"I am a Mistress of Spices...the spices are my love. I know their origins, and what their colors signify, and their smells. I can call each by the true-name it was given at the first, when earth split like skin and offered it up to the sky. Their heat runs in my blood. From amchur to zafran, they bow to my command." -The Mistress of Spices
Adjectives that come to mind when I think of eating Indian cuisine: delicious, savory and scrumptious. Adjectives that come to mind when I think of making Indian cuisine: time-consuming, difficult and terrifying. In other words, as the Indian cooking blog Quick Indian Cooking put it, like many kitchen novices, I would rather eat my shoe than think about making a samosa from scratch. Sigh, what's a girl to do? Many people enjoy Indian dishes yet so few people attempt to cook them due to the time, patience and intricate techniques involved. Enter a shef. Shefaly Ravula, that is.
Shefaly has been cooking Indian cuisine from various regions of the subcontinent for several years. As an Indian Cooking Enthusiast, she teaches the art at the Whole Foods Market's Lamar Culinary Center in Austin along with University of Texas informal classes and private cooking lessons. Her Whole Foods classes have included Hot Hot Hot! featuring fiery, spicy Indian dishes, an Indian flat breads workshop and several South Indian cooking classes which is Shefaly's specialty.
With the popularity of Indian food and the availability of spices and mixes at your neighborhood grocery store, why not give it a try in your own kitchen? Pink Rickshaw asked Shefaly to share some tips, hints and a recipe to spice things up.
PR: If someone is venturing into Indian cooking for the first time or wants a quick and tasty Indian meal on a weeknight, what recommendations do you have for the type of dishes to try?
SR: I would recommend first and foremost a lentil dish, like tomato or spinach dal. (Dal=lentil soup) If you have a pressure cooker, the dish will be finished in 20 minutes. If not, the dish will take a bit longer due to the long cook time lentils require. This dal could be simply served with rice and yogurt for an easy meal and introduction to the "exotic" spices of Indian cooking.
PR tip: The term "easy Indian cooking" is no longer an oxymoron with the aid of frozen foods, spice mixes and packaged dinners. Check your neighborhood Indian grocery store for frozen stuffed breads, naans, and samosas. Also, since curries often require elaborate combinations of spices; mixes, pastes and marinades can give you a great head start.
PR: What are some staple ingredients to keep on hand?
SR: For most dishes, you really just need to keep a few spices on hand which you may purchase from an Indian grocery store or well-stocked supermarket. Some common spices include brown mustard seeds, cumin seeds, fresh curry leaves (if available), turmeric powder, coriander powder, and chili powder. Those are enough to start with and there are so many more that you could use if you choose to expand your repertoire of Indian dishes, for example: asafetida, fenugreek seeds and leaves, ground cumin powder, garam masala, sambhaar powder, cloves, cinnamon, cardamom, black cumin seeds, dried mango powder. Remember, spices can last a long time in airtight containers stored in a dark, cool place.
PR: Indian cuisine can sometimes be on the richer side and not as healthy as other cuisines. What are some ways to make a lighter meal or make it healthier?
SR: Surprisingly, Indian cooking is actually not unhealthy. The typical dishes you see in a regular Indian restaurant are usually of Punjabi origin (a state in Northern India). These dishes as well as some Mughlai cuisine are often laden with heavy cream and butter (but are so tasty!). Most other regional cooking is generally healthy being made with little oil or butter and loaded with vegetables and/or protein. Most vegetarian Indian cooking is made with lentils, legumes, vegetables and paneer (a fresh, mild tasting dense cheese that can be purchased at an Indian grocery store or from a gourmet market). Paneer is high in protein but still has some saturated fats as it is a dairy product. Rice is usually served with curries but can be brown basmati rice or healthy whole wheat flat breads. Some form of yogurt is served with a meal which helps with the heat/spice from the curries. But the trick is yogurt does not have to be whole-milk. We make yogurt from 1 to 2 percent milk to ease the saturated fat intake and add raw shredded vegetables to make it a raita. For non-vegetarian Indian cooking, try to use lean meats. For example, kheema (a minced lamb or beef curry) is traditionally made with red meat but I tend to make it with ground turkey.
PR: What are some good sources of inspiration for Indian cooking?
SR: Some good Indian cookbooks include 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer, Curried Favors by Maya Kaimal and Nina Mehta's Muglai Khanna by Nina Mehta. Sanjeev Kapoor and Tarla Dalal are two of India's most well-known chefs who have put out a plethora of cookbooks. I've also been eyeing Vij's cookbook from the restaurant of same name in Vancouver (which is known as one of North America's most innovative Indian restaurants). I also find cooking blogs to be a good resource.
PR tip: For a list of popular Indian cooking blogs, check out this list of links.
Inspired? Shefaly shares an easy recipe:
(Serves 2-3, Prep time: 10 minutes, Cook time: 25 minutes)
The curry is best accompanied by flat bread like roti or paratha. It is usually served as a lunch or brunch dish or can be a light supper with yogurt or raita on the side.
1 tablespoon canola oil
1 onion, halved, thinly sliced
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1 tablespoon grated ginger root
3 cloves garlic, grated
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1/2 teaspoon coriander powder
1/2 teaspoon salt
4 egg whites whisked with 2 egg yolks
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
1) Heat oil in a wok or nonstick skillet on medium-high heat.
2) Add the sliced onion. Turn heat to medium.
3) Add the turmeric. Stir well. Cook on medium-low heat for 10-15 minutes to soften the onions but not caramelize them.
4) Add the grated ginger and garlic. Add the chili powder, coriander powder, and salt.
5) Stir well and cook 5-10 minutes.
6) Add the eggs and increase the heat to medium. Stir continuously and scrape egg from all sides. It is important to not overcook the eggs. The should cook 3-4 minutes. Remove from heat just before they are completely cooked.
7) Sprinkle cilantro on top and serve. (Dish can be served warm or at room temperature)
Shefaly's next classes at Austin's Whole Foods Market Culinary Center are Mumbai Street Foods on April 28 and a Dosa Workshop on May 30. Can't wait until then? She can answer all your Indian cuisine quandaries at firstname.lastname@example.org.
image source: Shefaly Ravula