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Indian Food

I spent several years in India and Bangladesh and though never really warmed up to the Bangladeshi food, loved Indian food from the getgo. Back in Canada's capital city, it is not easy to find Indian groceries that carry Indian vegetables that I love (bitter gourd is a good example). There are many Indian restaurants but most twicked the recipes to appeal to NA palate. I am wondering if there are Indian foodies residing outside of India that miss the "real thing", expat foodies that wish it was readily available here, and other lovers of Indian food that are interested in sharing recipes, experiences, cookbooks, etc. Indian food is communal, there is not much pleasure of consuming it alone - please join me here to talk about it.

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  1. 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer changed my life. I cook from it probably twice a week on average. It has authentic regional recipes as well as some of Iyer's own creations. I make some of the best Indian food I've ever had and it's really easy (once you have all the spices).

    20 Replies
    1. re: sushigirlie

      Sushigirlie, someone on COTM nomination thread mentioned the book and I just took 660 Curries from a library and love it - have not cooked from it yet but the recipes sound amazing. What are your favourites? I think that I pretty much have all the spices as I cook Indian and other Asian cuisines frequently.

      1. re: herby

        I've only scratched the surface. Here are some favorites so far:

        All of the rice dishes, but especially rice with yogurt and mustard seeds, rice with potatoes and paneer, fragrant basmati rice with curry leaves, lime-flavored rice with roasted yellow split peas, Sri Lankan pearl rice with lemongrass, and Nimmy Paul's Tomato Rice.
        Wok-seared chicken with mustard greens and spicy soy sauce
        Stuffed baby eggplants with crushed peanuts and chiles
        Pan-seared shrimp with a spicy-hot chile vinegar paste
        Pan-grilled sea scallops
        Nutty-tart bell peppers with peanuts
        Turnips with garlic and black cumin
        Pan-roasted potatoes and onion with turmeric
        All of the legume dishes (e.g., red lentils with a caramel-sweet onion sauce, pureed pigeon peas with ground spices and clarified butter)
        Lime wedges pickled in cayenne pepper and mustard oil

        I could go on. Everything has been good; many things have been great; and some things have been spectacular. In the list above, the shrimp and the eggplant were two of my favorites. I make many of the rice dishes much more frequently. I've made yogurt rice and rice with potatoes and paneer 5-10 times--the former as a light meal, the latter as a side dish.

        Another thing I like is that many of the dishes (e.g., yogurt rice and the pureed pigeon peas (varan)) are staples of millions of Indian people but rarely found in the United States. Cooking from 660 Curries can be a culinary anthropological experience

        1. re: sushigirlie

          What a great reference list sushigirlie, I've pasted the permalink as a book note in EYB so I can refer to your recommendations next time I pick up that book. I'm hopeful that we can make it a COTM in the future and it would be great to have you join us given all your experience w the book! Thanks!

          1. re: Breadcrumbs

            I think it would make a great COTM because like Young and Dunlop, Iyer is a great teacher. The recipes explain the steps and what to watch for so well. The roti instructions are so good I made some perfect ones on my first try!

            My favorite recipe is the halibut in coconut milk, can't remember the exact name, but it is so good. It's the recipe that made me realize turmeric is more than just coloring, it has a great flavor when treated right. I love the list of suggestions too - I have a hard time deciding what to make and what is quick enough for me to manage with two little ones under foot.

            1. re: sarahcooks

              That's such a great endorsement sarah, you've raised some really compelling points. I'd love to try that halibut recipe, I'll have to look it up when I get home. Thanks for your great insights!

          2. re: sushigirlie

            I've recently been exploring 660 Curries more. I put it down at the book store a couple of years ago because I noticed that the recipes seemed to be heavily adapted for the North American kitchen, and that excluding the South Indian recipes (like yummy yoghurt rice), a great many of the basic recipes are very 'Bombay style,' which is not at all a negative criticism of the book, it's just that I usually find myself cooking for people who prefer more Northern/North West flavors of the subcontinent, so the recipes aren't necessarily the most useful for my regular cooking needs. However, I am giving the book a second look these days because it is such a South Asia food-bible. Iyer covers everything you need to know in the universe about sub-continental cooking, basically. I am impressed by so many things about the book. I do find many of the Punjabi/U.P. recipes to be restaurant style (containing ground nuts and cream) rather than homestyle. But I am loving the wide range of Tamilian and Maharashtrian recipes, among others. There are even a handful of Sindhi recipes in the book, and many pan-Indian cookbooks completely overlook delicious hot, spicy and sour Sindhi cuisine altogether. Plus, Iyer articulates so many truths about subcontinental food-culture. He writes in a sharp and eloquent voice, and he's funny. I love some other minute yet profound details about Iyer's views, like the fact that he makes a point to recommend Indian AND Pakistani brands of basmati rice as the best choice for readers. It is really a treasure of a book. I am reading through it now as if it were a gripping novel. Have we had 660 Curries as COTM yet here on CH? We should do it in the near future if it hasn't been covered yet.

            1. re: luckyfatima

              Hah, it's nice to see that other people in the world also read cookbooks like gripping novels. I love this website.
              I agree about having that book as a COTM, or any Indian book for that matter. The only problem I have with the cookbook of the month is that I have so many cookbooks I want to choose, and so few months in which to pick them!

              1. re: Allegra_K

                We had a great time doing Madhur Jaffrey and Julie Sahni for COTM, if you have these books adding to past COTM threads is never a bad idea!

                http://chowhound.chow.com/topics/656234

              2. re: luckyfatima

                Just curious, what brands of rice does he recommend? I usually buy in 5 pound sacks from a South Asian shop. I'm not crazy about the one I have now (I think it's Maharani extra aged), and I don't see familiar brands in the shops near me.

                1. re: luckyfatima

                  Can you compare the Iyer book to India: The Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant, in terms of broad regional coverage and general utility? I have heard that Pant's book makes little concession to Westernization, but is badly edited and formatted. I am debating between the two.

                  I currently cook from Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking, Madhur Jaffery Indian Cooking, and Mangoes and Curry leaves. I like all these books, but the first two are very Mughlai-oriented, and all seem to have varying degrees of Westernization in terms of ingredients.

                  Thanks in advance.

                  1. re: equinoise

                    Honestly I would say splurge and buy both :D

                    Iyer's book is chock full of informative content. It is wayyy more informative than Pant's book, both generally and in specific detail.

                    Pushpesh Pant's recipes are very authentic, no adaptation, but can be hard to decipher, especially if you are unfamiliar with Indian cooking. The recipe methods are bare bones, no hand holding, and sometimes the steps are confusing. Quirky editing oversights are present, too, but certainly don't spoil the book. It is a treasure of authentic recipes-a sheer treasure. He also gives recipes for communities that hardly ever get a mention in Indian English language cookbooks which are meant for an international audience. If you already know a bit of Indian cooking but want to expand your battery of recipes, this is a great book. It has everything. Anything you can think of, it has it.

                    Above I said Iyer's book is adapted for the N. American kitchen---that's not a bad thing. Will your guests know if you are using reshampatti or Kashmiri chile powder versus the cayenne powder that Iyer says you can use? Iyer is saving non-Asian readers a trip to a specialty market for a product that they may only use exclusively when they cook Indian food, which may not be that often. I don't think that is "dumbing down" a recipe, but just being practical. Those who wish to use their Indian market chile powder--- or even Indian market whole dried chiles which they will home roast and grind themselves-- are most welcome to do so. Unlike Pant, Iyer does a great deal of hand holding and gives tips on what moves not to make to inadvertently screw up a dish. He gives some cultural as well as personal information on many dishes. He describes ingredients and advises on how to select them, and so on. Iyer's book is interesting for South Asia food enthusiasts as well as neophyte Indian cooks. Pant's book would be totally confusing and useless for someone who didn't already have a foundation in subcontinental cooking.

                    I'd say Sahni's Classic Indian Cooking, Madhur Jaffrey's Indian Cooking, and then the Iyer and Pant books would be a great collection that would get anyone versed in subcontinental cooking.

                    1. re: luckyfatima

                      Thank you for the great review, luckyfatima! Do you know A Taste of India by Madhur Jaffrey? This is only book by her that I have and love it. Wonder how it compares to India Cooking.

                      1. re: herby

                        I love that book ("A Taste of India", the lamb with pickling spices and the crab curry (with its description of the crabs being opened up like powder compacts) are worth its price. Nice to have one book with the food of different regions being discussed.

                2. re: sushigirlie

                  I am so humbled by your support - I am here should you have any questions as you cook from the book - I love the idea of COTM selection - will be on hand should you have any qs. Thanks so much.

                  1. re: 660 curries

                    How exciting you are posting here on chowhound! I just received my copy of your book today in the mail! I can't wait to read it cover to cover (I too read cookbooks like a novel) and try some of your recipes. :D

                  2. re: 660 curries

                    Thank-you so much for your gracious offer, how wonderful that would be. Congratulations on such a fabulous and comprehensive book, I'm delighted to have it on my bookshelf.

                    1. re: sushigirlie

                      I cooked from 660 Curries for the first time today after reading through it for a few days. I made Braised Okra and Eggplant with Apples; started Bitter Melon recipe and will leave till tomorrow to cook as I am pooped:) I was super excited about the Eggplant recipe as this is the first time I came across one. Years ago in India I had the most amazing eggplant dish (with apples) that my colleague brought for lunch (we used to share our tiffins as one big buffet table) - his Kashmiri wife made it but won't share the recipe - she never said "no" of course, Indian people don't - just never gave it to me:) And I never forgot it. This one, though nice, does not measure up. I have some for tomorrow and hope that it will improve as some Indian dishes do after mellowing out for a bit. Okra was good, not spectacular but nice.

                      Speaking about spectacular, I made Kerala Coconut Chicken Curry (tonight as well - I am on a cooking spree) from Seduction of Rice and it is amazing. Involved but worth every minute spent on making it. Soon after the first bunch of spices went in and onions started to cook, the aroma that came out of the pot was OMG delicious:) And it stayed at the same level as the dish developed. I will continue cooking from both books before I buy one and I have the feeling it will be either or but not both.

                      1. re: herby

                        That Eggplant w apple dish sounds really unusual and delicious herby. Have you cooked many recipes from Seductions of Rice? I wasn't cooking as frequently when it first came out and when I finally go around to looking at it in Chapters, it was so expensive, ($50!) I just haven't felt compelled to add it to my collection. I'd love to hear more about your experience w it. Someone recently mentioned that Random House has started a direct to consumer business in Canada so it may be cheaper through them.

                        1. re: Breadcrumbs

                          Breadcrumbs, I have not cooked a lot out of Seductions of Rice yet - have been cooking for a sick friend lately and have to eat all frozen bits soon as I am moving at the end of May - but it seduced me into buying it:) It was under $25 on Amazon and shipped very quickly - such a beautiful book! I still have 660 Curries out of the library and keep thinking about buying it too but maybe not just yet.

                  3. re: sushigirlie

                    I've got to second the recommendation for this book. While I cannot claim to vouch for authenticity -- I have never been to India nor do I have the benefit of having any family members from there - whenever I open the covers of my copy my biggest problem is choosing what to try, the recipes, while straightforward, do not seem to have been excessively dumbed down to become North American cooking, Indian-style, and so far everything I have tried has been very very good. I am not a regular on this board, but if I were to find myself participating in the COTM community here this would definitely be a cookbook that I would nominate or vote for. I got my copy for COSTCO and it is a fine example of why you should always make sure to visit the cookbook table at COSTCO whenever you are in the store for some other reason.

                    Oh, of course it also is nice to live not far from an excellent produce market that carries a nice variety of Indian veggies, and a large Indian community with several very good groceries only a few minutes further away. :-)

                  4. "bitter gourd is a good example"

                    Assuming it is the same, I find this often at the local to me (it is a drive) Asian Supermarket. Hong Kong Market.

                    I also must say if you are in a national Capital city and not finding what you seek, you are not looking too well. Seek out the neighborhoods.

                    8 Replies
                    1. re: Quine

                      Quine, I do not know where you are but I am in Ottawa and it is not easy to find Indian ingredients; other Asian ingrediants are somewhat easier. I shop at my local Chinatown where all ethnique shops seem to be concentrated. I found some neat Indian nuggets scattered around the city and enjoy shopping at these treasures but do not find a lot of fresh ingredients there. There is a recently (a couple of years) opened Asian market but it caters to Chinese, Thai, Vietnam cuisine.

                      1. re: herby

                        What particular ingredients do you not find?

                        1. re: FoodDabbler

                          I would love to find veggies and greens - bitter gourd, firm and small orka, paneer already made or milk that is suitable for making it ...

                          1. re: herby

                            Is bitter gourd not available in Chinese groceries in Ottawa? Chinese varieties are not identical to Indian ones, but are a reasonable substitute. Okra may be harder to get where you are, and I've no suggestions. There are frozen versions that may work in some dishes. Are there Indian restaurants near you that serve it? You could try asking them. As for milk for paneer, I'm not sure what you mean. Any decent whole milk will do.

                            1. re: herby

                              Herby, also live in Ottawa. One more suggestion....have you checked out any of The Fresh Produce markets. They seem to carry a good selection of different greens and vegetables.

                          2. re: herby

                            You can buy virtually every non-perishable ingredient (e.g., spices and legumes) online.

                            Bitter gourd comes in different shapes. The Chinese bitter gourd is less bumpy than the Indian bitter gourd. It may be that you just didn't recognize it. Do a search for "Chinese bitter gourd" on Google Images.

                            1. re: herby

                              I haven't lived in ottawa for a few years. But There were a couple of Indian groceries in Orleans. There is one on St Joseph near Place d'Orleans but across the street and east a bit. There is also a convenience store names Ainee on Voyageur that carries quite a good selection. .

                            2. re: Quine

                              Bitter gourd is also called bitter melon - in India it's called "karela"....

                            3. You can get bitter gourd at Vaishali's in the West End of Ottawa. They also have some other Indian fruit and veg.

                              2 Replies
                              1. re: zamorski

                                Zamorski, you are my hero! I heard about this shop but the person who mentioned it did not know the name or exact location, just said that it is accross cinemas on Carling - I had no clue what cinemas he was talking about but now know that there is one, still do not know what it is called:) I googled the address and was there this morning - absolutely amazing! I was able to buy nice okra and bitter gourd, a decent bag of rice, some spices (my go-to spice shop in Ottawa is Middle East Foods on Belfast) - this will definitely be my once-a month destination for things Indian.

                                1. re: herby

                                  Herby, consider joining www.ottawafoodies.com--great site dedicated to the Ottawa foodie community. I have no relationship to the site, which is remarkably non-commercial (you can even turn the ads off).

                              2. I lived in India and Bangladesh, too. Just curious Herby, what didn't you like about Bangladeshi food?

                                1 Reply
                                1. re: luckyfatima

                                  Sorry for the tardy reply, luckyfatima. I worked and lived in Bangladesh after spending a number of years on and off in India and India spoiled me. I found Bangladeshi food very repetitive and boring, predominantly yellow in colour and rather greasy whle eating out. Also the selection of vegetable and fruit was not as I was used to in India. In addition to this, I was not comfortable of eating any protein - the waters around Bangladesh are super polluted and so is the fish; there was a lot of scare at the time about avian fleu and most of their poultry came from the backyard operations - who knew if the bird was already dead when it headed to the market? I could go on but I think that it is already too much for a food thread - my work is in environment - feel free to email - I'll put my address on my profile tonight.

                                2. Have you ever tried looking in African or Caribbean grocers? They often carry many of the same vegetables that you would be looking for and usually have a plethora of spices with a good turnover. Although it seems that even in specialized Indian grocers, okra is available only periodically (at least in Winnipeg). I've also seen it in Superstore from time to time, along with bitter melon.
                                  One of my favourite Indian cookbooks is Vij's Elegant and Inspired Cuisine. Everything I've tried from there is amazing. Though it's more of a modern twist on Indian food, so I don't know if that's what you're looking for. I also like Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran. I've never actually been to India or any of the surrounding areas, so maybe what I think of as great food would differ from your opinion....

                                  2 Replies
                                  1. re: Allegra_K

                                    Thank you for the suggestion, Allegra! I did not check any African or Caribbean groceries - not sure where they are in Ottawa - we are such a vinilla city:(

                                    Curious about your liking Vij's cooking - what do you like about it? I used to live in Vancouver and Vij was never on a "must dine" list. I think he is way more popular now. Have not head of Sivir Saran - must look the book up - thank you for the suggestion!

                                    1. re: herby

                                      I picked up Vij's from the library a few years ago not knowing anything about the restaurant hype, nor have I dined there... Many of the recipes I have tried from the book have been leaning more towards the traditional sort, like black chickpea curry or the family style chicken curry. I really enjoy the use of spicing in the book. I find I don't have to double or triple the amounts of spices like I often have to do in so many other indian cookbooks, and the garam masala recipe is lovely. As a side, I also really like the fact that the authors encourage the reader to seek out local or environmentally sustainable seafood.

                                      Glad you found a store! I could (and have been known to) spend an entire day browsing the often-cluttered and fascinating shelves of ethnic grocers scattered throughout the city.

                                      It is also great to hear that you loved the Kerala curry from Seductions of Rice. I haven't tried anything from the Indian section of that book yet, but I am really in love with that cookbook and everything I have made from it thus far. I'll have to give that recipe a try, but for tonight I'm trying the Senegalese diebou dien! I had been borrowing the book from the library and renewing it over and over again until I realized that I had to have it. It makes for great reading on top of great eating!