Indian cuisine is at once familiar and exotic to me. Familiar to my taste buds because Toronto is a multi-cultural city with large South Asian population and authentic Indian food is woven into our dining culture. Exotic in my kitchen because I rarely crave Indian food at home. The whole concept of toasting whole spices and grinding my own spice blend as building blocks for most dishes seems like a job best left to the professionals. However, there are great reasons to cook Indian food at home. The wonderful choices of vegetarian and vegan dishes fit right in to my way of eating. Besides, I can still enjoy the vibrant flavours of these dishes without the heavy greasy taste often found at restaurants with penchant for ghee.
About a week ago I received a new recipe to test for an upcoming issue of Cook’s Illustrated Magazine. The recipe for naan promises fluffy tender restaurant-style flatbread that I can make at home with a non-stick skillet. Of course I jump at the chance to cook an Indian Feast at home.
The menu planning began with my typical can-do enthusiasm of making everything from scratch. I visited my favourite farmers’ market at Wychwood Barns on Saturday morning hoping to pick up some cauliflower and garam masala. There was not a single cauliflower in sight but the beautiful (and fractal-tastic) romanesco would be just fine. Next up, I stopped by Incredible Spice for a jar of garam masala and the following conversation took place:
“Take a look at our Aloo Gobi spice kit! It even has a shopping list to take you through every step to make aloo gobi at home.”
“Nah, I want a jar of your garam masala.”
“Oh…serves me right for arriving late to the market.”
“What are you trying to make?”
“Well, I have nothing more to say.”
So that was how I ended up with a neat little spice kit in my basket. My initial disappointment was quickly forgotten as soon as I opened up the kit. There was one packet of powdered spices and one packet of whole spices, both pre-measured for the included recipe card. The directions were clear and the spices were incredibly aromatic. There were even locally grown and dried curry leaves! So aside from the fact that I didn’t measure those spices myself, this aloo gobi kit was as good as any recipe I could have dug up from my cookbook library. The aloo gobi had a complex flavour built upon ginger, onion, tomato, garam masala, turmeric, cumin seeds, dried chili, and curry leaves. The potatoes and romanesco absorbed all that flavours to create a very comforting main course.
For the second main course, I wanted something a little unusual but still keeping the Indian flavour profile. I turned to the trusty Spice Goddess Bal Arneson for ideas. Her Sweet Potato Kidney Bean Stew with Oranges certainly fit the bill. I was particularly intrigued by the seemingly odd combination of sweet potato, red kidney bean, and orange. This dish really works! The sweetness from the orange was so refreshing against the hearty vegan stew. If you have her cookbook Everyday Indian: 100 Fast, Fresh and Healthy Recipes, you have to read the notes about how she and her husband met over this stew on their first date.
Making the naan was an adventure in itself. Leave it to America’s Test Kitchen to show me how to make this famous flatbread without a tandoor, a grill, or even an oven! The dahi-enriched (full-fat yogurt) dough was very soft and smelled kind of tangy. A long overnight rest in the fridge made the dough easier to work with and developed good flavour. However, the magic happened when I cooked it in a covered non-stick skillet. The steam kept the bread soft and tender while the flat surface created authentic-looking charred mark on the dough bubbles. I couldn’t believe these fluffy naans came out of my own home kitchen!
As for dessert, thoughts of making it from scratch quickly disappeared as soon as I saw this week’s episode of Recipe to Riches. Up until this week, I hadn’t been tempted by any of the winning products. However, Rosy’s Kulfi Karma aimed directly at my heart with the mention of cardamom, pistachio, rosewater, and condensed milk. I dressed up this creamy frozen treat with sprinkling of pomegranate seeds and chopped pistachio. It looked striking and I couldn’t believe how amazing it tasted. The crunch from tangy pomegranate and the crunch from nutty pistachio were incredibly addictive against the creamy smooth kulfi. The dessert was light yet elegant. It was an appropriate end to my (mostly) homemade Indian feast.
Vegetarian Indian Feast
Sweet Potato Kidney Bean Stew with Oranges
Cardamom Kulfi with Pomegranate and Pistachio