Precooked Indian Entrees
There are many brands of already prepared Indian entrees that one can buy - at the supermarket, at Indian/Asian grocery stores, and even at convenience/gas stores operated by Asian owners.
One can buy frozen entrees or nonfrozen entrees sold in thin book- sized boxes requiring the contained bags being immersed in boiling water for 2 to 5 minutes (or microwaved if placed in a different container).
The best version of Baingan Bharta (roasted eggplant in tomato sauce and spices) I have had in the nonfrozen boxed containers is made by a brand called "Swad." Other brands like Ashoka have a more bitter taste and do not contain a rich mixture of onions and peas as does this brand. I find that adding fresh spinach to its Palak Paneer adds more body to it as it is much thinner than the Baingan Bharta in consistency. Although Swad labels their oil used as "vegetable oil" (I learned they use soy oil), there is little bitterness in the taste. Swad recently changed the packaging in which the entree is bagged. Its new bag allows the user to microwave the contents directly in the bag. All the other brands I have tried use a pouch that requires removal of the contents before microwaving.
The brand "Tasty Bite" has decent products and uses sunflower oil in its ingrendients.
As far as frozen brands go, I was relatively satisfied with the brand "Green Guru" which is the vegetarian line of the company called "Deep Foods." DF markets the same line of dishes under a different name and uses ingredients that are not as healthy. I have seen the Green Guru line sold only at Whole Foods. Other "natural supermarkets" would probably carry this line.
The brand "Ethnic Gourmet" is now sold at supermarkets. I found their packaging more appealing than their content. Not bad, but not spicy enough for me.
It will be interesting to hear of the quality and taste of other brands. Note that some brands have a taste that are more typical to a region of India, i.e. north vs. south. Your preference for the regional spice mixture will affect which brand you prefer.
Note that some of the boxed Indian entrees are very high in sodium. Some of the better brands offer products with a much lower amount of sodium. Most of the products I have bought require additions to make them more complete, such as adding a bit of yogurt with lemon juice and cucumber on the side to offset the heat from the dish. And of course, basmati rice and a small amount of fresh cilantro to make the dish more authentic!
I've become fond of Jyoti's canned dishes - you can make a meal of some of them (make your own rice).
Wayne Keyser - Yes, I forgot about the Jyoti brand. Last time I checked, they had a very large product line, but retail stores I have been to carry for the most part their 15 oz. canned dishes. The company is known for making their food with healthy ingredients, and I believe one of its founders is a nutritionist and very aware of the importance of using healthy ingredients and procedures in processing food.
I have had only two of their varieties, only one of which I can recall - the Chhole (chick peas with potatoes and spices). It has a different taste than every other version of chhole I have had at restaurants, in frozen entree versions, and in the boil in a bag version. I think the different taste comes from its greater use of tamarind. Unlike the boil in bag versions, the Jyoti can is full of loads of chick peas and potatoes rather than alot of sauce and thin on the other items which the boil in bag versions can be. (The Green Guru frozen entree is the real thing. Their line does a great job of offering very healthy ingredients.)
I recently bought the Jyoti Dal Makhani. I have had that at restaurants, and when the lentils/dal is combined with beans it is very good. I hope this will be decent.
If you get the Jyoti Chhole, try adding some additional ingredients to it, like green peas and chopped up chicken and onions. I spoke to the owner of my small creation years ago, and she liked it very much. I imagine that more creative and experienced cooks than myself could do even more with some of Jyoti's other foods.
Wayne - what other Jyoti food have you had, and how were they? What taste would you compare them to - mildly spiced, more sour, sweet, hot, etc? (In the past, the Ashoka brand used to package their Chhole in cans. I tried several of their foods - they were all bitter, and nowhere as mellow as the Jyoti brand.)
Did you know that Jyoti supplies British Airways with their Indian food served on board? (This is what I heard from the Jyoti people last year. The story of how the Jyoti company came into being is fascinating.)
I'm a big fan of certain Tasty Bite items, which are much cheaper if you order online direct. They Americanize the dish names (I believe Baingan Bharta is called Punjabi Eggplant). The red beans & lentils is excellent too (Madras Lentils?). The Channa Masala is a bit too firm for me, and the palak paneer too pureed for me.
Peter - I, too, like the TastyBite ingredient list, and tried one of their boxed products, don't recall if it was the Chhole or the Baingan Bharta - whichever one it was, didn't have the spice mixture I really enjoy - it wasn't bad, but didn't "light my fire."
I have two boxes of their "Kashmir Spinach" which may be the "Palak Panneer" you referred to. The picture of the dish on the cover looks appealing, with many cheese cubes mixed in with what looks like a mixture of pureed and chopped bits of spinach.
I have found that most of the boil in a bag products puree spinach alot, which is why I find that by adding my own steamed spinach to the contents creates a tasty dish - sort of like a rich sauce for the freshly steamed spinach.
If you have ever tried the Green Guru frozen entree version of Palak Paneer, you will not be disappointed with the thicker consistency of the spinach. Deep Foods makes that same version under a different name for stores that cater to nonvegetarians and/or are not "health supermarkets" like Whole Foods. The ingrendients in what appears to be the same product include such delectables as lard and hydrogenated oils. The Green Guru line uses ingredients like brown rice, canola oil, and other things that will keep us living until we are 120.
In my previous post about the picture of Dal Makhani on the Jyoti brand can cover, the "bean" reference was to my preference for liking the lentils to be combined with kidney beans. I find that at some Indian restaurants, only the lentils are emersed in a buttery sauce. Combining them with kidney beans or other similar beans compliments the lentils and the sauce really well and provides for a more satisfying dish. I have yet to try the Jyoti version, but the picture of the dish looked appealing, and the ingredients list red beans as included with the lentils.
Noticed a sale at Whole Foods of some of the nonfrozen "boxed" Indian dishes. WF carries a line I have not seen elsewhere called "Kitchens of India." The bag is in a triangular type container instead of a rectangular box like all the other companies like Swad, Tasty Bite, etc. Sort of like the shape of a brown paper bag that is neatly folded over at the top, but with a more appealing looking cover.
The notation on the back of the cover refers to the recipes for this line being like those created by the master chefs of ITC Hotels.
I have never had this line, so I thought I'd give it a try. The picture of the Pindi Chana (chick pea curry) looked appealing (and the ingredients listed potatoes, something not included necessarily in other brands, other than the Jyoti line ... two of the ingredients also included pomegranate seeds powder and tea leaves extract - I have NEVER seen any product include these ingredients for such a dish), as did the Rajma Masala (red kidney beans curry). The saag paneer picture did not look appealing, so I passed on it. The spinach mixture looked like a thin soup with a pale green color, not very appetizing.
I noticed that Jyoti who packages their entrees in cans had a very interesting line of products, including their sambar. Their line of products is more expensive than some of the boxed entrees, which are 10-12oz portions vs. Jyoti's cans being 15oz.
In general, boxed entrees run about $2 to $2.50 whereas Jyoti's canned entrees can run from $2.50 to over $3 depending on the store you buy their foods at.
Their serving portion is inaccurate. I believe the number of servings listed for the sambar is four. Hard to believe that that can will last for four people, unless it is used along with other dishes (that also serve four!!). I'd say it's more accurate for their 15oz can to last for two, possbily three servings. If you serve them with homecooked rice and a side vegetable, such as spinach, kale, green beans, etc., Jyoti's canned dishes even at $3 are in line with the price of the frozen entrees that are sold that are about 10-12oz portions that sometimes come with a side dish of rice.