An Intimate Food Adventure with Madhur Jaffrey: India in Jackson Heights & Floral Park

Early this Spring I attended the annual conference for the International Association of Culinary Professionals (IACP) in New York City.  There was one tour that I wanted to partake in but my flight schedule did not allow for me to join it. However, my friend, Kathy Blake who writes The Experimental Gourmand, a fantastic website about getting out and experiencing New York’s local foodscape, kindly offered to share her tasting tour of regional Indian dishes led by Madhur Jaffrey.  I am honoured and touched by Kathy’s generosity and know that you will be ready to partake in your own Indian feast at the end of this informative post.

One of the highlights of the recent International Association of Culinary Professionals (www.iacp.com) conference in New York City was having the opportunity to explore the rich and diverse immigrant food history of the five boroughs through the eyes of experts in various cuisines.  When I saw that there was a Tour of the Indian neighborhoods of Jackson Heights and Floral Park in Queens guided by none other than renowed actress and Indian cookery writer Madhur Jaffrey (http://www.madhur-jaffrey.com/), whose work I’ve followed for years, I made sure to snap up one of the few available places on it.

Our first stop of the day was to Rajbhog Sweets (http://rajbhog.com/) in Jackson Heights.  We were greeted by Nirav Shah and his wife at
their flagship store.  To start off our day, they treated us to squares of a cooked-milk sweet called Barfi and super-syrupy squiggles of Jalebi along with steaming, fragrant cups of Masala Chai.

 

We were also given plates of Dhokla, a soft, fluffy savory cake made with chick pea flour which was dressed with cilantro and black mustard
seed.  Light and delicate just on its own, when paired with a tangy-hot Cilantro Sauce and a citrusy Tamarind Sauce, my mouth perked up with all the taste points on my tongue shouting for more.

 

Ms. Jaffrey advised us that she was “going to make [us] have too many pancakes and breads” during our excursion as she
“wanted [us] to see the breadth and depth of what we eat.”  So, we headed into the kitchen to watch the making of Chapati (also known as Roti), from the north of India, which comes from the word “chap” meaning to slap, based upon the motions used to make the bread.
The version that we had was formed into circles using a small rolling pin, cooked briefly on a griddle, and then finished by being laid directly on an open flame to puff up before being served to us piled high with a swipe of Ghee (clarified butter) on top.

To serve the Chapati, we were each given an opportunity to select a side dish from the gorgeous array of vegetables that
the shop prepares each day, several times a day.  The steaming Chapati, pulled apart to reveal its layers, was the perfect utensil to scoop up the dollops of creamy Dhal, spiced cauliflower, seasoned mushrooms, and hearty potatoes that I’d put on my plate.  I was so enamored of the flaky, layered, crêpe-like texture of the bread that I ignored the fact that this was just the first of our many stops on our tour, and eagerly snatched up another piece when it was offered by our hosts.


After devouring the chapati, Ms. Jaffrey introduced us to “one of best Lassi you will ever have” prepared by the shop’s kitchen.  I’ve never tasted a Mango Lassi quite so gorgeous with its floral body and notes of saffron and cardamom perfume. It was a perfectly refreshing beverage and made me wish this place was closer to where I lived so that I could pick one up whenever I wanted it.


On our way over from Manhattan, Ms. Jaffrey had explained to us that making Khandvi is “a very special art” and that the dish that we would be sampling at Rajbhog Sweets is some of the best in the United States. Chickpea flour, water, buttermilk, and yogurt are combined and then heated over a low flame until it becomes thick and pasty, almost like the dough for choux pastry.  Then, it is spread out in a thin layer on a
table to cool.  That step is the trickiest to achieve, as Ms. Jaffrey related to us.


Once cooled slightly, the mixture is cut into rectangles.  The dough is then rolled up into long pasta-like curls and served warm.  In this case, it was tossed in spicy oil and given to us with a sprinkle of cilantro on top. It was like eating the silkiest egg pasta but with a kick coming at the
end from the oil and a clean, cool finish from the herbs.  This was an amazing start to a very full day.





For our next stop, we headed over to Raja Sweets nearby.  There, we started off by having two different kinds of Paratha or
stuffed griddle breads, one filled with potato and one filled with cauliflower.  These are part of a traditional Indian breakfast but are also eaten at other times of the day, too.  The crisp, hot dough crammed with a savory, smooth filling and cooled down with a drizzle of cool yogurt was the ideal snack.

Next, a plate full of golden-brown, puffed deep-fried breads known as Poori were brought out for us to try.  These were served with two different kinds of chickpeas or Chana: the beige-colored ones that are more familiar and a small, chocolate-hued version.  The latter had a nutty taste and were more bean-like in flavor than their fairer cousins.  Alongside that we also had a bit of Halwa, a nut paste that was more savory than sweet.  We all ate everything scooping it all up with hunks of the Poori.


We then stopped by a pocket-sized Paan Shop to sample Betel Leaf, which I had never tried before.  Watching the vendor carefully prepare each leaf with a slather of rosewater jam and then adding dashes of other flavorings, I had no idea how this would taste in the end and
didn’t know quite what to expect.  After I took a bite, the woodsiness of the leaf combined with the various things layered inside filled my mouth and my senses with a cooling and invigorating sensation.  I could pick up eucalyptus, anise, and mint among the ingredients.
Not too many other folks in the group seemed to enjoy it, but I found it to be refreshing and rather palate-cleansing.

To learn a bit more about what goes into making some of the dishes that we had already tried and those we would be
tasting next, Ms. Jaffrey took our group on a tour of Patel Brothers Supermarket (http://patelbrothersusa.com/newsite/).  Walking through the aisles, we were able to see the wide variety of beans and flours as well as the fresh herbs and unique produce that play a part in creating Indian cuisine.  With our personal guide, we were able to get an insight as to how the foods of India have been translated to fit on the
tables of the United States and how many immigrants seek to preserve their culinary traditions even though they are far from their homelands.


On our way to our next dining destination, we stopped off at a butcher shop in the area, to get a feel for the kinds of meats that also play a role in some Indian dishes.  The counter at the New Al-Salim Halal Meat Shop had products that are definitely not typcially seen in the supermarkets in my neighborhood.  Goat meat and beef shank were on display along with other cuts that are staples in recipes of the
region.

For a taste of Halal food, our next stop was at Kabab King (http://kababking.com/index_2.html).  When we were seated at the table, Ms. Jaffrey explained to us that the “food we know most in the West is Punjabi,” as the people from that region traveled more extensively and set up restaurants where they settled.  We tend to think of India as just one country with a unified cuisine, however, the way that a Hindu family
cooks can vary widely from what a Muslim family prepares.  Even if a dish is called by the same name and the ingredients are exactly identical going into the recipe, it is the little twists in timing or preparation that can mean that the final result has a different flavor profile.  In the end, we were reminded, it is all The Food of India.


Even though we had eaten quite a bit at our first few stops, I was determined to sample at least something from all the wonderful plates and bowls put before us. Naan is one of my all-time favorite types of breads, but I knew I had to restrain myself and took only a small
piece of it to soak up all the other delicious foods.  I took a spoonful of Haleem, the meat and split pea porridge, which was served with
sliced onions, ginger, peppers, and cilantro. The Tandoori Chicken was perfectly charred and tender at the same time, so I added a small piece of that to my plate as well.


The saffron-flecked Chicken Biryani always seems to me to be a great celebration dish.  I still remember the first time that I ordered this colorful combination: white, yellow, and orange rice, sultanas, pistachios, and chunks of savory chicken spiced with cumin and cardamom.  Ms. Jaffrey mentioned that cream, nuts, oil, and saffron were considered expensive items in Indian cooking, which is why bringing them together in a dish like this feels so special.   The version that we ate a Kabab King was fragrant and delicious.  I think that the highlight of our visit for many of those around the table, however, was the Goat Curry, which was succulent and rich with a slight spice to it as well as a backnote of herbaciousness.


We then boarded our mini-bus to head to another area of Queens: Floral Park.  There, we would be sampling some specialties of southern India at Kerala Kitchen (http://www.keralakitchen.com/).  When the donut-shaped Vada were presented to us, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  These savory, suprisingly light-textured pastries, made by soaking and then beating dhal, are not at all heavy or greasy,
even though they have been fried.  After dipping a piece into the spicy sauce and reveling in the contrast between the soft interior and crisp-crunchy exterior, I think I found a new favorite treat.  This would be terrific mid-afternoon snack to chase away the blahs away.


This starter was followed by a plate of large Dosa, or fermented pancakes made with a batter of lentils and rice, and another of Velleyappam.  Ms. Jaffrey told us that the Dosa in restaurants tend to be shaped much larger than those found in served in people’s homes.  Along with the breads, we had a selection of curries, including a smoky Fish Curry, that was probably my favorite of them all, and another dish I really enjoyed called Thoran, which was a blend of coconut, beans, and vegetables.


Our final stop of the day was at Usha Foods (http://www.ushasweets.com/), also in Floral Park.  We were greeted by trays of Bhel Poori, a layered dish of puffed rice and vegetables with a sweet-sour dressing of tamarind chutney.  Having had the dish at a few street fairs, I
sampled only a small bite of this crunchy snack, as I was waiting to see what other delights we would be trying on at this shop.

Despite all the other terrific things that we had eaten that afternoon, when the Papri Chaat, one of my absolute, hands-down favorite snacks, was brought out to the table, I could not resist diving in for one.  As Ms. Jaffrey described it to those who had never eaten it, it is one of those “hot, sweet, sour titlating snack/streetfoods.”  With layers of crispy, smooth, cool, creamy, spicy, and tangy, this dish hits all the flavor notes that your mouth could desire perfectly in one small plate.


We were also treated to a table-side demonstration of how Bedvi, a speciality of Delhi are made.  These puffed breads are filled with spices and seasonings and then rolled into a ball before being fried.  As with the Poori that we had eaten on our second stop, they are served with side dishes, in this case with Churri, a sharp, white radish chutney, and with potatoes in a savory sauce.



We could have lingered there for much longer, enjoying our hosts’ warm hospitality, but our tour had already taken longer than the time we’d originally been told to plan for it.  Still, they would not hear of our leaving before we’d had another cup of Chai and one their delightful desserts: Gulab Jamun, balls of fried ricotta-based dough coated in a sweet, rosewater syrup, to see us on our way back to Manhattan.


At the start of our tour, Madhur Jaffrey had prefaced our culinary exploration by saying that what we refer to as ‘Indian
food’ “varies as much as, say, Danish food does from Greek.”  It was amazing to spend the day with her touring Queens and discovering through our senses and our tastebuds the wide range of rice dishes, vegetables, meats, curries, and breads that encompass the
cuisine of India.  I feel as though we still only managed to dip into a small sample of what this incredibly diverse country has to offer to our palates, which means that another trip to Jackson Heights and Floral Park, if not to India itself, might something I need to plan
for in the near future.

Buon
appetito!

Kathy Blake writes The Experimental Gourmand, a fantastic website about getting out and experiencing New York’s local foodscape and interacting with those who are a part of it at farmers markets, food events and artisan markets.

Egg Curry and Sauteed Spiced Kale: The Colours of Holi for #indianfoodpalooza

I’m not sure if it is global warming or the effects of an almost full moon but here, in Ottawa, where I am currently based, a 40 year old temperature high was broken (we experienced a temperature fluctuation of 20C over 15 hours!).  On days like these when downed winter coats are shed and runners slip into shorts spring fever electrifies the air.  Similarly today, all over India a youthful vitality will energize the streets marking the arrival of Spring and the celebration of Holi.  This festival of colours, perhaps the most popular and secular throughout India, is celebrated on the full moon in between February and March and symbolizes the beginning of a new year, a good harvest and of fertile fields.   

Today all over India people, intoxicated with a child’s playfulness or perhaps by a bhang (cannabis) lassi, will spread joy by throwing powdered colours at one another in wild merriment.

Perhaps to coincide with this jubilant festival bloggers Prerna of Indian Simmer; Kathy from The Colours of Indian Cooking; and Barbara of Creative Culinary initiated a month long celebration of Indian food called #indianfoodpalooza on twitter.

My first contribution to #indianfoodpalooza highlights the traditional colours, red and green, of Holi.  The deep red of sauce of the egg curry symbolizes desire while the green from the sautéed kale represents youth and vigour.  Together these dishes can be prepared for any meal of the day, are great for a change up to the usual weekend brunch, and can be accompanied by some chapattis or basmati rice.

Egg Curry   (Serves 4)

6 eggs

1 small onion, diced

1 teaspoon (2 garlic cloves), finely chopped

1 tsp ground coriander

1 tsp ground cumin

½ tsp ground turmeric

½ tsp ground cayenne powder

½ tsp ground garam masala

1 (16 oz) canned tomatoes, drained (or 1 cup blanched, peeled and chopped fresh tomatoes)

Salt and pepper

2 Tbsp canola oil

½ tsp ground fenugreek leaves (optional)

¼ cup coriander leaves, roughly chopped for garnish

Place the eggs in a medium sized saucepan and cover them with water. Bring the water to boil. When the water reaches a boil turn the heat down to a gentle simmer and cook the eggs for 9 minutes.  Place the cooked eggs in a large bowl of iced water to stop the cooking.  Let cool, drain and peel the eggs. Cut the eggs in half and set aside.

Place the roughly chopped tomatoes into a blender and puree.

Heat the oil in a medium sized saucepan over medium high heat. Add the onion and fry, stirring, for 8-10 minutes or until the onions are golden brown.  Reduce the heat to medium and add the ground spices and cook, stirring, for two minutes. If it seems like the spiced onion mixture is too dry add a couple tablespoons of water.  Add the garlic and cook for 30 seconds to a minute.  Pour in the pureed tomatoes and season with salt and pepper.  Cook for a couple of minutes then add a half cup of water.  Let the curry sauce simmer for 10 minutes.  The finished sauce should be slightly thinner than a ‘basic tomato basil pasta sauce’.  Add a few tablespoons of water if it is too thick.  Add the ground fenugreek leaves, if using.  Adjust the seasoning with salt and pepper.

Carefully slip the egg halves into the sauce to warm through before serving.  Garnish with chopped coriander.

Sauteed Spiced Kale      (Serves two adults and two kids; double recipe if serving four adult)

1 bunch of kale, washed, stems removed and roughly chopped

1 small onion, thinly sliced

1 tsp garlic, finely chopped

1 tsp ginger, finely chopped

½ tsp ground cumin

¼ tsp ground turmeric

¼ tsp ground cayenne

1 ½ Tbsp canola oil

Salt and pepper

½ to ¾ cup of water

Juice of ½ a lemon

Bring a large pot of water to a boil. Add the kale and cook for 8-10 minutes or until soft.  Drain and submerge in a large bowl of iced water. When cold enough to handle drain the kale and squeeze out most of the water.  Finely chop the squeezed kale.

Heat the oil in a medium sized frying pan over medium high heat.  Add onion and cook, stirring, for about five minutes or until golden brown.  Reduce the heat to medium, add garlic and ginger and cook, stirring, for a minute or two. Spoon in the spices, a couple tablespoons of water and cook for two more minutes.  Toss kale, a ¼ cup of water into the pan, season with salt and pepper, and sauté for 3-4 minutes.   Add the lemon juice to heighten the flavours and adjust seasoning accordingly.

Note:

  • When I am making this dish, but not served with the egg curry, I often add a diced plum tomato at the same time as I add the kale.
  • Other greens such as swiss chard, beet greens or spinach can be used but the blanching times at the beginning of the recipe will be significantly reduced (boil the above green for only a couple minutes, at most).

Photos and recap of Bowich Curry House

I wanted to give an update on how the Bowich Curry House went much sooner but work and my travels to a fantastic cookbook conference in New York have kept me busy. 

We had incredible response coming from friends and fellow tweets and Facebookers. We sold out very quickly and in fact could have filled the room twice over. Thank you to all who expressed interest but for whom we could not find room. Your names have been kept aside for priority contact when the next Bowich Curry night happens (look to end of March or early April).

Samantha, Gavin (owners (and siblings) of Bowich) and I were pleased with how the night went off. There was the odd kink the needed to be worked out. As expected for their first sit down event. But it was for a great cause. In all we were able to raise $200 dollars for the Prerna School for Girls in Bihar. It may not seem like it is a lot of money but in Bihar it goes a very long way.

We wanted to record the first Bowich Curry Night so my photographer friend Fred Dekkal volunteered to help. All of these fantastic shots are his. Thanks Fred! 

Bowich Sandwich Shop was briefly tranformed in to ‘Bowich Curry House’ for a few hours.

bhel puri, pani puri/golgappas, aloo bonda

Jess, Tayse and Sam filling the pani puris/ golgappas with diced sweet potatoes, chickpeas, and green mangoes. The first course featuring bhel puri, pani puris, aloo bonda (frying in the karhai) and kachumber salad.

Kerala Backwaters duck curry with root vegetables and lentil papadums anticipating their entrance to the dining room.

Caramelized vanilla/rum roasted pineapple and crumbled coconut peanut ladoo anxiously waits to be dressed with some silky Alphonso mango mousse.

We all had a great time tasting some treats of Goa and Kerala and hey even Shahrukh Khan decided to join us!

Bowich Curry House

For a while now I have been toying with the idea of doing a series of regional Indian dinners.  It wasn’t until I walked into the well designed space at the Bowich Sandwich Shop in downtown Ottawa that I knew I had found the space. Even better was that after speaking with Samantha, one of the owners, I learned that they were thinking of starting an occassional event called Bohemian Night Presents. So for those of you who live in the Ottawa area Bowich and I are co-hosting the inaugural Bowich Curry House on Friday February 3rd, 2012. 

 The menu features non vegetarian and vegetarian regional dishes from Goa to Kerala.  A portion of the monies raised will be donated to the Prerna School for Dalit Girls.  Stephanie Nolen from the Globe and Mail has started a series called Breaking Caste.  The poster below has more information about the menu and reservation contact details. Looking forward to seeing you there!

 

Favourites From My Indian Cookbook Collection

Recently, after a delicious North Indian inspired dinner my in-laws and some of their friends reminisced about coming to Canada over 40 years ago with practically no knowledge of their way around a kitchen.  They spoke of their culinary ‘apprenticeship’ under Mrs. Balbir Singh. Long before Madhur Jaffrey and Julie Sahni, Mrs. Singh’s Indian Cookery, first published in 1961, was THE English language cookbook Indians abroad used to recreate deeply missed flavours of home.  A decade or so later they continued their culinary education from mentors Julie and Madhur.  Leafing through each book kitchen scribbles in the margins reveal adjustments, additions or omissions of ingredients to personalize these favourite dishes. The books and written recipes are no longer needed. The quantities and spicing of their signature dishes were long established in their fingers and hands.  

 Cookbooks

   

 

These seminal books have made their way on to the shelves of our kitchen library.  But so have many many others.  Listed below are some of my present favourite Indian cookbooks, guidebooks and current affair related books. 

My Indian cookbook collection numbers over a hundred. Stacked they are much taller than my 2 ½ year old.

These are the cookbooks that I tend to use as regular resources.  In general, they are dependable, the majority of the recipes are clear and actually work and most importantly they are wonderful bridges to the different cultures and regional cuisines of India.  Some of you may be surprised of certain books not appearing on this list – I would love to hear your feedback- as I may not have them but mostly likely did not   include them for certain reasons. 

The following two books are solid, strong foundations for engaging with Indian cuisine. Both published in the 1980s they do not have the great visual impacts that today’s cookbooks have.  I would be very interested in seeing what they would look like had they been published within the last ten years.

 

A Taste of India by Madhur Jaffrey (1985)

A good introduction to the culinary traditions of the regional tastes of India.  The section on general ingredients provides nice descriptions of the common and unfamiliar ingredients.

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Indian Cooking Recipes adapted for the American Kitchen by Julie Sahni (1980)

The first half of the book solidly describes the principles of Indian cooking ingredients; equipment; techniques.  A large portion of the recipes are North Indian influenced and will be familiar to Indian restaurant goers. 

 

 

 

 

The Indian Kitchen by Monisha Bharadwaj (1996)

I constantly refer to this book. A fantastic resource which provides great descriptions of the ingredients found in the Indian pantry.  I really like how with each ingredient Bharadwaj explains how it grows; its appearance and taste; buying and storing tips; medicinal and other uses and culinary uses.  There are two or three recipes with each ingredient. They are ok but not great. But the real value of this book is the background on the ingredients.

 

 

Mangoes and Curry Leaves: Culinary Travels through the Great Subcontinent

by Naomi Duguid and Jeffrey Alford (2005)

I have enjoyed their books since the very first one, Flatbreads and Flavours, was released.  I received Mangoes and Curry Leaves prior to moving to the Subcontinent and eagerly devoured it.  Their food/ travels stories and photographs are fantastic and I often play a game with myself trying to figure out who experienced/wrote each story.  The recipes are not solely India focused (Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh) but they are clear, concise and tasty.  They are fabulous culinary interpreters. I am also drawn to their suggested reading lists and bibliographies for further resources of interest.  As the book is rather large and could easily be considered a coffee table book I often re-write or photocopy the recipe I am preparing so that I do not get turmeric stained pages. I am very much looking forward to Naomi’s upcoming book Rivers of Flavour: Recipes and Travel Tales from Burma, about the culinary landscape of Burma (which I believe may be available in Autumn 2012).

 

Indian Essence by Atul Kochar (2004)

Sometimes professional chefs are not great recipes adapters- but this one is good. London based chef Kochar, owner of Banares Restaurant, has put together a book with relatively simple and straightforward recipes from different regions in India.  The outcome is often clean and contemporary flavours.

 

 

 

Vij’s Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala (2006)

Another book written by Vancouver based Vikram Vij and his wife Meeru Dhalwala. What I really like about their books are the adaptations of traditional dishes using local, sustainable ingredients from around British Columbia.   Last year they came out with a second book, Vij’s at Home: Relax Honey: The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking.  I have not cooked from it but friends have and they seem to like it. During my one and only visit to Vij’s I noticed that there are only women who do the cooking.  Having worked in many kitchens in India I think this was a sound decision for harmony, consistency, and organization around the stoves.  It also may be the real secret ingredient to the restaurant’s success.

 

 

Regional Focused Cookbooks

The Calcutta Kitchen by Simon Parkes and Udit Sarkhel

A wonderful introduction to the Bengali kitchen focusing on the metropolis that is Calcutta and the influences which have helped create such a unique cuisine.  A nice blend of stories and recipes.

 

 

 

 

Bangla Ranna The Bengal Cookbook by Minakshie DasGupta

This is believed to be the first book in English on Bengali cooking.  In honour of their mother, Rakhi Purnima Dasgupta and her siblings founded the restaurant Kewpies, in Kolkata) to share their mother’s Begali love for eating and cooking the Bengali way.  If you are a fan of pungent sharp mustard oil, jhols (stews) and fish the book (and restaurant) are a good introduction to the Bengali kitchen.

 

 

 

Classic Cooking of Punjab by Jiggs Kalra and Pushpesh Pant

Wanting to prepare authentic flavours of the Punjab?  This is the place to start. 

 

 

 

 

 

Classic Tamil Brahmin Cuisine by Viji Varadarajan (2008)

I had the pleasure of meeting Viji shortly after this book came out. She graciously welcomed me into her home and prepared a dizzying array of delicious classic vegetarian Tam-Bram dishes.  She owes much of what she learned from her grandmothers, mother and mother in law (as most children in India continue to do) and fittingly dedicates the book to the ‘generations of women in our families who quietly, anonymously carved their personalities in the cooking traditions and rituals of daily lives’.  Her inspiration for the book was her own daughters, who live outside of India, but want to continue preparing the dishes from their childhood. So, she has taken traditional recipes and adapted them for a modern kitchen (and a modern dual income lifestyle). The recipes are very easy to follow, nutritious and wholesome.  This is a great book if you want to learn how to cook and prepare Indian vegetables such as okra, snake gourd, fenugreek leaves, drumstick, raw banana, bitter gourd. A visit to the South Asian shop will be a must to get ingredients for these recipes. 

 

The Best of Samaithu Paar The Classic Guide to Tamil Cuisine by S Meenakshi Ammal  (1951) 

When I want Indian food that is flavourful, easy to digest, and meat-free I turn to the South Indian ‘coffee’ shop comfort foods:  dosas, idlis, uttapams, vadas,  sambhar, rice dishes and simple vegetable ‘stir fries’. To make some recipes such as idlis you will need to buy specialized idli steaming holders and perhaps the odd Indian vegetable if you are looking for more authenticity.

 

 

The Kerala Kitchen: Recipes and Recollections from the Syrian Christians of South India

by Lathika George

While reading the recipes and sentimental essays, which describe recollections of family feasts, visits to the toddy shack and under grandmother’s culinary tutelage, the reader is instantly transported to the coconut inflected culture and flavours of the Syrian Christina community of Kerala.  The traditional elements of food, family and community are clearly important to the author and she wants for these values to remain for future generations.  

 

 

 

 

Food Writing, Novels and Guides

 

A Matter of Taste: The Penguin Book of Indian Writing on Food (2004)

Salman Rushdie, Vir Sanghvi, Rohinton Mistry, Jhumpa Lahiri, EM Forster, Amitav Ghosh, RK Narayan are a few key ingredients which comprise this appetizing anthology.  I was particularly taken with the introduction by editor Nilanjana Roy and hope that one day she can devout some time to produce a book of her own on the culture of Indian food.  

 

 

The Illustrated Food of India (A-Z) by KT Achaya (2009)

I cannot readily think of anyone in the present Indian food writing community who matches KT Achayas interest and passion for the flavours of regional and historical Indian food (maybe Pushpesh Pant).  As the back cover says, this book analyzes the historical, regional and religious influences of Indian food showcasing the intricacies of the various subcultures of India through their cuisines. Each time I pick up this book I gain even greater respect for the diversity and complexities of the cuisines of India.  

 

 

Curry: A Biography by Lizzie Collingham

This book tells the history of India and its rulers through their food. It follows the story of curry as it spread from the courts of Delhi to the balti houses in England, from the tiffin carriers of Bombay to the army canteens of Japan.  The author reveals great stories about the history of ‘curry’ and the book is very well researched. Collingham adeptly show that the majority of Indian dishes are the product of a fusion of different food traditions.

 

 

 

Nectar In a Sieve by Kamala Markandaya

Just as I was to embark on a trip to India last January a friend asked me if I had read this book.  Luckily, a bookshop in Kochi had it stocked.  The story is set in a village in South India just after Independence.  It portrays the lives of a village farming family as India embarks on a path of development.  Although written in 1954 the trials and tribulations that the matriarch of the family, Rukmani, encounters rings true to what is happening now almost 60 years later.  I am eager to get my fingers on another of her books, A Handful of Rice. I would not be surprised to find out that the author, Kamala Markandaya, influenced many of the future great Indian authors (some in the anthology listed above) who write in English.  This book may be hard to find outside of India.  Used bookshops and libraries would be the best place to start.

 

 

Eating India: Exploring a Nation’s Cuisine by Chitrita Banerji (2007)

A relatively quick and easy read that pulls you in as she describes her explorations of different regional tastes.  It is a nice blend of food writing and travelogue. Like Curry: A Biography, Banerji shows how restructuring old customs and making innovations is what India is all about: food in India has always been and still is fusion- one that is forever evolving.

 

 

 

Chef by Jaspreet Singh

Set in Kashmir, this book focuses on Chef Kirpal Singh’s trip from Delhi to Kashmir to cook for a previous commanding officer’s daughter’s wedding. As he travels by train he reminisces about his early years as a cook in the Indian army along the Kashmir border.  Through food and chef Singh’s life the author tries to show the challenges and subtle similarities of the conflicting communities in Kashmir.  At times perhaps overly descriptive using food metaphors but an interesting way of incorporating food into the long standing dispute in Kashmir.

 

 

Highway on My Plate: The Indian Guide to Roadside Eating by Mayur Sharma and Rocky Singh

I first met Mayur when he and his wife hired me for an event as part of their wedding a few years ago.  They wanted me to help create a menu which was a balance of modern Indian and Vietnamese (part of his wife’s heritage) flavours.  I quickly learned that he was part of a unique team (he the vegetarian and Rocky the carnivore) which tasted the roadside stalls and restaurants throughout India and offering their honest, simple and often humorous reviews of the food (as scene on NDTV’s Highway on My Plate).  This book is not India’s Michelin guide but rather a good summary for someone who is planning to travel throughout India and wants to stay out of the pricier hotels and restaurants.  Some knowledge of Indian food will be required to read through the lines to find the real roadside/village gems.

 

 

Love Travel Guides for India by Fiona Caulfield

Guides for Delhi, Mumbai, Begaluru, Jaipur/ Rajasthan, Goa are now in circulation.

 (Chennai, Kolkata, Hyderabad, Kerala and Sri Lanka are is the works)

Often the traditional guidebooks do not have the time to search out the hidden gems of these cities: Heritage hotels, delicious regional restaurants, independent artisans and wonderful insights about what shapes the personality of each city can be found in this series.  Holding a guidebook in your hands you realise that Fiona Caulfield has a passion for supporting independent artisans and craftspeople.  The book covers are printed on traditional hand woven Khadi fabric made in Andhra Pradesh and the inside information is printed on hand made paper.  A definite must have.

 

 

In Spite of the Gods: The Strange Rise of Modern India by Edward Luce

I found this book was really good at examining the changes occurring in ‘Modern India’.  That being said, I think it best to leave it to a seasoned and respected book reviewer, William Grimes of the NY Times,  to provide a thorough summary of this book.

 

Relatively New Books I Hope to Get and Read 

 

Tasting India by Christine Manfield (2011)

This is a BIG book. Had my hands on it at the Cookbook Store in Toronto but am hoping that it may makes its way into my library via a gift.  Very much a coffee table book I don’t really see it being easy to use in the kitchen.  What I did find interesting was the extensive list of suggested accommodations and food related restaurants/ sights that the Australian author provides.  A good resource for anyone heading over to India (although many of the accommodations featured are on the high priced/luxury end of the scale).

I have read a few reviews of the following books and am eager to read them to see each author’s perspective on the ‘new’ India.

India Calling: An Intimate Portrait of a Nation’s Remaking by Anand Giridharadas (2010)

 

 

The Beautiful and the Damned: Life in the New India by Siddhartha Deb (2011)

Happy cooking and reading!

Mulligatawny Soup

Anglo Indian lamb soup

Mulligatawny soup is perhaps one of the most well known Anglo-Indian dishes that came out of the Raj, the period of the British rule of India. Jennifer Brennan’s culinary memoir, Curries and Bugles: A Cookbook of the British Raj, is a solid account of what the cultural and culinary life was like for the British living in India from the late 19th century up to 1947, the time of Indian Independence.  In it she describes how mulligatawny soup is a derivative of South Indian rasam, a watery broth of lentils, ground spices, made slightly sour with tamarind. Since the soup course is not really part of an Indian meal it was most likely a British memsahib (“housewife”), who wanted to offer a unique soup to their guests, and asked her cook to come up with a solution.  It really is that first South Indian cook, and not the memsahib, who should be credited with the innovative idea of merging his staple daily rasam with vegetables and meat to create a satisfying soup.

As the weather turns colder this is a great soup to have as a light meal. This recipe uses local lamb, from La Ferme Albe, but chicken can also be substituted.  Including diced and blanched potatoes, carrots or turnips as a garnish can make this a more substantial soup.  With only a couple of omissions and additions a vegetarian version is quick and easy to make (see end of recipe).  

  2 tbsp vegetable oil or ghee

1 pound (1/2 kg.) cubed lamb leg or shoulder; or substitute with chicken thighs on bone

1 medium sized onion, finely chopped

16-20 curry leaves

1 tbsp garlic, finely chopped

1 tbsp ginger, finely chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted and ground

1 teaspoon coriander seeds, roasted and ground

½ teaspoon ground turmeric

½ teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne (for mild) or 3/4-1 tsp for a kick!

1 bay leaf

2 plum tomatoes, finely chopped

¾ cup masoor dal (split red lentils)

6 cups chicken stock, vegetable stock or water

1 (400ml) can of coconut milk

4-6 tbsp tamarind water or to taste

Salt and pepper

Coriander leaves, for garnish

Fried onions, for garnish (optional)

 In a medium sized pot, heat oil over medium heat.  Add onion and cook for 10 minutes until soft and translucent.  Add curry leaves, garlic and ginger and cook for a few minutes.  Stir in ground spices, bay leaf and cook for another couple of minutes.  Add lamb, salt, pepper and cook until the lamb has changed colour. Toss in tomatoes and red lentils.  Cook for another minute then pour in chicken stock.  Bring to a boil, reduce to a simmer. Skim off any foam that rises to the surface. Cover and cook over low heat for about 45 minutes or until the lamb pieces are fork tender.

 While the lamb is gently simmering, place 1 cup of basmati rice in a small pot. Cover with 1 ½ cups of water and bring to a boil. When it has reached a boil, cover and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 12 minutes then turn off the heat.  Keep the lid on and allow the rice to steam for another 10 minutes.

Remove lamb pieces from the broth and dice or shred. Set aside.

Remove and discard bay leaf and curry leaves (if some remain, no problem).  

 Place broth in a blender and puree. Return to pot and keep warm over low heat.  Pour in the coconut milk.  Stir in tamarind water, to taste. Adjust seasoning with salt, pepper and tamarind.

 Ladle some soup into a bowl. Spoon a 1/3 cup of cooked rice in the centre of soup and top with some diced lamb, coriander leaves and crisp fried onions, if using. Accompany with papadums.

 Serves 4 as main course; 6-8 as appetizer

Note: If tamarind liquid not available you can substitute with lime juice to taste.

 For Vegetarian Version:

Replace lamb with bite sized pieces of mushrooms.

Replace chicken stock with vegetable stock or water.

Reduce cooking/simmering time to 20 minutes.

Remember to remove and set aside mushrooms before pureeing soup.

Other cooked vegetables (ie boiled cauliflower, fried eggplant or stir fried greens) or pulses (such as cooked chickpeas/ or other pulses) can be added at end as a further garnish.

A warming beef and root vegetable curry

This recipe is one that I recently wrote for our local community newspaper.  Inspired by some of the dedicated farmers who sell locally raised, hormone and anti-biotic free meat at the Landsdowne Farmer’s Market. The vegetarian dishes of India are fantastic but so too are many of the meat dishes.  This recipe, one could interpret it as a spiced beef stew, is a good introduction to a simple meat curry.  Play around with the spice combinations to tailor it to your own preferences and tastes. Lamb, pork, bison or elk can be substituted but cooking the time may need to be adjusted.  Typically, vegetables would not be added to such a dish but by doing so you end up with an easy substantial meal.  I love making the curry at this time of year as I find the shades of orange, rust, yellow, white and speckles of green on the plate mimic what is happening in the fields and forests during mid-autumn.  Serves 4.
2 pounds (1 kg) stewing beef  in 1 ½  inch cubes
2 medium white onions, finely chopped
1 tbsp garlic cloves (3 cloves), finely chopped
1 tsp fresh ginger, finely chopped plus 1 tbsp julienned ginger for garnish

1/2 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp cumin powder
1/4 tsp cayenne powder (family friendly); ½ tsp for a spicier curry
3 tbsp vegetable oil
1 green chilli- seeds removed- finely chopped
2 medium tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
Salt and pepper, to taste

1 ½ cups assorted root vegetables (carrots, turnips, potatoes, squash) cut into bite sized pieces

Preheat a heavy bottomed large saucepan at medium heat.  Add cumin seeds and dry roast for about 2 minutes or until aromatic and dark brown.  Remove cumin seeds and set aside.

Pour vegetable oil into pan and increase heat to medium high.  Toss in onions and cook for about 5 minutes or until golden brown.  Add cayenne powder and cook for 30 seconds or until oil starts to separate from the onions.  Add chopped garlic and ginger and cook for 30 seconds. Stir in cumin powder and cook for 2 minutes.  Add stewing beef and season with salt and pepper. Cook, stirring regularly, for about 15 minutes until all of the meat has changed colour and has lightly browned. Toss in tomatoes, green chilli, toasted cumin and a quarter cup of water.  Cover and simmer over low heat for 45 minutes or until tender.  Occasionally give the meat a stir.  Once the meat is tender, remove the cover and simmer until most of the liquid has reduced but still lightly coats the meat.  

While the curry is simmering, bring a large pot of salted water to boil.  Toss in one type of root vegetable and cook until tender. Remove with a slotted spoon and set aside. Repeat with other vegetables, if using.

When you are happy with the consistency and tenderness of the curry gently stir in the cooked vegetables. Check and adjust seasoning, if need be.  Garnish with julienned ginger and roughly chopped coriander and serve immediately.

The beef curry can be served with rice, naan or homemade paratha.

The photo taken above is by my friend Nadia of www.redsonjadesigns.com

A Dal for Fall: Squash Red Lentil Coconut Dal

The subdued shades of green, so dominant throughout the summer months, in our gardens and at farmer’s markets, are quickly being replaced with fantastic bursts of golden yellow and brilliant orange. Acorn, butternut, crooked neck, hubbard, and kabocha are some of the different squash varieties, which can easily be substituted for each other in your favourite squash recipes.  This creamy textured squash and red lentil dal will guarantee to provide warmth as the autumn chill arrives. Toss in a generous handful of chopped spinach or bitter greens near the end of cooking to add more vegetables to the dish. It is worth searching out fragrant fresh curry leaves, whose aroma will nicely blanket your kitchen, and whose flavour, I promise, you will quickly find addictive!  Serve with rice as a light meal or all on its own as a satisfying soup.

 2 ½ cups squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1 inch cubes

¾ cup split red lentils (masoor dal)

1 tsp cumin powder

1 tsp coriander powder

½ tsp turmeric powder

¼ tsp cayenne or chile powder

4 cups of water

1 cup of canned coconut milk

1 to 1 ½ tsp salt

 Tempering

2 shallots or 1 small onion, finely sliced

3 garlic cloves, finely chopped

½ tsp mustard seeds

1 branch (8-10 leaves) fresh curry leaves

2 dried red chiles

2 tbsp vegetable oil

2 tbsp coriander, roughly chopped

 Put squash, red lentils, spice powders and water into a medium sized pot. Bring to a boil and skim off scum.  Reduce heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 15 minutes. Add salt and check to see that both squash and lentils are cooked. If not, cook for another 5 minutes or until tender.  Stir in one cup of canned coconut milk.

 Prepare the tempering:

Heat vegetable oil over medium high heat in a small frying pan. Add mustard seeds.  When they begin to pop add sliced shallots, curry leaves and dried red chiles. Cook for 5 minutes or until the shallots are light brown and translucent. Add the chopped garlic and cook for a minute.

 Spoon all of the tempering mixture into the dal.  Adjust seasoning, if needed.

 Garnish with chopped coriander and serve.

Grilled Chaat Masala Corn; Goa Green Chutney; Kachumber Salad

 My weekly basket from Teamwork CSA has been overflowing with fantastic organic produce; cobs of corn, cucumbers, heirloom tomatoes, onions, radishes, and the most perfect bright green coriander.  Throughout the summer the following three recipes have made their way onto my plate at various separate meals. However, this past week they all finally met, introduced themselves to each other, mingled on my thali and in my mouth resulting in a flavourful, light and immediately satisfying meal. In an effort to try and keep summer from leaving us I plan to make this meal at least a couple more times in the following weeks.

 

Grilled Corn with Chaat Masala

 The great thing about walking the streets of Delhi is happening upon a random roadside food stall.  Typically it is either someone selling some variation of chaat , chai or cooking something over coals.  There was one vendor I would occasionally visit who would change his simple menu with the seasons. Most memorable was his winter dish of boiled sweet potato which caramelized as it was reheated over the coals.  A close second was his monsoon special of aromatic bhuna bhutta (roasted corn).  He would take fresh cobs of corn and slowly roast them until the outside was a deep brown. He would then dip a wedge of lemon into a chilli/salt mixture and liberally spread it all over the cob.  I loved getting the heat from the spices and the smokiness from the grilling. I always anticipated the juicy tender kernels of the sweet corn that my family would buy from the Mennonite farms in our area (when in Ontario) but would find the kernels from the street vendor slightly chewier than I would prefer (due to the variety of corn grown around Delhi).

 1 or 2 cobs of corn per person, shucked and well cleaned
3 tbsp chaat masala                                                                                                                 ¼ wedge of lime per cob of corn
finely chopped coriander
salt, and pepper if desired
dental floss for afterwards!!

 Preheat grill/ barbeque until very hot. Place cobs of corn over medium high heat and grill for 10-15 minutes. The corn needs to be periodically rotated so that it all cooks evenly. The kernels should be nicely browned or even just lightly blackened. As the corn cooks, mix cayenne, cumin and smoky paprika in a shallow bowl. Cut limes into quarters. Remove the corn from grill and set aside. Take a lime wedge and lightly press each cut side into the spice mixture.

 Note: If you prefer, you can pre boil the corn and then grill, if desired.

 If you do not have chaat masala you can simply make a quick spice mixture with the following spices:

1 Tbsp cayenne (reduce cayenne if you prefer less ‘heat’)                                        1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 Tbsp ground paprika

Green Coriander and Coconut Chutney (makes 1 ¼ cup)

 The best version of this recipe that I tasted was shared with me by Aggi, the owner of The Cozy Nook Resort on Palolem beach in South Goa. I’m not sure if it was the slow burning sunset, the bottles of beer or the conversation of remaining longer on this paradise beach but the balance of flavours of Aggi’s chutney were well balanced and fantastic.  The chutney is typically served with Portuguese inspired bread rolls, pau, a buttermilk-like soft roll.   On occasion, I reduce the amount of coconut and increase the amount of coriander to make a somewhat looser chutney. I then spread it in the opening of a small fish, like red snapper, then broil or grill it for a simple meal.

 2 cups coriander leaves

½ cup grated coconut, fresh or frozen (unsweetened desiccated can be used in a pinch)

2 green cayenne chillies

1 tbsp garlic

1 tbsp ginger

4 tbsp tamarind liquid or chutney

1 tsp jaggery or sugar

Juice of 2 limes

Salt, to taste

 Roughly chop the coriander. Place all ingredients in a blender. Puree for a minute. Scrape down the sides of the blender bowl with a spatula to incorporate all of the ingredients. Puree again. If you find that the mixture is not becoming a fine paste, add some water, a tablespoon each time, to get the ingredients to blend well. You may need to add up to 3-4 tbsp of water depending on your blender.  The texture of the chutney should be similar to a pesto. Refrigerate for 2 days.

 Kachumber Salad (serves 4)

 Kachumber (or kachoomber) salad is typically a small dice of cucumber, tomato and onion accented with some chile and ground cumin, occasionally mixed with yogurt raita style, and served as a side dish to a meal- whether a simple paratha, dal, biryani or curry. There are many regional variations all over India. I love eating salads, but slightly chunkier and perhaps more ‘Western’ in style.

 1 cup tomatoes (preferably heirloom), cut into bite sized pieces

1 cup cucumbers, peeled, seeded and cut into bite sized pieces

¾ cup red onion, peeled and thinly sliced

1 cup bell pepper (preferably yellow, red or a mixture), cored, seeded and cut into bite sized pieces

5 radishes, thinly sliced

1 green cayenne chile, finely chopped

1tsp cumin seeds, toasted, finely ground

salt and pepper, to taste

juice of 1 lime (2-3 tbsp)

1/4 cup coriander leaves, roughly torn or chopped

2 tbsp cup mint, roughly torn or chopped

Place cut vegetables, chile and herbs in a large bowl and season with ground cumin (to your taste), salt and pepper. Sprinkle with lime juice and toss well and serve immediately.

Beet Tomato Salad; Fenugreek Chicken Curry and Poached Apricots, Kashmiri Style

This week throughout the world various religious celebrations have brought family and friends together: Muslims celebrating Eid and Hindus worshipping the elephant God Lord Ganesh with the festival Ganesha Chaturthi. Although I do not practice either religion I still felt it necessary to get some old and new friends together for a celebration.

 A slight chill in the air has arrived indicating soon summer will abruptly end. But there is still much work and harvesting to be done in the farmer’s fields. Ripe heirloom tomatoes, multi-coloured beets, fragrant golden apricots and an organic chicken shaped the menu with my friends: a beet, tomato, cumin salad; fenugreek chicken curry; and poached apricots scented with cardamom and saffron.

 

Beet, Tomato, Cumin Salad 

For the beet and tomato salad I decided to use golden and ruby beets. In order to preserve their colour each beet variety needs to be cooked separately.  Similarly, I used a few varieties of heirloom tomatoes. It is important to try and cut them roughly the same size.  Don’t worry if you cannot find fenugreek sprouts as other seedlings can easily be substituted.

1 lb. beets (small or medium sized are preferred)

1 lb. tomatoes

½ tsp cumin seeds, toasted and ground

3 spring onions, finely chopped

½ cup fenugreek sprouts or micro green sprouts such as radish or sunflower

¼ cup coriander, roughly chopped

Juice of 1 lemon

Salt and pepper, to taste

 Place beets in a large sized pot and cover with salted water. Bring to a boil, reduce heat to medium high and cook for about 30 minutes or until tender. Drain and let cool for about 5 minutes or until cool enough to handle. Use your hands or paring knife to peel the beets.  Cut beets into bite sized wedges or pieces.   Place in bowl with cut tomatoes. 

 While the beets are cooking, core tomatoes and cut into bite sized pieces.  Place in a large bowl.

Sprinkle cumin, salt and pepper over cut vegetables. Toss in lemon juice, spring onions and sprouts. Mix the salad well and adjust seasoning if needed. 

 Garnish with coriander and serve.

 Fenugreek Chicken (Methi Murg)

 This Punjabi chicken dish is one of my favourites. It is a great dish to serve large groups.  I learned how to make it with dried fenugreek leaves, known as kasoori methi.  If you are fortunate to get your hands on some fresh fenugreek leaves substitute one large bunch for the dried fenugreek. Simply wash and roughly chop the fresh leaves and proceed as normal for the remainder of the recipe (no need to soak the fresh leaves as required with the dried ones). 

 1 kg boneless chicken thighs (breast can also be used)

1 ½ cups diced onion

3 tbsp ginger, finely chopped

3 tbsp garlic, finely chopped

8 green cayenne chillies, slit lengthwise

1 box (25 grams) dried fenugreek (kasoori methi)

6 tbsp vegetable oil

 1 cinnamon stick

5 whole cloves

5 green cardamoms

1 bay leaf

½ to 1 tsp cayenne powder

1 tsp coriander powder

1 tsp cumin powder

½ tsp turmeric powder

1 cup diced tomatoes (if using canned, do not add liquid from can)

1 cup yogurt

½ to 1 cup water

Salt, to taste (approx. 1 ½ tsp)

 For Garnish:

A generous pinch of garam masala

2 tbsp ginger, julienned

¼ cup coriander, roughly chopped

Place dried fenugreek in a medium bowl and cover with water. Rehydrate for 20-30 minutes.  Drain; discard water; and lightly squeeze out any remaining moisture.

 In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium high heat.  Add onions and cook for 10 minutes or until they are golden brown.  Lower heat to medium and stir in ginger, garlic and slit chillies. Cook for 2 minutes.  Add whole and ground spices. Cook for another couple of minutes. Add rehydrated fenugreek (or fresh, if using) and tomatoes. Stir fry for a few more minutes. Add chicken, some salt, and cook for another 5 minutes or until most of the pieces have turned white and lost their raw colour.  Stir in yogurt.  Add enough water to almost cover the chicken pieces. Cover the pot and bring the curry to a good simmer. Leave the cover slightly ajar, lower the heat and gently for another 15 minutes or until the chicken is fully cooked.

 Adjust seasoning, if needed and garnish with julienned ginger, pinch of garam masala and roughly chopped coriander.  Serve with basmati rice, naan or fresh whole wheat chapattis.

 

Poached Apricots, Kashmiri Style

 This is an easy and light dessert. Scented with cardamom and saffron, it can be made with fresh or dried apricots. I like serving it with ice cream or thickened yogurt and a homemade gingersnap cookie.

 1 pound fresh apricots (or 18-21 dried apricots)

3 cups water

¾ cup sugar

10 green cardamom pods

Pinch of saffron

1 tbsp lemon juice (optional)

 Place sugar, water and lemon juice (if using) in a medium or large sized pot. Stir to dissolve sugar and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium.

 While the syrup is coming to a boil remove seeds from the cardamom pods. Discard husks.  Place seeds, pinch of saffron in a mortar and pestle and pound to a fine powder.  Add to the sugar syrup.

 Halve and deseed the apricots.  Add to the spiced sugar syrup and bring the syrup back to a boil. 

When it has reached the boil, cover and turn off the heat. Set aside and let the apricots steep for about 30 minutes. If making in advance, put apricots and syrup in a container to cool and for storage in the fridge.

 Serve warm with thickened yogurt, ice cream or rice pudding- and gingersnap cookies!