Upcoming Indian Dinner Party - seek your input
Some friends and I are planning a dinner party on Labor Day Weekend and will cook Indian food. We are experienced cooks, but no one has attempted Indian food before, which also means I need to head to my local Indian grocer to stock up on spices! We're considering making:
A meat vindaloo
Chole or some kind of lentil dish
An eggplant dish
Plain basmati rice or a Pilaf
Some kind of bread
Maybe a mango ice cream
I have two Indian cookbooks, Yamuna Devi's Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking and Julie Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking, and know there are some Indian recipes in the Joy of Cooking. The menu isn't fixed, these are just some favorites based on our Indian restaurant experiences. I’d love to do naan, but we don’t have a pizza stone or a grill, so another bread might be better.
I'm wondering if anyone has any specific recipe recommendations from these cookbooks, or has any tips or recipes they want to share. I've perused some past posts and have seen a good-looking recipe for pork vindaloo from Simon Majumdar so I'll probably try that. Due to guests’ allergies we’ll omit tree nuts and fresh cilantro from the menu.
The cooks in our group will spend most of the day cooking together so even if it doesn't all come out great it will be fun!
I would consider skipping the samosas. I find them almost too filling when a full dinner follows.With pakoras, serve a tamarind chutney in addition to mint/cilantro. Consider changing the meat vindaloo to a tandoori or grilled dish. Everything else you are making is saucy. I like bengan bharta for an eggplant dish, but it is also rich. For bread, I would use a simple roti or paratha, again because everything else is rich.
For a particular chicken dish from Sahni's book, I would balance the menu by either choosing a chicken without tomato and using a tomato based sauce for something else, or vice versa. My favorite chicken curry is a combo of a couple different recipes: brown fry onions, lots of ginger-garlic, a bit of tomato, about a cup of yogurt added a bit at a time, chicken. lots of spice (I double the spice in most recipes and the ginger garlic).
I agree with above poster that you need a counterpoint to the richness. For our last indian dinner, I made a salad from Mango & Curry leaves that everyone raved about and it was a nice counterpoint to the other rich foods. It was basically a chopped salad with some lime, cumin, etc. If you are interested, I coul para the recipe.
I make butter chicken (murg makhani) all the time at home and it comes out great.
1 tblsp Raj brand Garam Masala
1 tblsp ground coriander
1 tblsp paprika
6 bruised whole cardamoms
1 tblsp minced ginger
1 cinnamon stick
1/2 - 3/4 stick of butter
Heat in skillet. Marinate overnite some boneless skinless chicken breasts (4 or so) in 1/2 cup yogurt 1 tblsp tandoori paste and bbq grill. Do not overcook. Alternatively, purchase tandoori chicken from a restaurant.
Slice up the chicken breasts ( 1/4" wide, perpendicular to long length), dump in above mixture and stir, spices will stick to the chicken. Things are smelling pretty good about now.
Add two fresh tomatoes drained and cutup (I am currently pulling these from the garden, wow!) Alternatively, use 1 can diced tomatoes. At this time, add 1/4 cup yogurt and here is my own secret ingredient for this dish: 1/4 cup creme fraiche. Most recipes you will see call for cream, this gives the sauce a more complex taste, worth seeking out.
Let simmer some 15 minutes or so. Easy dish really and fantastic. I also have some dried fenugreek leaves (1/2 tsp or so, not too much, the taste is of licorice). I add for a few minutes towards the end of cooking time. Pull and serve. At serving time, add some cut up cilantro.
Some more tips: go to a good Indian supply store and get a tour of the freezers. There is an excellent roti paratha dough brand "Kawan", comes in a green bag, so you can make them in a pan. They are very good. "Raj" brand spices are what you want. "Deep" is another good brand for spices and frozen bread. The naan is alot of trouble to make from scratch (you can use your crank pasta maker if you have one), I suggest getting Deep which has a respectable frozen version, but the Kawan roti mentioned above is superior. I agree with the poppudoms, an easy add on, good for scooping up the butter chicken sauce, just microwave, no need to fry. The jarred coriander and tamarind chutneys generally available are not bad at all.
1) Cook Book you should consider adding:
Madhur Jaffrey's Quick And Easy Indian Cooking (Paperback)
2) As for your Naan question, you can get fantastic frozen naan at Trader Joe's. Also, Indian stores carry frozen paratha dough and all you have to do is flip it in the pan -- its less work and tastes every bit as good !
I've heard so many good things about Madhur Jaffrey's Indian cookbooks that I know I should get one.
A fun thing I've noticed about Amazon is that for some books, including the one you recommend, you can "look inside" and choose the "surprise me" option to see a page at a time. This is fun because you can see some recipes to decide if the book seems appealing. I haven't done it exhaustively, but it seems that each time you click "surprise me" it opens another random page.
But back to your post! Thanks for the bread suggestions. I've tried the plain TJ naan, but have never had paratha - can you describe it? I'll have to look into this option at my local Indian grocery. Though I love making bread in general, this is the area I'd be most willing to compromise on it being homemade.
I had an indian dinner party last winter and had no experience cooking indian, just wanted an excuse to try out my new Ajanta cookbook. Ajanta is a mid-upscale indian restaurant in Berkeley, CA and my favorite indian restaurant ever. They sell a spice box to go with their cookbook and contains 30 indian spices - everything you need for the recipes in the book. You can send your empty spice bags for refills for a $1 each when you run out. Genious! I definitely recommend that. It looks like a cookbook on the outside, but the inside is divided like a small shelf and it has a directory of where each spice is. The recipes in the book are wonderful and there are good descriptions of each dish by the owner, photo tutorials of making breads, menu plans by region of india, tips for indian cooking, wine pairing ideas, and spice descriptions. You can get the book at Amazon.com as well.
we snacked on mini papadums - which you can get at Trader Joes or Whole Foods in different flavors and packaged spicy indian party mix. Also had samosas with mint, onion, & cilatro chutneys, naan, rice. You can get regular or garlic naan at Trader Joes in the frozen section also.
W made my favorite dish from Ajanta - prawns bhuna masala (shrimp in spicy sauce) - as well as Khumb Jahanara (mushrooms with creamed spinach & spices - like saag paneer but w/ mushrooms instead of paneer cheese), Methi Wala Alu Gobhi Matar(potatoes+peas+cauliflower with fenugreek), and Green Beans with Fresh Coconut. Channa Masala is a great reccomendation also and you could make a poori bread to go with it (deep fried puffy bread generally served with chana masala). This is usually liked by people as is daal, which there is a good recipe for on this site. Could also make a paratha (griddled flat bread)
Dessert was mango sorbet and chai flavored ice cream (store bought) and wine was sweet (reislings & gewertztrameiners).
Everything took much longer than thought and we realized that most dishes have a very similar starting base of sauteeing garlic, giner, onion, tomato, and spices, then adding meat/veggies and simmering for a while. Lots & lots of chopping, so if you can do it all at once that's great. Lots of leftovers too, even though 10 people were there. Indian is very filling.
I too was going to suggest pappadums. They cook wonderfully well in the microwave--just 30 seconds to puff right up & crisp--and make a great crispy crunchy snack or appetizer, esp with a simple chutney or relish. Inexpensive, and a whole box goes a long way. I esp like 'em with a simple tomato chutney recipe I found in "Mangoes & Curry Leaves"...paraphrased here: chop up three or four large tomatoes, chop two cloves of garlic, slice one onion, mince a teaspoon of ginger. Saute the onions in butter until well browned, then add garlic & ginger, cooking until garlic is lightly browned. Add in chopped tomatoes, turn heat to low, and cook until tomatoes are soft, skin has separated, and mixture is thickened. Puree mixture with an immersion blender or transfer to a food processor & work until smooth. So so simple but absolutely delicious, esp if your tomatoes are full of flavor.
The menu from your dinner party sounds delicious! I may have to add this cookbook to my wish list so I can expand my horizons of Indian food. In the meantime, I have already ordered the spice kit. What a great idea! I'll follow your suggestion and be sure to chop all the onions (ginger, etc.) for all the recipes at one time!
Some tips from a Indian home cook:
Since you're going to be cooking all day, it would be a good idea to get the stew like dishes done first, since they almost always improve with time and taste fine reheated. So get the vindaloo, chole, butter chicken and saag paneer done first.
My personal preference is to cook rice/pilaf at the very end, sometimes even after my guests have arrived, so that you don't have to reheat it. The aroma of cooked rice that just got done cannot be recreated however you may reheat it a few hours later. I'll add my pilaf recipe at the end.
Also, I would prep the pakora veggies and batter and form the samosas (or prep the dough and filling) ahead of time, but not fry until that is the only task remaining. These two have the best texture and crispness when they are hot out of the oil. Here's a great tip for crispier pakora skin - when the oil is hot and you are ready to fry the fritters, carefully add 2-3 Tbsp of the hot oil to the batter. It will sizzle a bit so watch out. Stir it in and proceed to make pakoras.
Bread suggestion - how about puri (or poori)? You're already going to have a vat of hot oil from the samosas and pakoras. That may make things too rich though. Otherwise ask your local Indian grocer about readymade rotis/chapatis. Yeah I know this about making it at home, but chapatis are a little difficult to learn from a cookbook.
If I may be so presumptuous to critique the menu, it looks like it will be very rich overall. How about adding a kachumber/koshimbir/raita to the menu instead of one of the fried snacks. It will offer a good counterpoint to the rich stuff. From cooking Indian food plenty of times, I've realized that at the end of cooking, I just don't enjoy anything when I eat it. Part of it is because I am tired but part of it is also because of being supersaturated with the heady spices and oily fumes in the air. So that's where my suggestion is coming from. Hee hee and right after suggesting puris too! ;-)
Basic North Indian Pulav
1.5 C basmati rice
1 T unsalted butter/ghee/oil
1/2 tsp cumin seeds
6 whole cloves
4 pods green cardamom
2 small or 1 large bay leaf
2 inch piece of cinnamon
salt to taste
2.8 C water (or just a little shy of 3 cups)
Wash rice in two changes of water and drain thoroughly. Set aside for 15-20 minutes if possible. Heat butter/ghee/oil in a heavy pan on medium heat and add all spices. Stir to let the spices bloom but not burn/brown too much. Add washed and drained rice and stir around a few times - about 2-3 minutes. Add water and salt and stir to combine. Transfer to rice cooker or pressure cooker to cook or you're comfortable cooking on the stovetop then proceed as usual.
To this basic recipe you may add nuts, raisins, diced veggies, saffron etc. Most of these additions are best sauteed along with the spices right in the beginning.
Thanks so much for your recipe and valuable tips. I certainly appreciate your critique too. I was thinking it was a good balance of meats and vegetables without paying attention to how rich everything is!! I'll certainly look into some salad/kachumbar and raita recipes - it would be nice to have some cool and lighter foods.
Nigella has a wonderful salad that is part of a dinner of chicken tikka. It's very simple and quite fabulous. Sliced tomatoes, thinly sliced onion, chopped cilantro, salt and lemon juice. Mix all this together a couple of hours before dinner.
The flavors all blend and it's very refreshing, easy and delish.
One of my favorite Indian dishes is channa masala. Basically, a curried chickpea. I made the following recipe from "Simply Indian" last week and after tasting it wished I had made a double batch. The best part: It's so easy!
Also, I would suggest serving a pappadum - you can buy them from the store dry, and all you do is throw them in some hot oil and they puff up beautiful and delicious. They are great to dip in all sorts of dishes.
P.S. From the following recipe, I omitted the asafoetida and mango powders as I didn't have them handy and it was just as delicious.
2 cups channa/chickpeas (soaked overnight)
3.5 cups water
5 tbsp. veggie oil
1 medium onion (chopped)
1 medium tomato (chopped)
1/2 tsp. haldi (tumeric powder)
1/2 tsp. garlic paste
1 tsp. chili powder
1 sp. salt
1/4 tsp. asafoetida powder
2 tsp. tomato puree
2 cups water
2 medium potatoes (boiled and diced)
1/2 tsp. garam masala
1/2 tsp. khatai (dried mango powder)
1 smal sprig cilandro (chopped)
1. Boil the channa in about 3.5 cups water in a medium-sized pot, half covered, for approx. 20 mins.
2. In a deep frying pan (or wok), heat the oil on medium high.
3. Fry the onion until it is almost golden to light brown, then add the tomato.
4. Add the turmeric, garlic paste, chili powder, salt and asafoetida and fry for 5 minutes.
5. Add the tomato puree and the boiled channa.
6. Cook for about 5 minutes, then add 2 cups of water. Bring the whole mixture to a boil.
7. Add the potatoes, garam masala and khatai (mango) powder. Cook the curry for another 5-10 minutes.
8. Sprinkle with chopped cilantro before serving.
Thanks for sharing the recipe and suggestions, I look forward to making it. Can you tell me the name of the Simply Indian cookbook's author. I did a search on Amazon and came up with two hits.
Also, I don't know how authentic it is, but someone at work once brought in pappadums and puffed them in the microwave! I was impressed by the results - given that no additional fat was used. He said it was his (Indian) sister-in-law's method.
I would do all of that, but, in the beginning, I'd bhuna the spices, by popping some black mustard seeds the hot oil first (be careful to COVER the pan as soon as you add them to it as they WILL splatter), then, once the seeds have done their thing, add some whole cloves, cracked cardamom pods, a stick of cinnamon, and some whole black peppercorns. Then proceed with the onion stage. It'll give you a much richer flavor.