June 13, 2005


So we wanted to cook authentic Indian food. It is a cuisine we have been eager to conquer. Right before he left for 6 weeks in India, our neighbor, Chandan, lent us his two favorite Indian cook-books for inspiration. Plus, I had made the homemade paneer with an Indian dish in mind, though I hadn't decided which one. Check out how I made the paneer on the new blog just keep driving on the June 12th entry. We decided to tackle two recipes this weekend -Eggplant Rasavangy from one of the cookbooks and Spinach and Paneer Kofta, a recipe I found online. Lots of good paneer recipes on this woman's site.

We were ready for an adventure and we got one. We were not aware of the number of ingredients and steps involved in Indian cooking. It's like no other cuisine we've tackled. The first dish, Eggplant Rasavangy, has 12 ingredients for the main part. One of these 12 ingredients is 1/2 teaspoon of Sambar Powder which on its own has 13 ingredients. Then there is a paste which has 7 ingredients. And right as you begin to cook it all together, there are four extra little ingredients to toss in the hot oil. We set out to
Madison Market's bulk spice section for things like asafoetida powder. Asafoetida is widely used in Indian cooking, often for an onion and/or garlic substitute. It's included in almost every recipe in the cookbook in very small amounts. The smell is strong. It's hard to describe but it isn't pleasant. It's made by mixing the asafoetida sap (resin) with gum arabic, wheat, rice flower and tumeric. Don'tworry, you just buy the powder. The label on the jar at the store indicated that it is such a good remedy for flatulence that it can cure a horse from indigestion. Encouraging. Other ingredients we needed, like tamarind pods, were easily found in the International District.

Once the bags of spices were home, we both set to work on the sambar powder since we knew we couldn't get the rest of the dish made without that crucial 1/2 teaspoon. Julie measured, ground, and toasted seeds and spices. I seeded and de-veined two cups of chili peppers. The book didn't call for this action but there is no way we could have eaten this powder with two cups of whole chillies and their full fire power. As it turns out the powder still has plenty of punch. Even though I washed my hands three times after working with the peppers, I managed to burn my nostrils and lips by touching them. It was painful but it wasn't the first time I suffered from hot pepper burns on my face. But the worst part came when I had to sautee all of these peppers. That's when they give off all the fire straight into the air we breathe. There was choking, tearing, coughing, sneezing. We had to go outside and catch our breath and then come back in for another round. The peppers only cooked for two minutes but the aftermath lasted a couple of hours. The whole kitchen was so full of spices and oils in the air that when I wiped my face later with a facial cleansing cloth there was yellow residue on it. In fact, my food processor turned yellow almost instantly when we ground up everything. But the recipe did yield quite a bit. We filled a pasta sauce jar to the top. It will last for three years and we'll still have to sell some. Then I had to make the paste. This involved more chillies and more asafoetida. And the taste of the finished product was not entirely pleasant. However, once it was included in the final product all was well.

As it happened, by the time all of this was accomplished it was almost 8 pm and we were still an hour and a half away from having the red gram dal (pigeon peas) completely cooked. We admitted to each other and to ourselves that we had had enough for one day. With parched throats, burning eyes, and stuffy noses, we ordered Indian food from a place on Capitol Hill - you know, just to get us in the mood for the real thing we would make the next day. First time we've ever ordered Indian food to be delivered and probably only the third time we've ever ordered food to be delivered at all. But we decided to treat ourselves. So we had Indian leftovers for lunch yesterday but were still looking forward to our own Indian creations for dinner.

Creating the actual dishes was pretty easy. The paneer dish was very easy, had a normal amount of ingredients and tasted fabulous. You basically crumble the paneer into steamed spinach, mixed with a little oil, bread crumbs, and spices, and make into "meatballs" and then simmer in a tomato paste based sauce with onions, garlic, cinnamon, ground corriander seeds and nutmeg. I tossed in some garam masala cuz I felt like it. The eggplant dish did turn out to be quite tasty. All of the flavors blended nicely and we cooled the spiciness by having some goat's milk yogurt on the table for a condiment. I am looking forward to trying more dishes out of these books. Next weekend a poriyal. This is a dish in which vegetables are allowed to sweat and cook in their own moisture. Ingredients are usually chopped small and mustard seeds are often added. There are so many to choose from and they are easy to make. Stay tuned.

If anyone would like any sambar powder, let me know.

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