Indian Cooking 101

Austin Food Bytes
NI Cooking School, Indian Food 101

While I love to eat out, I actually enjoy eating in much more. My whole family cooks, my brother and mother professionally, so I guess it’s in the genes. I have a tendency to fixate on a certain type of cuisine for a while, trying recipes and adapting them until I’m comfortable with the style. For the better part or this year I’ve been learning to cook Indian food from a really excellent cookbook called Madhur Jaffrey’s Quick and Easy Indian Cooking.

Madhur Jaffrey is a celebrity in Britain and India, she’s acted in several films and hosts a cooking show on the BBC. Her cookbooks are always very well written, nicely illustrated, and quite detailed. This is often necessary when westerners are trying a foreign cuisine as ingredients can be hard to find or replicate and cooking techniques can differ. The great thing about this particular cookbook is that it’s adapted for a western kitchen, but still creates very authentic tasting results. There are no required ingredients that I couldn’t find at the grocery store. A couple of optional ingredients necessitate a trip to a local Indian market, but you could do all your shopping at HEB or Whole Foods and get almost equal results. Here is a list of the most common ingredients you’ll need to cook a tasty and authentic Indian meal:

Spices
Ground cumin
Cumin seed
Tumeric
Cardamom pods
Whole cloves
Cinnamon stick
Ground coriander
Coriander seed
Garam masala (this is a pre-made spice mix)
Mustard seeds
Cayenne pepper
Black peppercorns
Asafetida (optional)
Other ingredients
Half and half or heavy cream
Coconut milk or light coconut milk
Cilantro
Garlic
Onion
Ginger (you can buy this pre-peeled and crushed in a jar)
Basmati Rice
Tomato paste
Jalepenos
Curry leaves (optional)

The hook for this cookbook is the speed at which these dishes can be prepared. With a little advanced planning, I can execute a three course meal in under an hour. All the seafood, chicken and vegetarian recipes have a maximum 40 min cooking time, most are under half an hour. Jaffrey recommends a pressure cooker to speed time for lamb and beef dishes. Prep is usually chopping a few items like chilies, onions or garlic and measuring out some spices. I’ve made most of the seafood recipes in the book, several of the chicken, and several vegetable and other side dishes. Here are a few of my favorites:

Stir-Fried Green Cabbage with Fennel Seeds
– this is fast, easy and healthy. The caramelized onions add a mild sweetness to the dish, and the cabbage doesn’t get soft enough to lose it’s texture.

Chicken Breasts Baked with Green Chilies and Onions – I made this recipe for the first time this weekend, and it came out delicious. The curry sauce is highly flavorful, and the chicken came out tender and perfect. In general, I try and reduce the fat content in recipes where I can, so I used half and half instead of heavy cream, and reduced the oil by a tablespoon.

Turmeric Rice – This rice is really simple to make, looks beautiful and smells amazing. I make it almost every time I cook Indian food.

Stir-Fried Shrimp in an Aromatic Tomato-Cream Sauce – This recipe is delicious, and it’s worth the extra trip to get the two optional ingredients – curry leaves, and asafetida. There’s a store called Gandhi Bazaar on Parmer near NI that stocks them, and also MGM Grocery on Burnet. This dish is great with the Turmeric Rice and any vegetable you wish. The curry leaves add an intense fragrance and extra kick that the dish lacks without. The creamy sauce and the mustard seeds enhance the shrimp uniquely. I cheat, and get pre-peeled shrimp at Central Market.

As a special treat, I’ve included an Indian recipe by NI-er Tasneem Abbas, who also sells her delicious creations.

Aloo Pakoras (potato gram fritters)

2 potatoes*
1 cup gram flour
2-3 tsp red chili powder (vary to taste)
1 tsp lightly crushed cumin seeds (optional)
salt to taste
water
oil for frying

Boil the potatoes till almost cooked (if they are too soft, they can break before they get in to the frying pan).
Peel and let cool before slicing in to 1/4″ circles.
Mix the flour and spices with enough water to make a thick smooth paste (shouldn’t drip easily from your fingers).
Coat the potato slices with the gram flour paste and fry, turning once, in medium-hot oil.
Remove on absorbent paper when golden and serve hot with tamarind chutney or ketchup.

Tip: to test the heat of the oil, drop a little pinch of the gram flour paste. It should sink a little before rising up to the surface. If it turns color within 5 seconds, your oil is too hot.

*Potatoes can be substituted with other vegetables like cauliflower, peppers or onions.

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