I’m finally venturing into Indian cooking, with all its complexities and wonderful flavors. I’ve started with lentils (dal, or daal, or dahl), making two versions of masoor dal so far that were pretty damn tasty.
Any recipes that you’ve had success with would be appreciated, whether it’s vegetarian or with meat. Any tips also appreciated. I have access to pretty much any spices I want about six blocks from my house, and don’t wish to use prepared ‘curry’ powder, if I can avoid it. Thanks.
I recommend Maggi biriyani paste–I think it’s better than Shaun. But I guess in the end it all comes down to individual taste, so my suggestion is that you shoudn’t assume that all brands are the same.
And see if your local store has Koshy’s garam masala.
You’ll need cardamom for a lot of dishes, and you may want to mix garam masala to keep around. Here’s anIndian Food siteI go to for recipe ideas.
I made a homemade tandoor oven a couple of years ago. There’s no way to make really good nan without something that gets that hot. And real tandoori is way better than any of the oven cooked simulations.
I like to spice up dhal by pouring a hot mustard sauce over the the finished dish. Start your dahl. Then take ghee and cook whole mustard seeds and coriander seeds in it until they crack open. Reduce heat and let them sit hot until the dhal is done. Crush the seeds, then filter the broth out onto a bowlful of dhal.
One of my favorite dishes, and a hit at parties is Madras Tomato Soup. Make tomato soup your favorite way, I usually just simmer canned crush tomatoes for a while. Near the end add the curry mix you like, browned first in a saute pan, and some fresh or frozen peas. I often do this using the canned curry powder if I’m not making a whole Indian meal. Always brown the curry spices to bring out their real flavor.
I like a few spinach and lamb dishes. Saag Goshtis very good, and pretty easy to make.
A question I forgot to ask. The cookbook I have is pretty authentic. Many of the recipes refer to ground red chili. There’s a lot of room for interpretation (and error) with that one ingredient. Are they referring to paprikas or ground hot peppers or something else entirely?
I’ve already bought and used cracked mustard seed, cumin seed, cardamom, garam masala, and turmeric.
Make yourself a big jar of garam masala.
There are as many recipes for garam masala as there are cooks, I think. The one I made:
Coriander seed, cumin seed, bay leaf, half a cinnamon stick broken up, whole cloves, black peppercorns and sesame seeds in a dry frying pan at medium high. (Note: almost all recipes call for cardamom pods, which I didn’t have and hardly any have sesame seeds, which I did have.)
Toss them around the pan until the cumin seeds turn brown. When they’re cool enough, crush them (I use a mortar and pestle cuz I’m old school, plus my 20 year old food processor doesn’t have the blade that’ll crush it right) adding dashes of nutmeg and mace.
Aloo dam - potato curry. Tons of variations online.
IMO the most important thing if you want to play with Indian recipes: find an Indian grocery, and stock up with a ton of spices - whole, fresh, dried. Mustard seeds (a must for vegetable dishes), whole coriander and cumin, asafetida powder, garam masala, fish sauce, red chili sauce, fresh chiles and ginger (keep in freezer and grate as needed), and hey: prepared curry powder is really, really handy so don’t discount it.
Honestly with the right spices and some decent oil, you can turn two potatoes, a couple of tomatoes or a can of them and a can of peas into a gourmet aloo mattar. I cook about 50% of my meals using vegetarian/Indian recipes. Once you have a “base” of spices and some canned or frozen staples you can do amazing things.
American chili powders have different (and I think better) flavors than the small red Asian chilis. I’ve used good chili powders in Indian, but it changes the flavor. There’s something still a little unique about the Asian variety, but cayenne is a pretty good substitute.
The red chili powder that we’re accustomed to in the US is most likely ground ancho peppers, which in turn are just dried poblano peppers, and very low on the heat scale. Unless you’re referring to what is sold in supermarkets as ‘chili powder’, which is usually a blend of ancho, cumin, oregano, garlic and salt. A ‘hot’ chili powder blend just has cayenne added to it.
Yes, and IRT typos and spelling variances: I’ve noticed that most Indian cooking blogs (where I’ve found some of the best recipes) originate in the UK. So there’s an extra layer of possible spelling and terminology variance so you sort of have to stay alert for that!
I get some Indian cooking tips from an aquaintance who passes on recipes (and spices) from his wife to me. But I think there’s a lot of both personal and regional variation, so stay loose. He’ll tell me things like “NEVER serve onions with okra!” or "“My wife’s family would never combine tomatoes and potatoes in the same dish that’s just wrong!” but then I find gazillion recipes recommending both.
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Find yourself a good source of fresh curry leaf. Through the internet, I bought a small tree to grow my own but it arrived damaged. There are a couple of shops I can buy from, but it’s really best to have fresh stuff available. The dried leaf does not impart much flavor.
I love the flavor it gives sauteed vegetables. A friend from Chennai taught me how to make the stuff. Heat oil, add brown mustard seed, curry leaves and chilies or chili powder to taste and then dump in the veggies and stir. It’s about the only way I eat cauliflower any more.