True, Indian cooking can take a bit of time and call for special ingredients, but it’s all worth it in my opinion. If you don’t already have Indian ingredients in your pantry, now is a good time to experiment.
While I was on a list for two years waiting to study with James Beard, I noticed that his 12 th Street townhouse was the venue for a number ot other cooking classes offered by such venerable master teachers and cookbook writers as Madhur Jaffrey. In my interview with Karl Jerome which he conducted with Beard student wannabes, he had recommended that I might like to take her class while I was waiting. I knew very little about Indan cooking except that I loved it and here was my opportunity to study with the best. Karl was right on target in touting her virtues.
There was the petite Ms. Jaffrey wearing a gold-threaded sari welcoming a dozen students in her lilting syncopated Indian voice. What wonderful dishes we made—lamb vindaloo, moong dal, cauliflower with ginger and Chinese parsley, the puffed pooris, chutnies and mulligatawny soup, to mention just a few. Each has a story. Mulligatawny soup, for example, rich with spices, was so loved by the British colonialists that when they departed India, they requests containers of those spices to take back to England. Then, of course, we made our own garam masala, the combination of heady roasted and ground spices used to season many dishes. There are a number of garam masala combinations and all of them so much more fresh and aromatic when you make your own.
I think what I took from her classes more than anything was the importance of selecting, roasting and grinding one’s own spices, skills applicable to every cuisine. The difference it makes to a dish in freshness and piquancy is unmistakable
I soon learned that Ms. Jaffrey is a famous Indian actress as well as the author of more than 15 books on Asian cookery. The following recipes are adaptations drawn from her teaching.
i medium cucumber
16 oz. plain yoghurt
1 t salt
1/8 t freshly ground pepper
1/8 t cayenne pepper
½ t freshly roasted ground cumin seeds plus a pinch for garnish
1/8 t sweet paprika
Peel, deseed and grate the cucumber. Beat yoghurt in a bowl with a fork until it is smooth and creamy. Add cucumber, salt, black pepper, cayenne and ground cumin to the yoghurt. Garnish with paprika and a pinch of cumin. Refrigerate until ready to serve.
These crispy eggplant slices make a great side dish or appetizer.
4 small oval eggplants about 4 inches long
4 T peanut oil
8 whole fenugreek seeds
½ t whole fennel seeds
¼ t whole cumin seeds
½ t black onion seeds (kalonji)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Pinch of cayenne pepper
1 T fresh lemon juice
Rinse and dry eggplants and slice lengthwise into flat ¼ -inch slices. Don’t peel. Place peanut oil in a skillet heated to medium. Put fenugreek, fennel, cumin and onion seeds in skillet. Fry about 10 seconds. When they begin to change color or pop, put in the sliced eggplant, only as many as the skillet will hold in one layer. Fry in batches on both sides to a golden brown. Drain on paper towels and sprinkle with salt, black pepper, cayenne and lemon juice. Serve immediately.
Shrimp Kerala Style
3 T peanut oil
2 medium onions, peeled and finely chopped
Fresh ginger, about a ¼-inch cube, peeled
4 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
½ cup grated and roasted coconut
½ t ground turmeric
1T ground coriander, roasted
¼ t ground cayenne
3 T tamarind paste
½ cup tomato sauce
½ t salt
2 lbs. large shrimp, peeled and deveined
Heat oil in a deep 9-10-inch .skillet over medium heat. Put in the chopped onions and fry, stirring for 7 to 8 minutes until lightly browned but soft. Take off heat.
In a food processor or blender add the ginger, garlic and grated roasted coconut until a paste forms. (You may need to add 2-3 T water.) Add paste to skillet. Also add the turmeric, coriander, cayenne, tamarind paste, tomato sauce, salt and ½ cup water. Bring to a boil, lower heat, cover and simmer for 5 minutes.
About 8 minutes before serving, bring sauce to a boil, fold in shrimp and cook over high heat , stirring until shrimp become opaque. The sauce should be thick and cling to the shrimp. Serves 4-6
Kheema with Fried Onion Garnish
1 medium onion cut into very thin slices
4 T peanut oil
2 bay leaves
4 whole cloves
1 cinnamon stick
2 medium onions, finely chopped
1 piece fresh ginger, about a 1-inch cube, peeled and finely chopped
5 cloves garlic, minced
1T ground coriander
1 t ground turmeric
1 T ground cumin
2 T plain yoghurt
2 T tomato sauce*
2 lbs. ground lamb**
¼ t ground mace
¼ t ground nutmeg
1 t salt
¼ t cayenne
Cut onion rings in half and separate. Heat oil in a heavy-bottomed 10-inch skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and fry until they are dark brown but not burned, about 8 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on paper towels. Reserve.
Put bay leaves, cloves and cinnamon in skillet. When the bay leaves start to darken, add the finely chopped onions, ginger and garlic. Fry and stir for about 10 minutes until the onions darken to a golden brown. Lower flame and add the coriander, turmeric and cumin. Continue to fry and stir for 2 minutes. Add yoghurt and fry for another minute. Add tomato sauce and continue frying another 3 minutes.
Add the ground lamb. Fry and break up any lumps until the meat is cooked through, about 8 minutes. Finally, add the mace, nutmeg, salt, cayenne and ½ cup water. Stir, bring to a boil, turn heat to low, cover and simmer for one hour. Stir from time to time. Remove cinnamon, place in serving dish and scatter browned onions on top. Serves 4-6
*Can be made from tomato paste in a tube and water.
**Can also be made with ground chuck.