Wednesday, July 2, 2014

An Indian Spread

I cooked India tonight, and it was a huge success! I was a little dubious to try India out on my family (like I will be for many countries). My dad told me right off that he hates Indian food. When I pressed him for more information on his not-so-great Indian food encounter, I found out he had tried Indian cuisine at a restaurant in China. Yep, I'm sure that was authentic... Anyway, Sydney loves India, so I did this meal for her. She has wanted to go over there for the past few years, and she sends money to help exploited children living in India. I hoped to introduce her to a little bit of the culture through our meal.


Before I give you the recipes for the delicious meal pictured above, I want to clue you in on some information about Indian cuisine. The Indian staples are bread, rice, and split peas. Spices and chilies play a huge role in flavoring food. So many spices may be in a recipe that a simple dish can have a massive ingredient list. Meals generally are not that simple, though. A family dinner in a moderate income family typically consists of tons of different dishes. Raitas, chutneys, breads, rice, and vegetables are incorporated into basically every meal. Since most of the population of India is either Hindu or Muslim, there is not much meat in their diet. What meat they do consume (among those who consume meat) is typically chicken or lamb.

I want to start out with the recipes for the accompaniments to the meal. These "accompaniments" traditionally include chutneys and raitas. I made a cucumber raita similar to a Greek tzatziki sauce. My mom and Sydney ate this up. It was like an Indian spin to one of their favorite dishes. Raita is great served on naan bread, and also helps to cool off your mouth between spicy bites of other dishes.

Kheera Raita
2 cups whole milk yogurt
1 tomato, chopped
1 cucumber, grated
1 small green chili pepper, finely chopped
1 tbsp mint leaves, chopped
1 tbsp cilantro leaves, chopped
1 tsp Chaat Masala (recipe follows)
salt and pepper, to taste

Mix together all of the ingredients, stirring in the chaat masala last of all. Season with salt to taste. Cover and refrigerate until chilled.


Everyone raved about the awesome naan bread I made to go with the dip and sop up the extra sauce from the other dishes. I was a little worried about the stickiness of the dough, but it all came out well. I am so glad I decided to make the naan homemade instead of going the easy route and buying it at the store. It really made the difference.

Indian Naan
makes 8
3 tsp active dry yeast
2 tsp sugar
1 ¼ cup warm milk at 110 degrees
5 cups all-purpose flour
½ tsp baking powder
½ tsp salt
1 egg, beaten
3 tbsp oil or melted ghee
¾ cup whole milk yogurt

Mix together the warm milk, yeast, and sugar. Set aside for 10 minutes. Meanwhile, mix the flour and baking powder together. Make a well in the center, and pour in the remaining ingredients, including the yeast mixture. Using a mixer, stir the dough into a sticky ball. Let the mixture run for 5 minutes. Cover the dough ball with a moist towel, and set in a warm place for 2 hours. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Lightly flour a clean surface, and divide the dough into 8 equal balls. Roll the balls out into oblong disks, about ½ to ¼ inch thick. Spread out on a stone, and bake for 12-15 minutes, or until golden brown. Serve with the raita.

Dal is a must to almost every Indian meal. It can be made out of any lentil, pea, or bean with an unlimited list of added ingredients. I stuck with a simple recipe for a no-fuss dal. Everyone loved it, and there were no leftovers. I think that says a lot coming from my family.

Channa Dal
serves 4
1 cup dry channa dal or other split pea
¼ tsp salt
½ tsp ground turmeric
1 small green chili pepper, chopped
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tbsp oil or ghee
½ tsp ground ginger
¼ tsp cayenne pepper powder
1 tsp ground cumin
juice of ½ lime
2 tbsp chopped cilantro

Cover the split peas with 2 inches of water in a pot. Bring to a boil and mix in the salt and turmeric. Reduce the heat to low, cover, and let the split peas simmer for 25 minutes. Heat the oil in a saucepan over medium heat. Drain any excess water off the split peas. Add the garlic, chili, ginger, cayenne pepper, and cumin, stirring constantly for 45 seconds. Pour in the split peas along with ¼ cup water. Stir occasionally for 5- 10 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the lime and cilantro, and serve.


Rice is a must to take the edge off of spicy dishes. Basmati is the rice of choice in most of India, and here is a simple and quick recipe to prepare your own.

Basmati Rice
serves 4
1 cup 10 minute basmati rice
2 ¼ cups water
dash of salt
1 tbsp oil or ghee

Bring the rice, ½ tbsp. oil, water, and salt to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for 10 minutes. Once all the water has been absorbed, stir the remaining oil into the rice and serve.
I chose not to have a vegetarian meal since I knew that probably would not satisfy the meat loving tastes of my family. I found this recipe for a onion packed chicken stew in a creamy yogurt sauce. It might sound a little weird, but it tasted great. The yogurt helped cut the heat from the chilies, and the onions all simmered down to a flavorful deliciousness. The idea for this dish is for there to be twice as much onion as their is chicken. Five onions made their way into my pan, and my mom did not even complain.
Murgh Dopiaza
serves 6
1 ½ cup boneless, skinless chicken thighs cut into 1” chunks
2 onions, chopped
3 onions, thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
2 cups chicken broth
3 small green chili peppers
3 tbsp oil or ghee
1 tbsp ground coriander
1 tbsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground turmeric
½ tsp cayenne pepper powder
¾ tsp ground ginger
1 ½ cups plain yogurt
salt and pepper, to taste
Heat the oil over medium heat in a large saucepan. Puree the chopped onions, garlic, and chili peppers in a blender or food processor. Stir the coriander, cumin, ginger, turmeric, and cayenne pepper into the oil to toast. Stir constantly for 30 seconds. Add the pureed onion mixture and cook for 5 minutes, or until aromatic. Add the sliced onions and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook for 8 minutes, or until tender. Add in the chicken and broth, bring to a boil, and reduce the heat to low. Cover and simmer for 25 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. Take the lid off and cook over medium for another 5 minutes. Take the pan off the heat, stir in the yogurt, season to taste, and serve.
We rounded out the meal with a delicious fruit salad. Traditionally, the dessert is served alongside the rest of the food during an Indian meal. I guess you really can have dessert first especially when it is as delicious and good for you as a huge bowl of fresh fruit.
Phal ki Chaat
1 pineapple, peeled and cored
2 cups seedless grapes, cut in half
1 orange, peeled
1 mango, peeled and cored
juice of ½ lime
¼ cup orange juice
2 tsp chaat masala (recipe follows)
2 tbsp mint, chopped
Cut all the fruit into bite sized chunks. Mix all the ingredients together in an airtight container. Store in the refrigerator for two hours until chilled.

Here is an Indian spice mix that you can use in anything from savory dishes to sweet desserts. I was a little afraid to put it on my fruit chaat, but the sweet and savory flavors blend seamlessly. The salt really brings out the flavors in the fruit. Everyone was happily surprised with how it all tasted together.

Chaat Masala
1 part ground cumin
2 parts ground ginger
1 part sea salt
1 part cayenne pepper powder

Mix all of the spices together. Store in an airtight container.

So how did our massive Indian meal turn out?

It was great! Everyone in my family gave me rave reviews, especially for the naan. Once again Harper tried everything on her plate, and was very pleased with the bread, dal, and fruit. Sydney LOVED it all. I was so glad that I could bring a little bit of India to her. She says she could definitely survive in India if the food tasted like this. My mom, of course, liked it all. (She is not too hard to please, especially when she gets a day off from cooking.) Even my self professed Indian food hating father liked the dal, bread, fruit salad (with the spice!), and rice. One more country down, more adventures to come.

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