Sunday, April 5, 2015

INDIA: THE FOOD


So, we survived the past two weeks with the kids being home for spring break. And amazingly, I did manage to get some work done. I’m not sure how that happened. I did try to get them out of the house to do a few things and give my husband a few moments of peace (although I’m still waiting for my moments of peace). We spent an afternoon at the art museum before they change their prices. It makes me so sad. For decades, the Indianapolis Museum of Art has had free parking and free general admission. Now, they decide to start charging a fee, but instead of charging a modest fee considering the fact that we’re a medium-large city in the Midwest, they want to start charging adults $18 and children $10. (They will now be one of the most expensive art museums in the world.) I guess we won’t be heading back. I wonder how long it’ll take before they realize their attendance has dropped off.

While I mourn the culture of our city, I will drown my sorrows in delicious food. Today is a day I have been looking to with anticipation for a while. I love Indian food, and I’m so happy there are several places in Indianapolis offering Indian buffets.  But now I get to make it myself.

I know two kids who love garlic naan as much as I do.

Today’s bread choice was a no-brainer. I absolutely love garlic naan.  I started by mixing all of the ingredients together in a bowl: lukewarm milk, flour, yeast, salt, baking powder, sugar, plain yogurt, garlic, eggs, and olive oil. I had to add quite a bit of flour to stop it from being so sticky. Then I rolled it in oil and let it rest for almost two hours. After it was ready, I made baseball-sized balls and let it sit for another 15-20 minutes. Now comes the fun part: I pressed each ball out into an oval shape with my hand – and it didn’t matter whether it was uniform or not – and brushed it with a garlic paste (I just took my minced garlic and used my mortar and pestle to pound it to a paste) and sprinkled chopped cilantro on top. Then I laid the dough on a baking sheet and brushed milk on top of each naan before putting it in the oven for about 18 minutes. It smelled wonderful, and although there was garlic in the dough and a little garlic brushed on top, it wasn’t overwhelming on the garlic side. I know the cilantro was baked in, but this is the least aromatic cilantro I’ve ever bought.  Regardless, it was very good. 

This has got to be a health food, right? Minus the fried cheese and butter. Think of the redeeming spinach!


Let’s start with the side dish, which is one of my favorites: saag paneer.  In a pot with boiling water, I added in two bunches of spinach and some frozen fenugreek leaves and cooked those for a few minutes until they were wilted. I drained off all the water, and although the recipe called to puree it, I decided to keep it as is.  In a skillet, I fried the paneer cubes in oil until they were brown and set them aside. In the same skillet, I sautéed cumin in oil and added onions to it. Once the onions were translucent, I stirred in the ginger, garlic, a half-can of tomatoes, garam masala, turmeric, and cayenne pepper and let it cook for about ten minutes. Then I stirred in the greens, some heavy whipping cream, the paneer cubes, and a little salt. Putting the lid on the skillet, I let it cook for another 10-15 minutes. This was very good.  I was amazed that everyone – even my finicky six-year-old – ate this up.  

Can you really go wrong with rice and meat dishes? Not hardly.
I made two main dishes for this meal. The first is pork biryani. I was supposed to marinate my pork loin in spices (ginger, garlic, garam masala, chili powder, tumeric, green chillies, mint, and ground coriander) overnight, but I forgot, so I was hoping doing this for a few hours would be sufficient. Then, I sliced some onions and rolled it in salt in a colander to extract its liquid. I don’t have a Dutch oven, so I had to improvise here. After I fried onions in oil and removed them, I threw in my pork that had been marinating. When it was thoroughly cooked, I added my onions back in along with some yogurt and let it simmer for about 30 minutes. I bought some instant Indian-seasoned basmati rice and made it according to the package and added it to the pork-onion mix in my large pot, throwing in some lemon juice, saffron that has been soaked in milk, and a few spoonfuls of ghee. (Ghee is a type of clarified butter. It’s my first time using it; most times it comes in a glass jar and looks like butter that has started to separate.) And because I can’t put my skillet in the oven, I transferred all the contents to a casserole dish and put the lid on it, baking it for about 25 minutes. The spices were quite strong, I think. No one else thought so, but I think there needed to be a little bit more liquid to dilute some of the spices from the marinade. But since everyone else liked it, I suppose it was pretty good then. Biryani is a favorite of my husband’s, so I made it for him. 

 
I could almost bathe myself in this. Well, not literally. That would be pretty gross. I do have standards. But I'm sure I could lower them for this, though.
The other main dish I chose was cardamom butter chicken. (I actually made this on dish separately from the others on a different day.) Butter chicken is apparently a super popular dish in the UK as is chicken tikka masala. And I now know why. This recipes starts out with grinding several spices and ingredients together to form a paste: garlic, ginger, green chillies, salt, and cilantro (with the stalks). Then I took some ghee (I’ve always called it Indian butter) and slowly fried my onions in it until they are almost caramelized (like, 10 minutes or so). After this, I added in my garlic-ginger paste to my onions, and after about five minutes, I added in my ground spices (turmeric, garam masala, cumin, fenugreek, and ground cloves in lieu of whole cloves). After I mix it all together and sauté it for about five minutes, I scoop everything out in a bowl. Adding a bit more ghee, it’s now time to throw in my diced chicken breast to brown completely. When it’s done, I remove it to its own bowl to set aside. Now, I throw my onion mixture back in the skillet, adding in my whole spices (seedless cardamom pods and cinnamon sticks), a can of diced tomatoes, and a can of water. I let this come to a boil and then simmer for about a half hour. After this time, I add my chicken back into the skillet and cook for another ten minutes until everything is cooked through and mixed together. Finally, the last step in all of this is to add in my yogurt and heavy whipping cream, stirring it all together. I had to add in a little bit of flour to help thicken up the sauce. I served this on that instant basmati rice that I found. (And as far as instant rice goes, this is very good. I’m definitely buying this again.) I was kind of sad that I forgot to garnish this with cilantro leaves. I practically inhaled my dish before I even remembered. This, my friends, was the pièce de résistance. I’m pretty sure that if I believed in myself and tried really hard, I could’ve eaten the entire skillet myself. You know, most people have ham or something for Easter dinner. This year, we had cardamom butter chicken. And it was so awesome.

One of the best meals I've had for a long time.
 
I definitely had fun with one. Perhaps, it’s because I already had a long-time interest in India. I’ve been of fan of Bollywood-style dance music for years, and we certainly had fun watching Dhoom: 2 and Dhoom: 3 (we agreed Dhoom: 3 was better). However, watching these movies made me think about their use of code switching. They’ll start speaking in Hindi (I’m assuming it’s Hindi because I have no idea) and then switch to English. I figured there were English words because most other foreign languages have English-based loan words. But they will also switch whole sentences back and forth between English and Hindi. Do people actually speak that way in India? Or is it something more of a habit of Indian cinema? This would make for a good research topic if I pursued that master’s degree in linguistics like I wanted to thirteen years ago. Anyway, I enjoyed this country a lot. And I’ll definitely have some good lunches and dinners for the next couple of days.

Up next: Indonesia

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