Sunday, February 1, 2009

Indian Cooking

One of my self-imposed challenges for 2009 is to learn how to cook Indian food. Born out of necessity - we love Indian food, but we can't really afford to go out that much to eat it. Also my older daughter is currently on a no-dairy diet, which makes it even harder.

Recipes I have made with reasonable success:
  • Baingha Bharta
  • Sambar
  • Mango Dal
  • Pav Bahji
I won't post all recipes but I will refer you to my inspiration.

Recipe for Sambar

This recipe was given to me by a friend, I think it is her mother's recipe. It takes a lot of work and took me three tries to get it to taste awesome. (Picture stolen from wikipedia, because I didn't think to take one myself. Clearly, I am not used to this yet).

Here we go, with credits to Mrs. Radhakrishnan (I hope I didn't mangle that), in her daughter's words:

"Here's my mother's tried-and-true "from scratch" sambar recipe. I don't know exact amounts, because I always just add enough stuff til it tastes good. It always tastes better on the second day. It should taste both tangy (from the tamarind), coconutty, and spicy (from the red chilis and coriander seeds) and it should have the consistency of a thick stew, and should be creamy brownish in color.

I'm going to try and "estimate" the appropriate amounts for four people:

Part I: Lightly roast a heaping handful of coriander sseds, a heaping tablespoonful of cumin seeds, a tablespponful of channa daal, and about 5 dried red chilis together in some oil in a frying pan. You can also sprinkle some asofoteida powder on the mixture as well. All of this stuff you can get from an Indian grocery store, like Shalimar in Central Square. [Edited by me: My friend later told me to also add fenugreek. I have no idea how much!].

Then, take this roasted mixture and blend with about 6 square inches of chopped coconut, and some water, until you get a fairly smooth paste. (The paste can be very slightly textured, but it tastes better if it's pretty smooth) By the way, Shalimar sells dried coconut pieces, if you don't feel like cracking open a coconut...

Set this aside. This is the spice mix.

Part II: Rinse about 1 cup (?...maybe a little more) of toor daal (can get at India store) in some water. Then cook in water for about 45 minutes (just keep this going while you do other stuff). The daal should be extremely soft, and each individual lentil half should be just about to fall apart. Don't cook it to the point where you can't see the individual daal pieces, but *just* before that point. The daals should be soft enough to just melt away in your mouth. [I used my most amazing brand new pressure cooker for this step].

Part III: Get a package of tamarind root from Shalimar, or wherever. It should be about a 12 square inch block or so...take about 40 percent of it and break it into squeezable pieces. Squeeze each piece into a bowl of warm water. Squeeze as much of these pieces as you can into the water, until it's really dark brown. Then strain so that you just get brown liquid out. This is kind of an art -- knowing how much tamarind extract you'll need. I find that completely squeezing out 40% of a block is enough. But you can always add more later...or dilute it with water is it's too tamarind-y. Set these bowls aside.

Part IV: Finally, using the pot you'll eventually have your final sambar in, pop some mustard seeds in oil (cover the pot when popping). Add your vegetables (if onions, sautee them first), (you can use carrots/peppers/onions, or pearl onions, or okra, or cauliflour/carrots)... [I used okra, peppers and onions] and lightly sautee in oil for just a bit, and add just a hint of tumeric for color. Then add the tamarind water, and cook the veggies in there for awhile til they're soft. Add some salt. Add enough water so that the mixture is a clear, dark brown color.

Then, add the spice mixture slowly. The color should become kind of like a pale brown for awhile, and then, as the spices gel, it should become a thick brown color. Finally, add daal. The sambar should cook for awhile and it will start to thicken. Garnish with cilantro and enjoy!

Variation: The variation is that for part IV, the veggie you add is cubed eggplant (small 1cm cubed cubes) and you also add whole black channa that you've soaked for a few hours. Everything else is the same. this is called "kalla kootu". Kalla means "stone", because the black channas resemble stones."

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