices will absorb some of the oil, so if anything begins to stick too much to the bottom of the pan, add a little more oil to the pan.
Add the vinegar, coconut milk, and one of the two chopped mangoes to the pan. Increase the heat and bring to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain a low simmer for about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove pan from heat. Scoop the sauce into a blender. Purée the sauce, pulsing until smooth. Return the sauce to the pan.
Add chicken pieces back to the pan. Return to a low simmer. Cover the pan and let cook for 8-10 minutes or until chicken is cooked through. Use a knife to cut open the largest piece to check.
Add remaining chopped mango to the pan (if you would rather not have chunks of Mango in the sauce you can add it all once before you puree. Stir in the cream, if using. Let cook at a low temperature for another minute or two, uncovered. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Serve over rice. Garnish with cilantro.

Shrimp Coconut Korma
{the other 'favorite'}

1 lb. clean (no tail) shrimp (med-large is fine).
Toss shrimp with the following spices and let sit in fridge for at least an hour.
1/2 tsp. salt
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp. ground coriander
1/4 tsp turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne (less or none at all if you want it mild).

Rest of ingredients
Vegetable oil or Ghee
1 small onion, sliced
2 cloves Garlic, minced
1 tsp minced fresh Ginger
1 tsp Garam Masala
1  8 oz. can of diced tomatoes
3/4 cup water
1 can coconut milk
4 Tbsp greek yogurt

Add a Tbsp of oil to a hot pan and cook shrimp just until opaque and curled tightly.  Remove and set aside.

Reduce heat to medium.  Add another Tbsp of oil to pan and add the onion, cook for 3-4 minutes until soft.  Add garlic, ginger and Garam Masala and sauté constantly for an additional minute.  Add tomatoes and water and simmer for 3-4 minutes.  Blend with a hand tool in pan until smooth.

Add coconut milk and yogurt, stir until combined.  Let simmer until reduced and sauce has thickened.  Add shrimp back to pan.  Serve when shrimp has been heating through.

Garnish with fresh cilantro.  Serve over rice.



M-C Graves said...

Though I'm not a cook, I know someone who will love this post, my son! Just have to send him the link! As usual, you amaze me, dear Sue!

Susan Neal said...

Not even a good Tourtière M-C?

Mona Jha said...

wow....you have an explosion of flavors going on there!! It must have been so very delicious, and I love that you can use a tortilla to make it.... indian food

Larisa Jacobson said...

Hi what brand is your masala dabba above?

Susan Neal said...

Sorry, I was out of town...good question! I spend a long time finding just the right one and have been so pleased! It's by The Three Sisters. I bought mine on Amazon, but it's not available right now. You can google The Three Sisters Masala Dabba and you'll see other places to buy it. I should also mention, besides being a quality dabba, it came with very fresh spices as well to fill the containers.



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