Tired of Founders? Don’t know what to do with your kitchen? Sick of microwave dinners? Is the dollar menu making your stomach turn? Don’t be intimidated by unprocessed food! You can cook anything you want to.
To that end, I am not going to start this column with the basics. No scrambled eggs or spaghetti for us! You don’t need my help for that. We’re making an Indian feast.
This dish comes from the cookbook Indian Home Cooking by Suvir Saran and Stephanie Lyness. Saran teaches Indian cooking in New York City and contributes to Food Arts magazine. Lyness is a critic for the New York Times.
I really appreciate this book because Saran’s thesis seems to be the same as my thesis for this column: to give you the confidence that you can cook, even food that seems as complicated as Indian cuisine.
Saran wrote in the introduction, “Through the classes I’ve taught, I’ve found that the best way to teach people to cook Indian food is to demystify it for them — show them that it’s not all that hard to cook.”
He gives a recipe for a very simple dal, raita and chutney, and then gives variations for those same basic ingredients. He encourages people to claim this food and experiment on their own.
There are several reasons why Indian food is awesome.
It is delicious. In my opinion, that’s the only real reason any food is awesome. If it is not delicious, it doesn’t matter how healthy or inexpensive or pretty it is. Those are great attributes, but always, always secondary.
Last but not least, if you ever go to England, you will be familiar with most of the decent food.
Indian food is very commonly vegan and gluten-free, so you can feed friends of all different health and moral persuasions. Even better, it is meant to be that way.
I think this is an important distinction. A lot of vegan and gluten-free food changes a different dish or recipe. A veggie burger is yummy, for example, but it is trying to take the place of a hamburger.
Other aspects of Indian food are naturally good for you too. Instead of Western cuisine’s reliance on white flour, Indian foods use atta or whole wheat flour. According to an article in USA Today, whole wheat flour is more natural and nutritious than white flour and is a good source of calcium, iron and fiber. Plus, instead of butter, Indian food uses vegetable oils.
Most Indian food recipes call for loads of fresh fruit and vegetables and of course those are also good for you.
Indian recipes do generally call for a lot of prep work. That doesn’t sound like a perk, does it? It’s not, except that prepping food makes it perfect to make with your friends. In India, cooking is a communal experience and it can be in your kitchen, too.
Most recipes are super spicy. If you like spice: yay! If you don’t (like me), I think you should try it anyway. I can’t handle a lot of spice and I think cilantro tastes like soap, but the cilantro flavor blends nicely with the rest of the spices in this recipe.
The green chutney we’re making has two cups of cilantro and two green chilies. And since I made it for the first time over winter break, I regularly whip up a batch to keep in the fridge and eat on toast. It’s the best condiment I’ve ever had.
If you’re used to mostly Latin American spices, I think Indian food will surprise you. In fact, if you’re used to Indian food, the food we’re going to make might surprise you, too.
In the introduction to Indian Home Cooking the author writes that most “Indian restaurants in America serve… northern Indian cuisine, the meat cuisine of the Moguls… while [he], a Hindu and a vegetarian, teaches a lot of… dishes [he] adapted from the largely vegetarian communities of northern and southern India.”
Our Indian feast is the beginning of a new Campanil video blog. Check out our website each week for a (mostly vegan) meal you can make that is not only inexpensive but that you can impress your friends and family with.
I will include helpful tips and hilarious commentary on how and why you make certain food certain ways. Every week, there will be a new video with various themes that utilize different sources.
To start off the semester, I am going to make a dal. Much like pasta and rice make up the carbohydrate foundation of Western cooking, legumes — lentils, peas, beans and chickpeas — are found in most Indian meals.
A dal is a puree of cooked legumes that is seasoned with spices and vegetables. It is a great dish to use as an appetizer to even the most American main courses. It is generally served with a crispy Indian bread, like chapatis or partha.
I will show you how to make some kind of flatbread in my video, but you can also buy premade bread, ready for crisping up at home, at Asian grocery stores.
There are other components of recipes in Indian Home Cooking you might need to get at an Asian specialty store, like black gram beans or chickpea flour, but these ingredients are inexpensive and will last you a long time.