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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!


              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!

                                  2. Will get this book--hubs if from India, and I've tried a zillion recipes. BTW, are there any Parsi dishes included?

                                    8 Replies
                                    1. re: pine time

                                      I counted 9 Parsi recipes.There are a couple for dhansaak (one veg.), potato straws, patra ni macchi, zardalu chicken, and a few others.

                                      1. re: luckyfatima

                                        Parsi cooking is a pretty specialized branch of Indian cookery. The two books I've found most useful are "My Bombay Kitchen" and "Parsi Food and Customs". The author of the former plans the menu for a Parsi New Year's dinner at Alice Waters' Chez Panisse at about this time every year. (I once made a parallel dinner on the East Coast with some input from the official one. It was a lot of fun.)

                                        1. re: FoodDabbler

                                          I've been enjoying "My Bombay Kitchen". Got it at a Borders closing sale a few weeks ago. So far have only made a few dishes from it, but they have been very tasty.

                                          1. re: qianning

                                            Conversation with the author and about the book at the Another Subcontinent website I mention elsewhere: http://www.anothersubcontinent.com/nk... .

                                            Cooking from the book (including my Parsi New Year's dinner) at http://www.anothersubcontinent.com/fo... .

                                            1. re: FoodDabbler

                                              Thanks, all. Hubs always says my dhansaak is "almost there," but he can never point out exactly what's wrong/missing!

                                              1. re: pine time

                                                Where is DH from in India, a Parsi from Mumbai, Calcutta, or from which city? Or is he an Irani? CCU dhansak has its own characteristic herbal mix that I have never tasted elsewhere, but is necessary for the Calcutta flavor!

                                                  1. re: pine time

                                                    Sorry, no insights there. At Calcutta, besides cilantro, mint and fenugreek, one interesting addition was the Calcutta parsley which is pungent and quite unlike anything I have ever experienced anywhere else. It is not a cutting celery of Chinese provenance nor a zwolsche krul. What it is remains a mystery to me, but is very well-liked in certain circles, especially in European cookery. Naturally, the Parsis borrowed and experimented a lot, including with this herb!

                                                    Each Parsi family there has a jealously guarded "sambar" masala and a "fried masala" that together make up the dhansak. I have never tasted the equal because the taste/flavors one grows up with become the benchmark. So Bengaluru will have its own meat flavor spectrum, perhaps Deccani or Yelgu lamb as opposed to goat, a slightly different mix of dals, fermented or non-fermented tamarind, and who knows what proportions of green herbs. Then, of course the sambar and fried masalas, with their chiles, and other components.

                                    2. Surely if you make a safari to Toronto you would find Indian ingredients? I googled "Indian groceries Ottowa" and "Indian groceries Toronto" and got a lot of hits. Also, try googling "Indian groceries online"---you can probably get all necessary spices etc that way.

                                      1 Reply
                                      1. re: Querencia

                                        I have no trouble finding spices - it is the veggies and fruit that I am having trouble finding. Toronto without a doubt has amazing ethnique grocers and so does New York but I do not live there full time:)

                                      2. Re: cookbooks. There's an interesting series of books on regional Indian cooking brought out by Penguin India. There are volumes on Sindhi cooking, Maharashtrian, the cooking of the hilly, tribal regions of the north-east, etc. They're not easy to get in the U.S., but places such as Kitchen Arts and Letters in NYC carry some of them. It's interesting to compare, for example, how a dish like biryani is interpreted differently in different regions and by different communities. The Delhi book has a recipe without onions, the Andhra book a recipe for biryani that starts with raw meat, the Sindhi book a recipe that uses liver, kidneys and brandy, and the Kerala book a recipe that calls for coconut.

                                        A very good book on Keralite vegetarian cooking is Ammini Ramchandran's "Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts".

                                        1 Reply
                                        1. re: FoodDabbler

                                          Thank you for sharing this information, FoodDabbler! I have a great vegetarian book given to me by a South Indian friend who was involved in design and layout of it (her niece, Viji Varadarajan, developed most of the recipies). It is called "Samayal" meaning "cooking" in Tamil. I read through it now and then but find very hard to follow recipies - must set a day to make a couple of dishes.

                                        2. Another very useful resource on Indian Subcontinental culture, in general, is Another Subcontinent: http://www.anothersubcontinent.com/fo.... It has discussions on literature, art, drama, and food. The food discussions are at http://www.anothersubcontinent.com/fo... .

                                          1. Last week I picked up "How to Cook Indian" by Sanjeev Kapoor. I found it at Costco and it claims to contain over 500 "Classic" Recipes. Evidently this gentleman is quite the celebrity chef in India and has published numerous cookbooks however this is his first for the North American Market.

                                            There was an article in Today's Toronto Star newspaper about him and the book and I'll past a link to that below. I was wondering whether anyone here is familiar w him or his previous books?

                                            Here's the article:


                                            11 Replies
                                            1. re: Breadcrumbs

                                              He is quite popular in India, and has his own cooking show. Here in the US, they show it on Zee TV (indian premium channel). The show is called Khana Khazana. Many of his recipes are posted on his website too.

                                              1. re: boogiebaby

                                                I'll have to look for his show on our Canadian channels boogiebaby, thank-you.

                                              2. re: Breadcrumbs

                                                I hope you will make something from the book, BC, and report back with your beautiful photos! Can't imagine anyone writing 140+ books on the same topic regardless of how vast the cuisine of subcontinent is.

                                                1. re: herby

                                                  Thanks herby, I'll be sure to post here once I've tried something.

                                                2. re: Breadcrumbs

                                                  My first thoughts were that his recipes aren't written in a way that is well suited for international non-desi audiences (like writing for readers who regularly use pressure cookers, using terms like brinjal, capsicum, sambar onion, etc), but then I read your linked article and saw that his new cookbook has been specifically produced for a North American audience.

                                                  He's very well loved. I like his show. You saw that he has produced so many books---he is good for Indian home cooks who want to expand their repertoire, as people often get stuck in a rut of their regional cuisine or of everything tomato-onion masala everyday. I think sometimes he tries to make such unique and unusual recipes that they can be really far out there like, "Welcome, today we will be making watermelon pakoras...and next garlic kheer" OK, now that's an exaggeration, just kidding about that one. But I am curious to see how his Western geared book will be. Sounds very interesting.

                                                  I ate at his restaurant Khazana in Dubai a couple of times.

                                                  1. re: luckyfatima

                                                    Thanks luckyfatima, that's interesting context. Having just quickly scanned the book I have seen a number of dishes that appeal. I'm actually quite excited about the book the more time I'm spending w it.

                                                    1. re: luckyfatima

                                                      Hi Herby,

                                                      Without wanting to sound mean, [since Sanjeev Kapoor is a person of many parts], his more recent persona is that of an exceedingly commercialized media figure intent on flogging his own mysteriously superior brands of masala mixes, cookware, etc. His cooking techniques & recipes are banal, for the most part, but not terrible.

                                                      BUT, he does have a few cooking videos in English featuring an associate, a Sikh chef, Harpal Singh Sokhi, with a lively sense of humor if not superlative skill. But they are worth watching anyway. However, please don't learn how to make biryani from either of this odd couple, Kapoor or Sokhi Saheb: good, but you will learn some faulty technique that you will need to unlearn later, if you want to make biryani a passion.

                                                      As Fatimaji indicated, Kapoor is a nice person, a culinary Mr. Rogers in India, devising new, often healthier, ways to serve up old favorites and create new riffs off of ideas familiar yet novel to his subcontinental audience. I believe he has even found a following in the Pakistani TV food show audience, a difficult proposition in a land blessed with an abundance of really, REALLY, good food shows, 24/7!!

                                                      Go to the website below & see what you think!


                                                      Tandoori chicken

                                                      1. re: GTM

                                                        GTM, I saw you mentioned Bihari cuisine in a couple of other posts. Can you share what you know about the cuisines of Biharis -Hindu/Muslim, whatever communities' dishes best represent the iconic cuisine of Bihar...people of this state are stigmatized in India, Pakistan, and Bangladesh, mainly because they are poor, and because of the upheavals that have left Biharis as refugees and migrant workers. But Patna has a history of greatness...seems like an interesting place and I would like to know more about their food. In my mind Bihar is where the Khari Boli related dialects, the U.P. type customs and habits, start to become more Bengali, but that is just my impression. Kindly share what you know about your neighboring state's cuisine, if you will.

                                                        1. re: luckyfatima

                                                          Dear Fatimaji,

                                                          My stepfather was a Bengali Hindu settled for many generations in Bihar, a common occurrence. He identified closely with the region and our home was populated by a contingent of Bihari Pathans from his home district of Chhapra, 3 generations worth, with whom he got along famously. These guys were the ur-Takfiri who were lambs around him for whatever reason but bullied everyone else in our household, to my utter disgust and were exceptionally mean to the Bengali Muslim farmers of or village home, who in turn were enormously devoted to me as I was born among them. I offer these details because they were against the backdrop of the 60s, a time of great pain and upheaval in our part of Bengal smack against the borders of East Bengal. There again, these 2 groups, in so many different permutations came into the most savage of conflicts that I witnessed first hand and the tensions of which entered our village and families.

                                                          On a happier note, Eid-ul-Fitr in 1968, after the terrible famine years of 1965-67 arrived in mid-winter, and a year of abundance. Our Pathan contingent, lead by one Yahya Khan (!!!), who was determined to convert me and made sure I recited the kalima with him every day, was also the main organizer ot the iftar. You see, these guys had started out as our drivers. As each got trained, he would migrate to a lucrative "company" job, and bring back a cousin, brother & so forth as replacement. Soon, we had a plague of pesky Pathans who enjoyed the government quarters, sequstered their charpoys here and there, tormented the sweeper by calling him Aligarh ka ulloo [ i.e. how dare he be from Aligarh & a kafir who enoyed cubes of fried pork back fat!!!] and got together in the evenings for a communal cookout. More later.

                                                          These worthies were the immediate recipients of most of the raans that were sent us during Id-uzZoha, our mis-pronunciation. This blatant favoritism on the part of my stepfather, also demonstrated on every other occasion, roused much ire in the staff & others. Later, I came to appreciate the significance of being sent hind raans by so many folk.

                                                          However, for various reasons, I was not a part of the Calcutta household but lived in the village, where an orthodox Brahman life under my foster mother & teacher prevailed. What an entirely different universe, and in those days, 60 km from Calcutta was a separate world in itself. Here were the Ahirs from Arah and Ballia, (our cowherds who could not stand the Pathans who came occasionally with the cars and cooked goat heads!! The Ahirs made the most fantastic rotis, 3/4 wheat, 1/4 maize flour, carefully kneading the dough, having taken their baths. Incidentally, food of most types from milkmen is ritually "clean" for Brahmans et.al. and it is easy to see why, given the scrupulous care with hygiene. The earthen kitchens wiped clean with clay slurry mixed with fresh cowdung after every meal, the ovens likewise, were infinitely cleaner than any US kitchen. There were no corners and nowhere that grease could hide. I could write an essay on the Indian cowdung of yore, but shall desist. I am a plant membrane biologist with more than a solid background in the phenylpropanoid pathway. Hence, let me just say that US cowdung is different than that from cows fed on browse and leaves with high concentrations of tannins. Cows eat bits of twigs and fibrous mass that get passed out undigested in beautiful rolls owing to the peristaltic spasms of the colon.

                                                          This has a bearing on cookery and the taste of food. These cowdung rolls are mixed with straw and dried into fuel cakes which burn low, slow and wonderfully sweet. That would not happen with cows fed high proportion of grain, lush greens and fish meal. They would produce odoriferous loose pats that would stink of ammonia compounds when burnt. Think of the difference between buffalo chips & dry cowpats and you get the picture.

                                                          The important mainstay, LITTI, of Arah, Ballia, & Chapra, besides other parts of Bihar, is best roasted on a bed of smouldering cowcakes. Nothing else produces the original, just like nothing but post oak produces the Texas BBQ. That litti is not flat but a BALL. The Ahir and most Littis do NOT contain garlic! I have not known the Pathans of Chhapra district in my limited experience to be particularly fond of littis, but I may be wrong. Even in their Bhojpuri speech, there is the strange & redundant Hindu-Muslim divide: e,g. kaa karatani vs. kaa karatara ho. Same in Bengal, down to how banana leaves are positioned.

                                                          The litti is whole wheat dough that is very well kneaded. There is at least 15% "damaged starch grains" in such flour, causing a high degree of hydration. Tucked within the Tennis Ball sized litti is another ball of SATTU, parched/roasted chickpea flour moistened with water and flavored with green chilies and oil pickles. These large balls of dough need to be roasted with an expert hand over the dung cakes. We ate them with only a tiny smear of ghee, not the ladles now being shown in TV programs like Highway On My Plate.

                                                          Aloo Chokha is sort of self-explanatory. You are correct in that both food and language begin to slowly transform into Bengal. Rather, everything changes in tiny steps every 20 miles or so. There is not any point where you can say this is Bihar & this is Bengal, Dharbhanga being a beautiful example and the Maithili language, since ancient times, preserving this cultural watershed! The Muslim nobility and their language and culinary techniques created another sort of continuum right through to Dhaka and beyond. Wherever there are large river estuaries, e.g. Icchamati, Pathans, independently of the Irano-Turkish nobility [with whom they had a love-hate relationship: Akbar humorously remarked he wanted an Indian wife to be a mother to his children, a Turkish wife to make love to, an Iranian woman to be his intellectual muse and an Afghan wife to beat!!] penetrated those and left the TANDOOR as their heritage.

                                                          Only around the estuaries of the rivers of West & East Bengal will you find the ancient & COMMON use of tandoors in small villages called "river landings" or "ganj" . They are not the administrative centers chosen by the Mughal, British or Hindu rulers, so the explanation lies in independent penetrations. Curiously, in southern Thailand, PATTANI, the Muslim region, identifies itself with landlocked Pathans, not with sea-faring Arabs. This is something that needs culinary research. It would suggest penetration from India to Thailand. Many thousands of years ago, the Kambojas, an Indo-Iranian people kept moving east along the Himalayas. They moved through Burma and arrived at a place that bears :their name: Cambodia. Pathans, having the same genes, seem to have re-enacted a similar story.

                                                          Baingan Chokha is more interesting because our excellent eggplants in India have high Dry Mass of which up to 32-36% can be sucrose. These are roasted in the embers and ashes while food is being cooked in a wood stove. They are coated with mustard oil before roasting but thin fissures allow water to move into the ash layer. This concentrates the flavors & sweetness to an unbelievable degree, & the skin and ash peel off cleanly. Now, the flesh can be cooked simply w/o spices in a lot of oil & whatever else you fancy, e,g. tomatoes, onion, and cook down. That is choka-ness! Bengalis don't like the oil (but I do). They stop at the roasted eggplant & add a thread of mustard oil, either chopped ginger OR onion, green chili, cilantro, fresh lime juice, salt, & mash.

                                                          Perhaps if you are not freaked out of your minds, shall write more about different communities Bhumihar, Oraon etc. It is a pity that I have eaten the food cooked by Pathans at Chhapra at their own home in Chhapra district, excellent chicken, but for obvious reasons, could not enter the kitchen nor get a recipe. I have eaten the meat cooked by their menfolk in Calcutta, and besides being masaledaar & robust, it was not unique. Again, I have eaten exceptional food cooked at the home of the Nawab of Darbhanga, and of his relatives in Calcutta. The finest Biryani I have eaten was that prepared by a lady whose name I must leave private and another by the cook of a khandani family in Calcutta who were renowned tea brokers. They are all from the Bihar/Patna/Darbhanga end of the UP cultural river. There are some renowned Nawabi families of Bengal. I have met & spoken about history with Nawab Farooqui, but have not eaten at his table, nor at that of the West Bengal ones. I remain curious as to how they have modified the UP foods.

                                                          In my village and beyond, the richer Muslims cook interesting interpretations of originals whose roots I seek. One is "Roast Chicken" but actually is a rich onion gravy, superb. Sauteed onions, then onion paste, ginger, nut paste, garam masala, etc. I won't get into details, but a thick grey ghee-laden gravy w/kewra, a true kovurma, which is excellent done right. It is even better with fewer spices, MORE ghee (!!), & fried eggs with crunchy edges floating like enchanted lotuses in this ambrosia. A truly great dish. But where is its ancestor to be found?

                                                          It makes me laugh when I read pompous lectures by utter fools as to whether yoghurt curdles or not on heating, or to see recipes & videos now so popular. Instruments like sitar or sarode only have a few strings. It is knowing what to do with them that is called genius.

                                                          1. re: GTM

                                                            Wow, I very much enjoyed this highly entertaining and nuanced reply instead. Thank you! Sounds like you knew some very interesting characters during your childhood. Very interesting point about the Pattani community in Thailand.

                                                            1. re: GTM

                                                              Fascinating! Thank you for taking the time to write this :)

                                                    2. Gosh...I'm just seeing this thread now after reading the link in the Naked Chef report thread. I recently bought 660 Curries and have only been able to scan it so far. However, I chose to make a potato and eggplant curry tomorrow night. Can't wait. This would make a super COTM. There's so much information here.

                                                      We loved cooking from the Madhur Jaffrey book when it was COTM and return frequently to it.

                                                      1 Reply
                                                      1. re: Gio

                                                        It really is an exciting book isn't it Gio. I'd love to see it as a COTM as there's so much variety in the book, I can imagine the dishes having broad appeal. Can't wait to read how you make out w the potato/eggplant dish. Will you let us know here?

                                                      2. Does anyone own, or cook from "Cooking at Home with Pedatha- Vegatarian Recipes from a Traditional Andhra Kitchen"? http://www.amazon.com/Cooking-Home-Pe...
                                                        I've had my eye on this book for some time; it seems to get really good reviews on amazon, but I'm wondering what others think of it. The book has less than 100 pages; is it worth it for the price?

                                                        3 Replies
                                                        1. re: Allegra_K

                                                          I have ""Cooking at Home with Pedatha" and think it's really good. Not a lot of recipes, but they really capture the flavors of Andhra Veg food. There's a food blog called Tasty Palettes, <http://www.tastypalettes.com> , and the person who writes it adapts a lot of her Indian recipes from those in the Pedatha book. So, if you want to get a feel for the food in the book before investing in it, perhaps you can try some of the blog recipes and see if they appeal to you. Everything I've tried making from that site (Purple Kale Pulao, Collard Greens Poricha Kootu, and Aloo Kale especially) were outstanding. I usually end up tweaking Indian recipes to make them taste more like my Mom's cooking, but these require no tweaks whatsoever.

                                                          1. re: ninrn

                                                            Thank you for the suggestion, ninrn! I tried to connect to the site but wasn't able to - maybe it is down at the moment; will try again later.

                                                            1. re: herby

                                                              Hi Herby,

                                                              The link above is including the ">" at the end. Just back it out and you'll be connected to a great site! I hope your move went well btw.

                                                        2. Herby,

                                                          Have you ever gone to ANOTHER SUBCONTINENT or to GOURMET INDIA. These are 2 websites run by Indians discussing Indian cooking & recipes. ANOTHER SUBCONTINENT includes more cultural stuff as well that you can ignore. BUT, in both you will find glimpses of Indian cooking as INDIAN cook & eat in their homes. Cookbook authors spin fanciful tales & tearjerking nonsense to capture a maudlin audience. For the most part, these authors are THOROUGHLY INCOMPETENT in TECHNIQUE. Forget the nonsense about restaurant training or who has run what famous restaurant or cooking class. Charmaine Solomon & Ammini Ramachandran [peppertrail.com; Grains, Greens & Grated Coconuts] come across as the exceptions.Without tearing down anyone, I wish to emphasize that we have yet to find our Pepin or Kamman.

                                                          Indian cooking is intensely regional and community specific. There is need to develop the history & sociology of each regional foodway, without which the cooking makes little sense. There have been NONE with the exception of Ramachandran who have had the ability to develop this end along with sufficient culinary expertise. Which brings us to the issue of technique: Indian cooking is all about painstaking technique, not recipe!

                                                          In the Bangladesh that you mention, I can identify at least 20 major endogamous communities with distinctive cooking styles and techniques. I'll wager you have not even experienced even 3, Dhaka itself having more than 6 easily identifiable Hindu & Muslim styles. How can you know what you do not like when you have not been shownhow to cultivate your palate? Beer, hoppy ales, wines, etc. all need a lengthy novitiate. So also with the cooking of Bengal, west & east.

                                                          Even the Bengali bitter gourd differs from the Indian karela, being much closer to the wild form. If you care for the latter then you might begin to like the former, which is much, much more startling than the mellow silken bitterness of the Chinese bitter melon! The examples can be multiplied, as with Japanese cuisine.

                                                          Since you want the unalloyed "Indian" experience, what might that be? The cooking of my community, the Dakshinatya Vaidika Brahmins of West Bengals, is extremely mild. There is hardly any chilies used except whole green chilies, and in common with the cuisine of Rarh gentry, there is VERY VERY little spicing. Cane Jaggery & sugar is freely used in nominally savory dishes.

                                                          Through Bihar moving west into Uttar Pradesh, the cooking of the Brahmin communities is likewise depauperate in both spice & chili heat. Many vegetable dishes are stewed in milk. You need CLEARLY to disabuse yourself of the notion of what Indians eat at home. Like Maharashtrians [especially Brahmans, a community I am familiar with] eat SAADA VARAN, i.e. plain boiled split pigeon pea [dal] with rice, salt, a few drops of ghee, and a fresh slice of lime. That is what I too eat, varying the dal with split lentils, split mung and split black gram. Then, a simple gravy is made of chickpea flour called PITLA, which is eaten with rice. When the chickpea flour is slurried with yoghurt or buttermilk, KADHI is formed, also eaten with rice. PAPADS can be cooked into this KADHI for great excitement!!

                                                          Or, in that boiled pigeon pea dal, boiled peanuts may be let loose, and diamonds of whole wheat flour dough, cooked like noodles.

                                                          Dear Herby, this is what honest-to-goodness INJUNS really, really, really eat every day! Stuff like balls of ragi millet boiled and GULPED (because they stick to your teeth otherwise!!), called RAGI MUDDE, and sorghum flatbread. Maybe the younger generation eats far more yummy stuff day in & day out, but I would not know!! My generation of 1950-60 ate as I described to you!!

                                                          6 Replies
                                                          1. re: GTM

                                                            wow! that was something i never learned before! thanks GTM.

                                                            1. re: GTM

                                                              GTM, sincere thanks for this enlightening information and, fabulous websites. I'm delighted to have these resources.

                                                              1. re: GTM

                                                                Yes, it's extremely interesting to have you as a poster here! What great information.

                                                                1. re: GTM

                                                                  Thank you so much for this informative and passionate post, GTM! I have not eaten in Brahmin's homes but have eaten in Indian homes and cooked with Indian friends at their home in Chennai. I would love to continue this conversation - you have so much insight to offer and I am very interested in learning from you since I love indian culture and food and would like to learn as much as I can. Hope you are available and interested!

                                                                  1. re: herby

                                                                    Hi Herby,

                                                                    In my generation, more than 80% of the dishes have become extinct, as have many conventions and fine distinctions in the foodways of west & east Bengal. Thus, there are some few of us whose goal is to place in front of interested folk like you a snapshot of the cuisine & customs of a narrow slice of time, say 1950-70.

                                                                    Certain communities of Brahmins are interesting from the perspective of culinary anthropology because they tend to be islands of less rapid change. They cling to ancient cultivars of vegetables, e.g. eggplant, and these provide extraordinarily interesting & important maps of historical exchanges with other parts of India during known periods in history. Vegetables, grains & spices shunned or welcomed provide fascinating bits of information about the exasperating museum that is India. [That is why a certain breed of modern know-it-all Indians, who in fact know really nothing, are a cause of abiding distress. They will refuse to take up the burdens of painstaking scholarship and scarcely understand the disservice they render to their society ].

                                                                    More than 200-300 years of change, that had been arrested in India, are suddenly going ahead with a vengeance in the last 40-50 years, and the pace is accelerating all over the subcontinent. If you have been to Chennai within the past several years or any major metropolis in southern India, you surely must have wondered at the immense clash of civilizations taking place! Fewer than 43% of Indians identify themselves as having a DIRECT rural root!! AMAZING, because a generation or two ago almost everyone had some sort of a rural parent, grandparent or some sort of connection.

                                                                    In turn, the rural landscape influenced very powerfully the types & qualities of foodstuffs, & food preparation methods. In Bengal, for example, the land was a mosaic of rivers, ponds, woods, forests, fields, and grazing commons. A vast number of wild greens, vegetables & fruit were indispensable to the cookery of the region and contributed the signature taste and freshness to the various regional cuisines.

                                                                    I was curious as to WHICH Bangladeshi cuisine earned your disfavor! For example, OLD DHAKA has the Nawabi Cuisine which is a modified North Indian meat-based Muslin cuisine with exquisite kebab, & everything else you may possibly like about Mughlai food, given a softer touch! This is the handiwork of professional chefs.

                                                                    Next comes the HOME-based versions of the Muslim aristocratic families, but cooked by their womenfolk. Also exquisite, many meat based dishes but including many fish preparations using onion & garlic.

                                                                    Next are the dishes of Muslim LANDED GENTRY, many more rice & lentil dishes like Bhuna Khichuri, harking to their Indian roots with an Islamic interpretation, with local specialties like wild DUCK in Barishal province, cooked with coconut milk, Shad cooked in many different styles, dry fish cooked with Piper chaba, the original piquant or hot principle in Bengal other than ginger.

                                                                    Hindu upper castes cook without garlic or onion, except where the Kayastha group, through long propinquity with Muslim rulers, have adopted many of the onion-ginger, and meat cookery styles.

                                                                    The old bazaars of Dhaka have their own special Hindu & Muslim food shops & confectioners. During Ramzan/Ramadhan, unique food shops are set up that sell items never found at other times. Some are not to be missed. Ramzan follows a lunar calendar of 33 years, so that it shifts back through the solar year. Say 1968 saw Eid ul Fitr & Ramzan during the winter months, January. Every year, it will shift by a measured amount, moving into summer & back into deep winter. The point of this being, check out the calendar and do try to be in DHAKA when Ramzan & December coincide!! Check out the feast, even though you need a 1000 innoculations and 10 bodyguards!! You may yet keel over dead, but it will have been worth it. lol!

                                                                  2. re: GTM

                                                                    I don't have the detailed experience of the eating habits of different communities in India that you do, having grown up in just one, but I do know a lot about Maharashtrian food. Much of what you describe is, in fact, quite delicious: varaN, piTHla, and kaDHi, in particular. And dissing sorghum bread is like dissing rye-.

                                                                  3. I thought I'd post a link to an article in today's Globe & Mail newspaper. Columnist Rob Mifsud gives 2 new-ish Indian Cookbooks a test drive:

                                                                    India: The Cookbook by Pushpesh Pant (this is the Phaidon Press book that comes in a burlap bag) and;

                                                                    How to Cook Indian: More than 500 Classic Recipes for the Modern Kitchen by Sanjeev Kapoor (this is the author that's described as India's Rachel Ray for his popular, accessible recipes and cooking style)

                                                                    I found the review to be very interesting, especially as it pertains to inconsistencies in measurement conversions. Disappointing since I bought the second book!

                                                                    Here you go:


                                                                    6 Replies
                                                                    1. re: Breadcrumbs

                                                                      Oh, what a dismal review, Breadcrumbs! The cookbooks to stay far away from... Maybe you could return your book and get something more interesting instead. Thank you for posting!

                                                                      1. re: Breadcrumbs

                                                                        I'm so glad you posted this, Breadcrumbs! I had put India: The Cookbook on my wishlist some time ago, but that looks like it will be changing now.

                                                                        1. re: Breadcrumbs

                                                                          That is interesting. My sister-in-law's mother (from Kolkata) gave me one of the Kapoor books put out there and I wasn't all that taken with it. Sam Sifton (NYT restaurant critic) did a cookbook roundup for the NYT Book Review's "Summer Reading" section and included that book - http://www.nytimes.com/2011/06/05/boo... He at least made out as if he had made some of the recipes and enjoyed them...he's an odd duck and only intermittently reliable (a lot of the best recent books are in the 25 additional cookbooks of note list on the website). Crossing this one off my list, back to Madame Jaffrey.

                                                                          1. re: buttertart

                                                                            Since we have been discussing Sanjeev Kapoor, here is how he explains the context for his "100 Top Recipes":


                                                                            ' “Today people are running away from cooking in their kitchens. I want to make a healthier India, and the first step is to get people interested in cooking once again,” he opines, adding that he’s consciously focused on simple recipes in the book. “If the recipes are too exotic, that scares amateur cooks away. The idea is to give them something simple, that is fun to prepare, and yet elicits a ‘wow’ from the people they’re cooking for,” he says.'

                                                                            It seems that he is aiming for an upper class demographic graphically pictured in the same article:

                                                                            "At a time when eating out or ordering in is de rigueur, Kapoor aims to lure people back into their kitchens."

                                                                            I don't know what sort of readership the Hindustan Times now attracts, but I am devoutly grateful that I am no longer present in a society where the above sentence seems to be casually tossed around.

                                                                          2. re: Breadcrumbs

                                                                            I read an article years ago for which the authors had tested many recipes in many cookbooks by famous chefs and cookbook authors, and the results were shockingly bad. Almost all the cookbooks tested failed to produce dishes that came close to what was promised, and the famous restaurant chefs' books were the worst, even Thomas Keller's. The only cookbook author whose recipes were consistently accurate and effective was, of course, Julia Child. The few chefs who responded to the article authors' questions about this said they usually didn't test the home versions of the recipes. They just hired home economists to adapt restaurant recipes for home use. Sometimes the person hired had never even tasted the restaurant dish he or she was supposed to be adapting! Does anyone remember reading that article? I think it might have been in the NYTimes, but I'm not at all sure.

                                                                            1. re: ninrn

                                                                              My sis has always been suspicious of recipes freely given by famous chefs/restaurants, i.e., if they sell high end food, why would they give their recipes away for free? Her hunch is that some vital ingredient or step is missing!

                                                                              BTW, hubs is from India, and my go-to cookbooks are anything by M. Jaffrey and, thank heavens, just found an oldie but goodie The Art of Indian Cuisine by Pranati Sen Gupta, whose Badam Pullo recipe is divine.

                                                                          3. Ok, I succumbed to temptation and ordered 660 Curries. Now I need a spice/coffee grinder and cannot decide between a hand cranked and an electric one. Any advice from a cook experienced in this area would be appreciated.

                                                                            16 Replies
                                                                            1. re: Blythe spirit

                                                                              Best deal is finding an electric coffee grinder in a thrift store. I have used them before with good results.

                                                                              1. re: Blythe spirit

                                                                                I have an electric one - small and inexpensive - and love it. Won't choose a hand-crancked one - that is what morter/pestel is for:)

                                                                                1. re: herby

                                                                                  Herby, do you have a particular brand you recommend?
                                                                                  The electric ones available online ( I believe they were Krups) are $30. And they did not get great reviews - although that could be because the person using it was trying to grind flax seeds! Maybe I'll go to Target later in the week and see if they have some a little less expensive.

                                                                                  1. re: Blythe spirit

                                                                                    The ones I've used all worked well for spices, and you will use it less that what a coffee bean grinder which really is sorta daily use. Yeah flax seeds you really have to mill, not grind like that. I know, I tried.

                                                                                    1. re: Quine

                                                                                      Thanks Quine,
                                                                                      Sounds like electric is preferred -

                                                                                    2. re: Blythe spirit

                                                                                      You should aim for something around $10 at Target, or try Walmart. I purchased a Mr.Coffee 6 years ago for around that price, and use it heavily. It does the job.

                                                                                      Note one other point. You are going to use your blender quite a bit to grind whole seeds, if you are going to cook certain dishes in the styles common to peninsular India. Here, in a particular sequence, whole coriander, whole cumin, sesame, cloves and so forth are either gently dry roasted or fired in a very tiny bit of oil with coconut shreds and onion, garlic cloves, and sometimes ginger. Sometimes small whole yellow onions may be gently roasted on the gas flame, and then incorporated, other times raw onions, e.g. Udupi Shetty style.

                                                                                      All of these are then wet-ground with water or tamarind extract in a blender or a metate-like flat stone. I presume you will prefer the blender!

                                                                                      You may choose to forgo the hassle of making your own tamarind extract by purchasing the LAXMI brand concentrate in the glass bottle. This is to warn you against buying the cheaper concentrate that comes in a plastic jar and sounds like a medical device. I have no financial interests in the Laxmi brand, which sells some pretty mediocre stuff in its many incarnations; but this is one exception.

                                                                                      Please never purchase pre-ground coriander and cumin seed. They are wood dust!

                                                                                      At some stage, I hope you will discover the joys of soaking your own turmeric rhizomes [dried] and making your own turmeric paste, and wet-ground red chili paste [not hot, but aromatic from Korean red chilies, sans seeds, soaked in hot water] and discover how much more tastier your Indian food has become.

                                                                                      Please also try to get cassia leaves, NOT bay leaves. Indian stores sell bay leaves, and only a few sell Cassia leaves. The two taste quite different. Likewise, try to use Indian cassia bark, not Sri Lankan or Vietnamese "cinnamon".

                                                                                      Happy cooking.

                                                                                      1. re: GTM

                                                                                        Thanks for all the 'inside info' :-) I'm a newbie to Indian cooking.
                                                                                        I was put off at first, by the title of this book. Never a big fan of commercial
                                                                                        curry powder - but now I understand the book to be much more comprehensive than
                                                                                        the title suggested. I knew that roasting and grinding spices results in better taste but have never heard of soaking turmeric rhizomes ! This is going to be quite an adventure!

                                                                                        1. re: Blythe spirit

                                                                                          You're welcome. You might find some of the packaged mixes from Pakistan very good for certain purposes; e.g. National & Laziza brand biryani powder comes $1.29/box or 0.89c/box in a 6-pack. Very useful not just in making biryani, but also to add zest to a chicken curry or a korma when you do not want to hassle. Our friend LuckyFatima loves the Shan brand to doctor certain dishes, and you will find those useful to supplement your larder, as well. You can read her posts. There is something to be said for convenience on a busy worknight when you feel like an Indian meal.

                                                                                          Then there are the whole range of subcontinental dishes that require no ground spices or much spice at all, but still fit into what you might enjoy as a "curry". You would probably love to expand your repertoire gradually, taking in the cooking of the Pakhtun Pakistan, of the Kashmiri Pandits [their lamb dishes] etc.

                                                                                          For example, "karhai" is a term that encompasses a dizzying variety of chicken and lamb preparations beloved in Pakistan. However, its ur-forms originate in the fat-tailed sheep found near Peshawar, where excellent chunks of bone-in meat [ribs and shoulder] along with that tail fat are thrown into a hot wok, followed by some good plum tomatoes. They cook under cover, until the meat is almost done, and the tomato skins are removed, and they are mashed into the gravy, which is reduced over a hotter flame. Some whole green thai-type chilies are added, strictly for aroma, and the the dish is reduced just a tiny bit more, and is ready. Some additional garnish could be finely julienned root ginger to cut the rich fat, and this dish is eaten with naan bread or heated pitas, accompanied by sliced onions soaked in water or not, cucumbers, limes, etc. This is ur-karhai lamb.

                                                                                          Ur-karhai chicken goes the same way. Hot vegetable oil, skinless chicken, saute a bit, wee bit of turmeric, and some chopped tomatoes, cover, until semi cooked, throw in some crushed black peppercorns [fresh], and some gently roasted coriander seeds [coarsely crushed, but a bit finer than the pepper], keep frying and cooking/reducing until the chicken is toothsome. You may need to add a bit of butter or ghee, to achieve the right touch of fat required to "liquid-fry" the gravy, and yet retain some rich wet stuff for the bread. Use your own judgment on how much!!

                                                                                          You may add a pinch of cayenne if you wish with the pepper and coriander. garnish with julienne ginger, if you want. Oh, add sea salt, in all of these dishes!!!! Eat with naan or hot pitas.

                                                                                          So now you have the basic karhai techniques. On top of these, people add ginger, garlic, onions, fenugreek seed roasted, fenugreek leaves, cilantro, other karhai masala, and what-not. But you now have the basic spare structure of karhai, and you will understand the ur-taste, and can venture to add your own flavors one by one according to your own pleasure. So you see, when you know the notes to sing.......

                                                                                          Here is an amusing guy, who will help you use your coffee grinder: Enjoy!!


                                                                                          Mother's Chicken Curry

                                                                                          {BTW, please don't roast aromatics too much: when you smell them, it means they are rapidly losing their oils to the air. Same goes for when you are smelling food. We try to cook on dum--more later.

                                                                                          One exception is when we roast cumin for certain purposes: we make it rich and brown, to create the toasted taste for raita and as a garnish.


                                                                                          He has some good teaching videos, as well.

                                                                                        2. re: GTM

                                                                                          So glad to see you approve of Laxmi brand tamarind concentrate, it has been a "dirty" little secret of mine for some time now. For some reason making tamarind extract has always been a chore that I dreaded, and finding a concentrate that tasted OK was a big relief.

                                                                                        3. re: Blythe spirit

                                                                                          I use cuisinart mini chopper that I bought ages ago - it is about 1C capacity and chops everything up as fine as you would like it to be. I use it for onions when they need to be minced, parsley to chop real fine, spicies that need to be ground, etc.

                                                                                          1. re: herby

                                                                                            Wow - I have one of those but I didn't know it could pulverize spices.

                                                                                            1. re: Blythe spirit

                                                                                              Give it a try - mine does wonders.

                                                                                              1. re: Blythe spirit

                                                                                                i have a black and decker handy chopper, and it will not do the job of finely grinding dry spices…the blade is too high, and the spices bounce around.

                                                                                                1. re: alkapal

                                                                                                  This is what I use... when I don't use the mortar and pestle; have had it for years...
                                                                                                  All this talk about 660 Curries has me wanting to pull it off the shelf and start cooking from it again.

                                                                                                  1. re: Gio

                                                                                                    I was thinking the same, Gio:) Maybe it will become a COTM one of these months.

                                                                                                    1. re: herby

                                                                                                      That possibility has been discussed many times, Herby. I've only made a few recipes so far from the book but I've had it a couple of years...

                                                                                      2. I know others have already mentioned this, but I second advice to seek out not just Indian grocery markets, but Asian markets as well. The ones around here carry produce, spices, & condiments integral to Indian cuisine, as well as Asian.