"Indian Food Night" required an international food store visit, every single kitchen appliance I owned and an entire day and one backache to complete. . . but we loved it nonetheless. How can a country so entirely filled with amazing cooks expect an American (Midwestern and vegan, no less) to fully embrace and challenge herself with the necessary prowess to cook luscious Indian meals with flavor AND texture (because for us, the texture is always a challenge) and do it more than say, once or twice every month. . . maybe? No matter how easy the cooking channels make it seem or how breezy it looks to make naan or dahls or whatever Indian--the truth of the matter is, I now more fully appreciate the 30-Minute meals made famous by one food network star! (Where's the 30-minute cookbook for Indian cooking?)
I am just tuckered out from my kitchen foray yesterday. Tired. Taken to the bed. Sore back. Sore feet. Hands have wiped the Vegan Thyme quota of dishes for the week--kitchen is closed today.
Literally I am taken to the bed today because (apparently) a few days ago I started to come down with a nasty infection that sent me to the doc finally at seven this morning when I could no longer stand the pain. Turns out, I am pretty sick with whatever it is that has me. Script for antibiotics and some pain meds were had and now, I am half groggy from it all. I am a stubborn and bad patient. I am such a "no-doctor-for-me-I'll-get-over-it-the-body-heals-thyself" kind of gal--that I nearly gave Mr. Thyme a stroke when he woke up this morning to find me gone with a note attached to the morning paper that read: Hi! Gone to the doctor. No biggie, I promise. Just was up all night. Be right back soon! Love, Me. Please tell me I am not the ONLY woman on earth who hates to be a burden to their "man"! I came in the door after my short trip and was greeted by a pretty frantic hubby. It's all okay now. (I thought he needed to sleep more than escort me to the "germ" palace.)
Perhaps cooking on the heels of an "illness" that is about to take me down, I might have tried grilled vegan cheese sandwiches. But the flavors of India were calling me--I HAD to have Indian food!
Now, I'm not saying Indian cooking is labor intensive. It's just that when I have to prepare a separate "spice" shelf just to house the aromatics that produce one meal--that's sort of a lot for one person to take on. Not everyone on the Indian Food train will want to go there. Meaning complete remodel of food store stuff and reallotment of spice space might not be in the cards for some. I spent the better part of Thursday at an International Food store sifting through the "Region of the World" aisles hunting for: mustard oil, whole cardamom seeds, black salt (which is not even black for crying out loud, it's PINK), black lentils (which were not even in the Indian food isle for crying out loud), and fenugreek among other things, that by the time I made it back home, I had a huge project on my hands: things needed re-labeling, storing and shelving. So was it worth it? YES. (All caps.)
Here's the best part of it all--we are having leftovers tonight! I swear to you, if I thought I could handle Indian cooking more than once in a blue moon, I would cook it more often. (*I think I sort of have to. It will justify my new shelf of spices and keep me from getting angry at the whole waste of it were I not to cook with them more often.)
I WANT to be a better cook in all cuisines. That's one of the main reasons for the blog--but the one country and culture I really wanted to improve in was Indian cooking. I probably have eight Indian cookbooks. Probably three are "good"--good enough that I will faithfully turn to them when I feel the pull of my spices calling. Some of the cookbooks are called things like, Easy Indian Cooking. Quick Indian Cooking. (Easy and Quick to some is not Easy and Quick for others.) I finally expanded my rerpertoire with: Madhur Jaffrey's World Vegetarian. (A must have and why it did not have a place on my shelf sooner is a long story.)
Here's the dinner hi-light, and recipe below for the chutney. I have learned from reading that in Indian cooking there are "many" parts to an Indian Dinner. I am pretty sure I met this "parts" requirement after double and triple checking the list one of my cookbooks recommends. As for the lentil dish, I'm sure there are a hundred variations for black lentils on the internet. (There are, I just checked.) My recipe for the pear chutney was inspired by a recipe in Madhur's book, only hers called for peaches and some overnight soaking of the fenugreek seeds. I bypassed all of that and made it in like thirty minutes in a saucepan. (I had some pears that were begging for use, so I made the substitution--worked like a charm!)
And for those wondering how my timeline worked in this endeavor--here it is broken down--all five hours of it. First, I bought a new slow cooker (finally cutting me free of my mother's Crock Pot cooker from the 70s--feel really bad about doing so. . .but it needed to happen. Thank you Cuisinart, once again, for making my life better!) I was able to condense the cooking time of the black lentils by using my pressure cooker (I do not know how I lived without my pressure cooker before) to give them a head start. I then placed all of my Black Lentil ingredients in the slow cooker pot, turned it on high and set it for four and a half hours. The flavors had time to meld together this way. As this was all simmering, I started the rice and chutney. I then, for the last step, put the ingredients together for naan flatbread. (So simple: flour water--I used a bubbly water, salt, knead, rest, roll, fry.) Then, while my naan dough was resting, I put together my glazed carrots for a veggie side. Who doesn't love glazed carrots?
There you have it. I have a photo of the final dinner in all its glory above, but I really don't think it gives it justice. I was darn proud of how everything came together: flavors, textures, condiments. However, the main event to me was that lovely chutney. (Plus, the picture of the chutney was my best photo from last night.) I LOVED this chutney and will be making plenty more. I couldn't stop nibbling on it while it was cooking down. I swear it's that magical mustard oil. Has to be.
(Adapted from Madhur Jaffrey's Modern Vegetarian)
3 pears peeled and chopped into 1/2"
2 tablespoons mustard oil (canola will work, but try to find mustard oil if you can)
juice of half a lemon
1 teaspoon whole cumin seeds
1/4 teaspoon fenugreek seeds (crushed in a mortar and pestle)
1/4 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon yellow or brown mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
fresh ginger (about two inches long), chopped up
1/4 teaspoon ground tumeric
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
dash of cayenne pepper
4 tablespoons sugar
3/4 cup water
Peel and chop pears. Place in a bowl and squeeze the juice of half a lemon over them. Set aside while you prep the seasonings. Heat oil over medium-to-low heat in medium sauce pan. Add cumin and mustard seeds and allow to cook about one minute (until they begin to pop--have the lid to the sauce pan handy or you will have mustard popping all over!). Add the ginger, fennel seeds, crushed fenugreek and water. Allow to simmer on medium low heat for about 15 minutes with lid on. Remove lid and add remaining spices, plus the sugar and pears. Mix together well. Simmer for about 20 minutes, stirring now and then, keep an eye on it and don't have your heat up too high. When time is up, remove from heat and allow the mixture to sit in the sauce pan until the chutney begins to cool and gels up a bit (this is from the natural pectin in the fruit--so if it still looks a bit "runny"--don't worry, it will firm up as it cools). Serve at room temperature or cold the next day. Just delish!