I've been cooking Indian food now for 31 years. I'm not of Indian ancestry, and didn't grow up with a mom who was a stellar cook. In fact she didn't really believe in preheating the oven so in a way she invented the lava cake decades before it became popular. Only problem is, hers would probably give you Ptomaine since the inside was always stone cold raw. I taught myself to cook as a kid out of necessity since my mother really hated to cook. I grew up cooking all sorts of things. Living in San Francisco, in a neighborhood with a lot of Asians, I started shopping in Chinatown markets on Grant Avenue, and cooking Chinese food. I got my first wok when I was about 18 and went from there. Indian food came later. I was diagnosed with cancer in my 30's and being a vegetarian, non smoking, non drinking, runner everyone thought that was impossible. It was possible. I had decided to go macrobiotic during treatment while I was having chemo and really got bored with what I was cooking super fast. As a result I was sort of disappearing and my oncologist wanted to know what I was eating. I told him macrobiotics and they won't let me have eggplants, or tomatoes plus a bunch of other stuff I loved. My doctor asked why I didn't cook Indian food that was healthy, had tons of vegetarian recipes, plus I could get my eggplants and tomatoes back? I was in. But, I didn't know how to get started, since the only Indian food I'd eaten was in restaurants. Enter the sister-in-law. My husbands' family has ties with India. My sister-in-law and brother-in-law have lived and worked there, (she's an expert in Indian Buddhist art) and my husband has friends there so that seemed to be the place to start. I called my sister-in-law and she came out to LA and gave me a crash course in Indian cooking. I started hanging out at Indian markets and talking to the women I met there and after they figured out I was serious and not going away, they started giving me tips and advice. And tastes! The market I went to also sold hot food for take away and I got samples. Since I was vegetarian, I started with vegetarian cookbooks, most notably Lord Krishna's Cuisine, and enormous heavy book containing about 500 recipes. I cooked my way through that, asking for advice from the experts as I went along. That was not necessarily a starters cookbook and I attempted stuff that gave me an education quick. People have always asked me how do I get started cooking Indian food, and I've wondered what to recommend...now I have an answer.Simply Indian ,The Vegetarian Cuisine of Western India. I was sent the book to review and the moment I opened it I thought, "yeah, that's the ticket!" that was the book I've been wanting to recommend. Now someone...Nita Desai has written it. The book is filled with simple and tasty dishes from India's western region. Recipes from Goa, Maharashtam Gujarat, Utter Pradesh. The book is also a great directory of what equipment one needs, what the spices are, how to make spice blends, info on dals, street food recipes. The whole thing! To show just how easy this book is, I decided to cook Patal Bhaji, aka Potatoes and Onions In Green Curry. So here we go.Potatoes and Onions In Green CurryHere's What You Need:For The Dish :
12 tiny red new potatoes12 pearl onions2 to 3 cups of water1 cup of chopped fresh cilantro...save 2 Tbs out for the garnish1/2 cup chopped fresh mint1/4 cup of fresh grated coconut. If you don't have that use dried shredded coconut (UNSWEETENED) and moisten it with a bit of water to soften it first. Save out 1 Tbs for a garnish.1/2 cup of coconut milk1 tsp ginger chili paste... or 1 jalapeno pepper blended with 1/2 inch piece of fresh peeled ginger into a paste1 tsp crushed garlic or shallot1 and 1/2 Tbs ground cumin mixed with1 and 1/2 Tbs ground coriander2 tsps lemon juice (for serving)For The Tadka:Now the Tadka sometimes called the Chaunk is a technique. It's an infusion of hot oil and spices, that sometimes are used to finish a dish, sometimes used at the start of a dish to layer flavor2 Tbs vegetable oil3 or 4 curry leavers. If you don't have them forget, it there's no substitute but they can be ordered online
1 tsp Panch Puran...okay before anyone goes...WHAT!? Panch Puran is a blend of 5 spices. You can make a bunch and store it in an airtight jar so you always have it on hand.Panch Puran: Indian 5 Spice Blend 1 Tbs each ofcumin seedfennel seedfenugreek seedblack onion seed also known as Nigella or Kalonjiblack or brown mustard seedMix them all together that's Panch Puran. Here's What To Do :Wash the potatoes and soak them in cool water. Drain them just before you add them to the hot oil. Peel the onions and immerse them in cool water. Drain just before they go into the oil.In a blender or food processor make a paste of the cilantro, coconut, mint, ginger, chili and garlic or shallot
Heat the 2 Tbs of oil in a pan or about a minute,. When it's nice and hot add the Panch Puran.When the seeds start to sizzle and crackle add the curry leaves, drained potatoes, and onions, coriander-cumin powder and that green paste you whipped up.
Stir gently to coat the vegetables in the mixture. Cook for about 5 minutes, stirring 4 or 5 times.Now add about 1 and 1/2 cups of water, salt to taste, and cook for 5 more minutes.
Now, add the coconut milk.Let the mixture cook uncovered for another five minutes adding water if you need it to maintain the consistency of the sauce.The reason we keep it uncovered is so that the green paste keeps it's green color.The potatoes should now be soft and cooked through. Test with a fork.
Take the pan off the stove.You can make it ahead, just reheat before serving. When you're ready to serve it up, add the lemon juice......and the coconut garnish.And you're done! This dish is great for a company or family dinner. Pair it with rice, and some chapattis and you've got a meal. This was a great, simple dish to make, as most of the stuff in it is easily available at most supermarkets, and Indian markets, and it does not take hours and hours to make. I made it on a weekday as a working lunch, so that tells you how fast it cooks up. Once you start cooking Indian food and get some of the spices in your house you'll find that most of the recipes in this book are easily accomplished. This is the perfect book for anyone who wants to start cooking Indian food or knows someone who does . As they say....Baby Steps. Coming up next on the blog, we fire up the Tandoor for Summer cooking! Follow along on Twitter at @kathygori