A few years ago (alright, more than a few years ago, as we were living in Boston), a friend in publishing gave us a copy of Sudha Koul’s Curries Without Worries. A slim little Intro to Indian Cuisine with no pictures – I thought, “I am never going to use this, there’s no food porn!” (which is funny, right? because I defy the recipe decadence of a picture for you here on this blog!) but the truth is, I love it. We’ve used it almost religiously for over 10 years now (and have yet to make more than 10 recipes in it, we have our favorites!). With it, I’ve learned to master some simple but sexy Indian dishes with some updates and additions (for our palates).
I haven’t tried the new place in Hallowell, but I was terribly disappointed in the new location of an old favorite from Portland. Though even in Portland we opted to make these dishes and then just order out for Naan (however, Josh makes a great flatbread that substitutes now so we are all set). This means we had to figure it out. In our old life in Burlington, The Shalimar Restaurant was almost home. But here, we are out of options.
My brilliant and amazing cook-friend Justin is more familiar with the regions of India and will correct me if I am wrong but I believe the bulk of these recipes (and what we know as generic ‘Indian’ food) are from the Punjab region – this particular author of the above book is Kashmiri to which if you read her memoir – which is really interesting – she speaks of influence and similarities but also of a simple authentic everyday cuisine that graces most of her friends and families tables so there are some other regional additions, as well. Justin has his own regional favorites which are divine.
When making an Indian Dinner, I generally take on too much. I like to have the whole experience and thus, a few dishes to share, all the little condiments (Quick Lemon Pickle, Cucumber Raita, Mango Pickle) but any of these can work as their own little meals with fluffy rice (I just make a pot of Jasmine rice on the side) and/or flatbreads. I’ve learned to pare down a bit (I have a master dish which combines 3 of our favorites into one glorious stew, a fish curry, and a super simple cabbage dish, and cashew/butter chicken, and pakorhas, and a potato/mushroom/pea curry but those are for another time) but it’s a juggling act for sure. For a better organizer (which is anyone but me), this isn’t a big deal but I like the adventure! Onto the food!
Delicious Red Dal (Serves 4-6)
1 cup Red Lentils (they are a split, bright salmon/orangey lentil – no substitute)
4 cups water (add more if needed after cooking for awhile)
1 28oz can of Fire Roasted Tomatoes with juice (or 3-4 ripe Large tomatoes, chopped)
1 Lg Onion, finely chopped
2 tsp (or 2 cloves) Garlic, minced
2 Tbsp Ginger, finely chopped
4 Tbsp cooking oil or ghee (I often use coconut oil)
2 tsp ground Turmeric
3 tsp whole Cumin seed
1 tsp Ajwan (ajwain, ajowan, depending) seed*
2 dry Red Hot Peppers (optional, can also add 1 tsp sweet chili powder for flavor but no heat)
1/2 cup Cilantro, chopped
1 14oz can of Coconut Milk (I use whole fat, but that is up to you) (also optional)
salt & pepper to taste
In a deep Medium pot, heat oil to Med-High, add onion, garlic, ginger, and seeds. Saute until fragrant and onions begin to soften. Add turmeric and lentils, stir for a full minute in oil, then add water and tomatoes. Bring to a soft boil, then cook on Med-Low until lentils are tender and desired consistency (I like mine soft but thick), adding more water if lentils need further cooking or loosening. Now is a good time to add hot peppers, add to taste. Let thicken a bit more being careful to stir often so the beans do not stick to the bottom of the pot (there is nothing worse than burned beans – for the pot and the flavor) then stir in coconut milk. Cook until thickened again, salt & pepper to taste. Toss in cilantro just before serving. Great with Quick Lemon Pickle (see below) and I love the addition of Pataki’s Green Mango Pickle, too.
*Ajwan seeds assist with ‘bean trouble’/indigestion, etc. Can substitute 1 tsp ground Asafoetida or 2 bay leaves for similar effect but Ajwan also imparts an ‘authentic’ flavor.
Saag Tofu (Serves 4-6)
For the tofu:
1 block tofu (I really like the local Heiwa, the texture is awesome, I’ve never needed to press and only if I truly desired a smooth softness for something blended, would I use anything else), cut into 3/4″ cubes and marinated in a bowl with
1/2 cup amino acids
1 Tbsp olive oil
2 minced garlic cloves – for at least a half-hour stirring occasionally.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. In a separate bowl or bag, add
1 cup or so of Brown Rice Flour – tossing marinated cubes in the flour to coat.
Line up tiny floured tofu cubes on a lightly oiled sheetpan, drizzle with a little more oil and bake until bottoms are crispy about 10 min, turn over or stir gently with stiff spatula, bake 10 min more until they are happy and crispy all around. Set aside.
You can also substitute the breaded tofu for unbreaded crisped tofu, bits of cooked chicken and even just chunks of potato or paneer – homemade paneer is a treat, for sure! but if you get a chance to get Kennebec Cheesery’s paneer – that is best, found at the Portland Farmer’s Market (get it quick, it goes fast!)
For the Saag:
2 Tbsp cooking oil or ghee
1 Tbsp Panch Phora (panch phoron/phoran, depending)
1 tsp Yellow Mustard seed
1 tsp Cumin seed (yes, in addition to panch phora)
1 tsp ground Turmeric
1 tsp ground Ginger
1 lb Spinach or other greens, rinsed (I use whatever is on hand, but generally a mix – baby kale, dandelion, arugula, spinach, etc, just not too ‘mature’ of a leaf), frozen spinach/kale works great, too
1 fist-sized Turnip or 1 Lg Parsnip (a potato/carrot/Lg radish could work), chopped small
1 Md onion, chopped small
1 cup heavy cream, sour cream, or coconut milk (if desired)
salt to taste
1 -2 tsp garam masala (I use a 7 lucky spice blend of 4 Tbsp coriander/2 Tbsp cumin/1 Tbsp black pepper/2 tsp cardamom sans pods/4 sticks cinnamon/1 tsp (about 5) whole clove/ 1/2 tsp nutmeg – all ground together, store extra in glass jar with lid)
3 Tbsp lemon juice (or more to taste)
In deep saute pan, add oil, seeds, onion, and starchy veg. Stir and cook on Medium until onion is translucent and veg is softening. Add turmeric and ginger, stir for one minute, then add greens (if greens look too dry add a Tbsp of water) and put lid on, turn down to Simmer or Cook and let greens steam, stirring occasionally (add Tbsp of water at a time, if needed) for about 5-10 minutes. Add cream if using, stirring in and cook on low (without lid) until thick (this is a good time to add the breaded and baked tofu, if using). Salt to taste. Remove from heat and stir in garam masala and lemon to taste.
Vindaloo for You (Serves 4-6)
2 lbs boneless Pork or Goat (beef or lamb could work, too), cut into 2″ cubes
6 Tbsp vinegar (I use ACV but white would work just as well)
2 Lg Onions, sliced
2 Tbsp fresh Ginger, chopped
6 cloves Garlic, chopped
1 cup Cilantro, chopped
4 dry Hot Peppers (optional)
1 Tbsp Cumin seed
2″ Cinnamon stick, coarsely crushed
6 Tbsp cooking oil or ghee
1 Tbsp ground Turmeric
1 tsp ground Black Pepper
3 fresh Hot Green Peppers (optional, can substitute 1/2 bell pepper, chopped)
1 tsp Salt, and to taste
1 tsp Sugar
1/2 tsp ground Cloves
2 cups Water
Marinate the meat in 2 Tbsp of vinegar for 2-4 hours, stirring occasionally. Blend the onions, ginger, garlic, cilantro, hot peppers (if using), cumin, and cinnamon with the remaining vinegar to make a paste (add a Tbsp or two of water if needed for blending). When ready to cook, heat the oil in a deep Medium pot. On Medium-High, add puree and fry briskly for 2 minutes. Add the turmeric, black pepper, meat, and the marinade. Fry well for 10 min taking care not to burn the meat. Stir briskly, constantly. Add the green peppers, salt, sugar, cloves, and water. Stir, cover, reduce heat to Medium, and cook for about 45 minutes, until the gravy thickens and the meat is completely tender. Serve with Cucumber Raita (see below).
Quick Lemon Pickle (makes 1 cup)
1 Lg onion, diced
2-3 Tbsp Lemon juice
1 tsp chili pepper (or Indian paprika, depending on taste)
Mix all well in small bowl. Let sit for at least 20 minutes. Use as a condiment to dishes (good to add zest to rich savory dishes like dal and saag).
Cucumber Raita (makes 2 cups)
1 Lg Cucumber, diced or grated
1 1/2 cups Plain Yogurt (consistency is optional, we prefer regular to Greek in this case)
Salt & Pepper
Olive Oil to drizzle
Mix cucumber and yogurt together, add salt and pepper to taste (I like it pepper heavy). Add a generous drizzle of olive oil, mix in. Use as a condiment to dishes (good for cooling heated palates).