Indian Sampler Sought
I have been leafing through Linda Blandhom's "The Indian Grocery Store Demystified," and am intrigued by the variety of pickles, chutneys and desserts. I would like to find a way of trying small samples of a wide variety of these without having to buy a jar or entire portion of each. I am willing to pay, mind you, but don't want to end up with large amounts of foods I turn out not to like.
Does anyone know of, say, a course where this can be done? Or, better yet, a grocery which opens sample bottles?
Many of the ingredients in Indian cooking are found in Middle-Eastern Near-Eastern cooking. Try the grocers on Atlantic Avenue (Brooklyn) or Kalustyans (Lex @ 28 St) as they often are in jars and can be purchased by the desired weight. The main point is which type of dishes are you interested in? Ingredients for their own sake mean little in the preparation of a garam masala, which creates a unity from a blend of 4 - 10 spices. I would sink some money into a pantry of at least the following: green and black cardamom seeds, coriander seeds, cinnamon stick, hot peppers, allspice berries, nutmeg nuts, asafoetida, cumin (black and white) seeds, turmeric, black mustard seeds, Bengali panchphoram (5 spice mix), nigella seeds, and so on. Then you might try all the types of legumes available and experiment with different blends advised by good cookbook writers (Julie Sahni for example).
Also, one indispensible ingredient is curds, which are fun to make by curdling milk with either lemon or vinegar while warm to separate the, from the whey. This fresh cheese is often substituted with yogurt.
Essentially, select a dish you wish to try, get the ingredients (in as small quantity as you can) and go for it.
re: Allan Evans
Just to clarify...When Indian recipes call for curd, what is meant is something which resembles good quality (usually home made) full-fat yoghurt. This isn't as sour as most store-bought yoghurt is in US.
When they talk about chenna, it's the split curd you spoke of as it is just strained from the whey, not compressed, used in sweets.
When it's paneer, it's the same curds as chenna, lighly salted or not, which are further drained of residual whey and compressed to form a solid mass. This is then cut up or crumbled and used in many ways, pakoras, breads, gravy dishes.
A few suggestions:
You might want to contact the Asia Society in Manhattan with your question about food courses. If they can't help you directly, they probably know someone who can.
Solid sweets (burfis, laddoos, jalebis, rosogollas,etc.) are easy to come by at the many sweets stores dotted around Manhattan and Queens, and also can be ordered online (search "Mithai"). These types of sweet are generally a pain in the neck to make at home because many require Khoa, a type of condensed milk that is time-consuming to make in great quantities, or mucking about with large quantities of sugar syrup.
Kulfi and other ice creams in Indian flavors can be had at Indian grocers.
Pudding-like sweets like kheers, halvas, etc. are best made at home, really aren't hard to make and don't require anything too exotic, just alot of stirring.
Pickles and preserves in small jars or cans are usually between $.99-$3.00 each, so I imagine if you are motivated, a home tasting of a few won't set you back too much. (This plan might also save you from being stuck with a mouthful of something excruciatingly hot in the middle of a store with no relief in sight.) Home pickle making is quite an undertaking, best done in the presence of someone who has some experience. I personally don't know of any stores that sell bulk Indian pickles the way olives or other pickly things are sold, but maybe another visitor can chime in...There are also many Indian grocers online.
Chutneys and sauces(like tamarind sauce, mint sauce,coconut or peanut chutney, etc) are best made fresh at home. Bottled ones are the absolute worst, IMO. If you have a food processor or blender, it is dead easy to whip them up yourself at home for less money than a bottle would cost you.
The simplest or most common of sauces, pickles and sweets are usually offered at any good Indian restaurant. While they are not like home-made, you might like to start with a few dinners out to get your feet wet.
Hope this helps.
Thank you for the suggestions. The book lists 36 pickles and chutneys, however, so buying one of each would be some expense, leaving me with either a very full refrigerator or alot of wasted food. And I'd have to shlep them home. Since it is no unusual for food vendors to offer tasting samples--eg olive oils, fruit at the greenmarkets, etc--I just wondered if one of the Indian groceries might do the same.
I will call the Asia Society.
re: Alan Emdin
It's been my experience that Indian pickles and relishes in jars are often too uniform in spicing: an eggplant pickle, a mango pickle, and a chili pickle, for example, will be distinguishable mostly by texture. (I'm sure the home-made stuff is different, but I haven't been lucky enough to try.) So, if you did actually buy 36 different jars, it's likely that 20 of them would taste more or less the same.
Not to dissuade you in your search--wish I had advice to give--but if you can't find a good sampler, I think buying 3 or 4 different kinds would give you a pretty good idea of the range of pre-packaged products out there.