Tag Archives: Indian

THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: SEV PURI

Perhaps it is a generational symptom, or hazard, to experience times in one’s life that are later identified as having felt “like a movie.”  If serendipity, luck, or chance has played a large part, making one’s day unusually perfect or delightfully surprising, then “it was like a movie.”  If terrible things have taken place, things no one could have foreseen, things one feels one might not make it through, then “it was like a movie,” also.

Nearly everything about the summer of 2006 occurs, for me, like a movie.  This may well be the case because all of it is showcased, projected up on the screen of my mind, as if it happened to someone else.  As if it had been written, the frighteningly complete alignment of feeling and form, sure to please even the most exacting director.  Don’t get me wrong, I am grateful for whatever hand laid out the minutiae of our lives that summer.  But living life like a movie will throw you off balance after a while.  “So let it be written, so let it be done.”

From one morning in Mumbai, a particularly cinematic recollection.  My father and I went out for a walk, just the two of us, traveling down the rickety elevator of his sister’s flat and out into the street.  We worked across a few busy streets to the Five Gardens, where paths are reserved for pedestrians.  The gardens are really more like well-shaded parks gated off from traffic.  Of course, everywhere you turn in Mumbai is a veritable garden; given the hothouse climate, all manner of flowers and greenery grow.

Each of the five gardens contains a different buzz of activity—a rousing game of cricket underway on one dusty circle, some quiet games of chess between old men under the shade of palm trees. At that point in my life, I aspired to be one of those people who can eat street food.  I had read Bourdain, I bought into the romance of late nights, authenticity, and machismo.  I believed him when he says that you don’t really know a place until you eat what everyone who lives there is lining up to eat on some random street corner.  And I was willing to sacrifice some nights of peaceful sleep for a stomach of iron and some really good noodle bowls—I just hadn’t had much of a chance.

In between trips to India, I only made one trip outside of the States—a college jaunt to Amsterdam, where the bragging rights for eating street food are not nearly as high as, say, Thailand or Japan.  I did, however, take the liberty of consuming several cones of warm European frites with spicy mayonnaise in the wee hours of the morning, which I still crave when I am up very late and have been drinking.

I also remember, very distinctly, watching my father stand in the middle of an open market in Mexico and risk his life (and my mother’s wrath) to eat fish tacos.  I was dying to take a bite myself, but I was only ten and, at that point in my life, unable to defy her.  More than a decade later, on that morning walk, I jumped at the chance to eat recklessly with my dad, to eat away from my mother’s watchful eye, to join my father in a little subversive act,  just one moment of defiance to make up for all of those years I placed myself unabashedly on my mother’s “side.”

With the paper rupees in my father’s wallet, we feasted on watermelon, mango, coconut milk straight from the fruit, and shared a crunchy helping of sev puri.  The Indian food smorgasborg, sev puri is a classic street food, a weird, delicious concoction of spicy cooked potatoes, raw onions, the option of boiled moong beans (they taste like mild peas but are a little more toothsome), and drizzles of dhania (cilantro) and imli (tamarind, my favorite) chutnies atop a bed of salty, crunchy chips and twigs made from chickpea flour.  Served in a big, Styrofoam cup with a plastic spoon, our snack was well worth the risk of intestinal distress, as well as my mother’s dismay, though we managed to keep the secret together, and I am spilling it now.

Sev Puri falls under the large umbrella of Chat, or snacks, along with its cousins bhel puri and pani puri.  As with most iconic food, there is much variety in the method and lively debate about just what constitutes true sev puri and what does not.  This version has been honed to my tastes, of course, but also to the ease and convenience of a lazy but satisfying pantry meal or an answer to the question “what should I feed all of these people who have suddenly appeared at my house?”  Stored properly, the dry ingredients will keep in your pantry for months, the chutneys freeze well, onions & cilantro are cheap, and if you’re like me, you always have a random handful of potatoes hanging out somewhere, waiting to be cooked.  Am I right?


SEV PURI

You can (and should feel free to) add tomatoes, a drizzle of yogurt, roasted chickpeas, sprouted mung beans, chopped Serrano or other peppers, even diced mango to your sev puri.

For the bottom/crunchy layer of this snack, you’ll need to acquire a bag of packaged sev (fried bits of chickpea flour) and one of flat puris (small flatbreads, also fried).  Your local Indian grocery may have a bagged “sev puri mix” with these two pre-combined—just ask.  If you don’t use these up the first time, they’ll keep in the pantry if well-sealed in plastic bags.

for the potatoes:

2 lb. red new potatoes
1 T ground cumin
1 T ground coriander
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. Indian red pepper (lal mirch)
squeeze of lemon

Boil the potatoes whole until soft and easily pierced with a fork.  Cool, then peel and chop into half-inch chunks.  Toss with the spices and mix well.  Check for salt & taste but keep in mind that you’ll be adding many layers of flavor so you don’t want the potatoes to be overbearing.  Set aside until ready to serve.

for the dhania (cilantro) chutney:

2 bunches cilantro
2-inch knob fresh ginger, peeled
1/3 cup of peanuts, pumpkin seeds, or sunflower seeds (if salted, decrease the amount of salt you add to the chutney)
1 jalapeño, seeded if you like
¼ cup fresh lemon or lime juice
1 T ground cumin
1 tsp. salt
water

To prep the cilantro, wash it thoroughly and chop off the bottom portion of the stems.  If you like, you can pick off the leaves and discard all stem pieces, but I honestly don’t find this is necessary—just cut off the tough ends.

Process all ingredients in the blender, adding water until you reach your desired texture; I like mine just shy of smooth.

for the imli (tamarind) chutney:

Many people make imli chutney with dates or jaggery (palm sugar), but I learned from my mom to use apple butter instead and I think it’s way delicious-er.

1 cup apple butter*
½ cup tamarind paste
1 T ground cumin
1 T ground coriander
2 tsp. salt
½ tsp. Indian red pepper (lal mirch)
water

Combine all ingredients except water in a small saucepan.  Heat on low, adding water to thin the chutney.  Cook until the ingredients are incorporated, checking to be sure the flavors are balance.  The chutney should be sweet, with a hint of fire and strong “pucker” from the tamarind.  If you want more of any one flavor, add the corresponding ingredient.

Cool before storing in the fridge and freezer.  Be mindful that the chutney will thicken, so you may need to thin it again before serving.

* If you can get your hands on homemade apple butter, do.  Otherwise, it’s easy to find in the “peanut butter & jelly” aisle of your supermarket.

for the assembly:

I like to arrange the components along a counter or table so each person can assemble his/her own.  In the bottom of a bowl, add a heap of sev and a few puris, breaking up the latter with a spoon or fork.  Throw on some potatoes, then onions if you like, then cilantro if you like, and generous drizzles of one or both chutneys.

THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: KHEER (RICE PUDDING)

I have a sweet tooth.  A serious, serious sweet tooth.


As a kid, my mom managed the sugary contents of our house with an iron fist; that is to say there weren’t really any sugary contents in our house.  Well, there was sugar, and I am ashamed to admit that more than once I snuck spoonfuls of the powdered sugar from the baking pantry and grabbed furtive handfuls of the Cinnamon Red Hots my mom kept as a secret ingredient for her holiday-time hot punch.

The first time I spent the night at a friend’s house, I opened her freezer to discover pints and pints of ice cream.  Just SITTING there.  Available for eating…whenever she wanted.  Staggering.

To be fair, my mom had good reasons to be strict about sugar.  My father developed typed-II diabetes when I was a little kid, and she was determined not to let genetics win with me.  But the truth is, much like a teetotaler’s kid, I went a little bit nuts with sugar when I achieved the freedom of adulthood.  My freshman 15 had nothing to do with beer and everything to do with Chef Roger, who took over my residential college’s kitchen and had a real way with pastry.

Those who know me know the affairs I’ve had with various kinds of ridiculous sugar products: Smarties, Bottlecaps, Laffy Taffy (but only the grape & strawberry flavors).  Chocolate isn’t safe around me, either.  I could SO have been one of those Willy Wonka kids.

In the last few years, though, I’ve worked to consciously change my tastes.  No more movie-theater-sized boxes of candy or cartons of Ben & Jerry’s for me.  Smaller spoonfuls of sugar in my tea, sometimes no sugar at all.  It’s amazing how I’ve been able to retrain my palate to the point where I can appreciate desserts and flavors I would have previously overlooked.

As a kid, kheer never appealed to me—not nearly sweet enough, of course.  But now, I love the subtlety of the cardamom and rosewater, tinged with just a bit of sweetness and finished with the salty texture from the nuts.

So I’m proud to say that my tastes have become a bit more sophisticated, though I have been known to buy a small bag Laffy Taffy at Walgreen’s every now and then…just don’t tell my mom!

KHEER (Indian Rice Pudding)

Kheer isn’t particularly difficult to make, but it does require patience.  Cook it slowly on the stove whenever you’re already planning to be in the kitchen for a while.

The best part? Kheer keeps extremely well—in fact, you may even find that it tastes better after a few days in the fridge.

ingredients:

4 cups milk*
½ cup basmati rice
½ cup chopped almonds and/or pistachios, toasted
¼ cup sweetened condensed milk
2 T ground cardamom (I love this flavor, but if you don’t, cut the amount in half)

optional: rosewater

Rinse the rice while heating the milk over medium-low heat in a heavy-bottomed pot.  Drain & add the rice to the milk, stirring to combine with a wooden spoon.

The main object while cooking kheer is to keep the milk from scorching at the bottom of the pan.  You don’t have to stir constantly, just regularly, and err on the side of caution when it comes to managing the heat on the stove.

As it cooks, the kheer will thicken.  If you prefer a thinner pudding, feel free to add extra milk.

When you’ve reached the thirty minute mark, check the rice for doneness.   Once it has been cooked through, remove the pot from the heat.  Stir in the cardamom, then swirl in the sweetened condensed milk, then check for sweetness—you may want to add a bit more.

Serve the kheer hot, warm, or cool.  Sprinkle each bowl-full with a handful of nuts and a teaspoon or so of rosewater.

*please use 2% or whole milk, it makes for far superior kheer.

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THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: LAMB KOFTA

One of the hardest things about losing my dad is that there are just so many things I’d like to cook for him.

After a certain passage of time, the distinguishable presence of a loved one begins to fade—the distinct quality of their voice, the shape of their face in three dimensions, the particular quirks and habits.  It becomes more difficult to guess what they might have said in a particular situation, how they would react to a comment or a joke, what books you might recommend to them now, or what movies you would take them to.  I find it terrifying, in fact, the way passage of time seems to make it increasingly difficult for me to conjure up my father the way he was, the way he might be now.

Difficult, too, because the more time that goes by, the more different I am, perhaps unrecognizable to him.  My dad died before I earned a Masters degree, before I got my first full-time job, before I bought myself a car and did my own taxes and grew my hair out long and then cut it again.

I hate that he has missed all of this, and I have missed him in it.  I have wondered, doubted, that I might be forgetting him, losing him.

But the one place I still feel certain of him is in the kitchen.  I know, instinctively, the dishes he would want, the moment he would sneak a warm treat from the oven, the recipes that would dazzle him and make him proud.  This is one of them.

LAMB KOFTA

This dish is rich, satisfying, and incredibly flavorful.  It also freezes well, so feel free to make a big batch!

meatballs:

1 lb. ground lamb
½ basin (chickpea flour)
½ cup crumbled paneer*
¼ cup cilantro, roughly chopped
½ onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 T garam masala
2 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. cumin
½ tsp. red mirchi (pepper)

Sauté the onion & garlic in a bit of vegetable oil until soft.  Once they cool, toss them into a big bowl with the rest of the meatball ingredients.

Using your hands, form meatballs about an inch in diameter.  (I like to keep them on a sheet pan until they’re all ready.)  Once you’re ready, heat a cup of vegetable oil in a deep saucepan over medium-high heat.  Fry the meatballs until light brown, approximately four minutes on each side.

If you want to freeze or keep the meatballs separate from the gravy, you can finish them in a 350˚ oven, which should take only 10-12 minutes.  If you’re planning to serve them, just keep them to the side or in a low oven while you make the gravy.

gravy:
2 large (28 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
1 pint sour cream
½ cup whole almonds
½ large red onion, sliced
3 T ginger, chopped
3 T garlic, chopped
2 tsp. whole cumin
2 tsp. whole coriander

In a large, heavy bottomed pot, heat a quarter cup of vegetable oil over medium-low heat until it shimmers.  Add the cumin and wait for it to crack before tossing in the garlic, ginger, & onion.  Cook for a few minutes, then add the almonds and whole coriander.

Cook it all down until soft, and the onions are translucent, adding more oil during the cooking if necessary.  This whole process will take about fifteen minutes.

Toss in the tomatoes and stir everything together.  If you have an immersion blender, go ahead and put it to work.  If you’re using a conventional blender, allow the mixture to cool before blending it in batches.  Process until the mixture has reached your desired texture (I like mine a little bit chunky).

Add the sour sour cream to the gravy, mixing thoroughly until it turns light pink.  Reheat the gravy over medium heat until bubbling—be sure to stir regularly so it doesn’t stick to the bottom.  Add the partially cooked meatballs to the gravy and let them finish cooking there.

Serve over basmati rice, garnish with cilantro.

*Many of you may be able to buy paneer, which is a mild Indian cheese, at a specialty grocery store.  If not, you can make your own (it’s actually very easy!) or substitute a similar soft, mild cheese: farmer’s cheese, queso fresco, or a ricotta.  If you’re using ricotta, which can sometimes be watery, squeeze it out in a cheesecloth first.

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THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH YOGURT SAUCE

This recipe is much more Indian-inspired than actually “Indian.” It’s not some old-country recipe the secrets of which my mother has passed down to me, but rather an idea I got out of a Cook’s Illustrated magazine a few years ago. There isn’t really anything authentic about it, in fact, and so it might not at all belong in the “food of my people” category, but you know what? It’s cheap, it tastes delicious, it’s easy to make, and it got me to actually EAT CAULIFLOWER.

A strange and lovely, flowery, blooming, cruciferous vegetable. Oddly photogenic, pretty good for you. Generally overcooked or masked by a tragic cheese sauce. Oh maligned cauliflower, redemption is near.

When I was a kid, I hated cauliflower. H-A-T-E-D it. Gobi, in Hindi, was one of my dad’s favorite things to eat: pickled, stuffed into paranthas (griddle breads), even raw. Oh how I used to gag and fuss in that dramatic way little kids do when it was even suggested to me that I might eat some.

But like so many other palate-changing moves that come in adulthood, I at some point found myself eyeing the vegetable in the grocery store, tilting my head and thinking “Hmmm…” and now I will eat plates and plates of this stuff, warm from the oven, with a little naan at hand. Cauliflower, my new best friend.

This happened with olives, too, in graduate school. As a little girl, I remember plowing through those tiny cans of black olives, balancing each one on the top of my index finger before popping it in my mouth. But I suppose I overdosed on olives because, from age 6-24, I was not interested. Yick, yeesh, yuck, ew.

But then, one magical night at my friend Cara’s tiny graduate school apartment, which she kept impeccably and impossibly decorated, I sat drinking through a couple of bottle of cava with my two best friends, faced with a dreamy Spanish-inspired spread of almonds, figs, prosciutto, Manchego, & you guessed it! Big, fat, luscious olives. Once anathema to me, they suddenly glistened like jewels and I found myself downing them one after another, briny revelation.

I’m not sure how these transformations happen, if something one day becomes unlocked in our brains or our stomachs, if the tongue has a mind of its own which it can change at will, if as we age and smell new things and live in new places and with new people, we shift, glacially, towards things that had once seemed impossible.

ROASTED CAULIFLOWER WITH YOGURT SAUCE
Adapted from Cook’s Illustrated

So here’s the thing: curry powder isn’t so much an authentic Indian ingredient. It isn’t even a consistent ingredient, seeing as how it’s actually a BLEND of spices. Therefore, the quality, taste, & heat of curry powders can vary widely, so it’s an ingredient where I suggest you go for quality: McCormick’s has a fine enough grocery-store accessible version; I’m currently using Penzey’s medium hot bottle.

All of that being said, I’m dying to try this same method with halved brussels sprouts—another often-hated vegetable I have grown to love. The caramelization that comes when roasting brings out a nuttiness in the sprouts and I think the flavors of the yogurt sauce would nicely offset their inherent bitterness.

ingredients:

1 head cauliflower
½ cup olive oil
1 ½ T curry powder
salt

pan: two large baking sheets or roasting pans, lined with foil
oven: 400˚

Remove any leaves from the cauliflower and trim the stem so it’s flush and the head will sit upright on a cutting board. Using a large knife and caution, cut wedges in the cauliflower about ½-inch thick all the way around, leaving as much stem intact as possible. The idea is to create cauliflower pieces which will lie flat on either side.

In a small bowl, combine the olive oil & curry powder. Distribute the cauliflower equally between the two baking sheets or roasting pans, then drizzle with half of the oil. Sprinkle the cauliflower with salt, then flip and do the same on the other side.

Roast in the oven for 10 minutes, then remove baking sheets so you can flip the pieces over and roast the other side. Cook an additional 10-15 minutes, or until the cauliflower is as tender as you want it (test with a fork). I like mine quite short of mushy, with a bite to it still.

If the pieces become too brown while cooking, simply cover with more foil. Serve when warm, with yogurt sauce.

for the sauce:

1 cup yogurt
¼ cup diced red onion
¼ cup chopped fresh cilantro
2 T lemon or lime juice
1 tsp. curry powder
salt
canola oil

Heat just a tiny bit of oil in a small saucepan and sauté the onions until very soft. Remove from heat and sprinkle the curry powder atop the onions, stirring to mix.

Combine the yogurt, onion mixture, citrus juice, & cilantro in a bowl. Stir thoroughly, then taste-test, adding a pinch of salt if you like.  Spoon over the warm cauliflower.

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THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: ACHAR

I don’t really speak Hindi.  It is the only way, and I mean this truly, apart from melodrama it may connote, it is the only way in which I feel at all like a failure in life.  I can understand a great deal of Hindi when spoken to, I know my colors and numbers and (of course) food items, but I can’t really form sentences on my own in order to respond back.  The alphabet I recognize, and I can sound out words phonetically but my vocabulary isn’t so great and my writing ability is limited to signing my own name.

I can hear my mother: “I know, I know, we screwed up big time!”  My one big wish, that they had taught me when I was a baby.  They didn’t because they thought it would be best. Raising a child period seems scary enough to me, let alone raising one in a completely foreign country.  My parents feared that difference would haunt me, that I would be teased, encumbered by an accent.  For them, their voices were the main channels through which they encountered resistance, were flagged as “other.”

And so English was my first language.  It fact, it was the only language they spoke to me, around me, for a long time.  By the time I was old enough to wish for bilinguality, to request that my parents start speaking in Hindi around the house, they were rusty, throwing in English words where their vocabularies had gone soft.  I believe I was in college by the time I figured out that my father was actually trilingual (Punjabi), my mother an impressive quad (Punjabi, Urdu).  No need to worry about this daughter assimilating: I’m an all-American, English-only speaker.

I took one semester of Hindi in college, and struggled through the whole thing.  Perhaps it was the case of a naturally gifted student bucking up against something, for once, not coming naturally.  Perhaps I thought, of all things, this should.  I’ve also always been so totally intimidated by other Indian kids, to tell the truth.  Like they are part of some club I just don’t belong to.  They watch the movies, they have spent multiple summers in India, they hang out almost exclusively with other Indians.  They knew much more of the language than I did.  Me?  I took a geeky, dead language (Latin) in high school and have a terrible ear for accents and intricacies.  Thank goodness I took that class pass/fail.  Needless to say, I did not go back for Hindi 102.

A few years later, I put in a good effort with a set of those ubiquitous Rosetta Stone CD-ROMs before my parents and I traveled to India, doing well enough to make my three weeks there a fertile time for my brain to absorb everything I heard. I found myself laughing at jokes, having mostly understood them, and even dreaming in Hindi for weeks after we got back.  Dreaming in another language is one of the most sublime things I have ever experienced, as if the gods had favored you: my child, you are authentic now.

But it didn’t last.  My father died, and somehow the desire to work on my Hindi died with him.  Losing him only highlighted how much I wish I spoke this language, how inadequate I feel not knowing it, how utterly defeated I am by the whole thing.  I find that I am ashamed, worried I seem like a fraud, such a white girl parading around in brown skin.  At some point, I’m just going to have to accept that I may never speak Hindi the way I want to—which might free me up to actually make a concerted effort to learn it instead of wishing I could just magically go back in time and learn how.

What I can do is cook the food.  And, for now, that is a kind of language in and of itself.

GAAJAR, GOBI, & HARI MIRCH ACHAR
(CARROT, CAULIFLOWER, & JALAPEÑO PICKLE)

This is, I’m afraid, one of those Indian recipes which calls for ingredients you probably don’t have on hand.  They can, however, be easily acquired at any Indian grocery store or good spice purveyor.

Though this recipe is for a pickle, there’s no reason you can’t eat it like a sabji (vegetable dish), especially if you are a fan of spice.  Otherwise, serve it alongside other Indian dishes as a condiment or with storebought papadum or other flatbread/cracker as an excellent appetizer.

spices:

1 ½ tsp. mustard seeds
1 ½ tsp. whole coriander
1 tsp. whole cumin
1 tsp. anise seeds
1 tsp. fenugreek seeds

Toast the spices in a small saucepan or toaster oven (set on low) for 5-8 minutes or until fragrant.  Cool the mixture a bit before grinding to a powder.

vegetables:

4 large carrots, peeled & cut into ¼ -inch slices
1 cup cauliflower florets
3 jalapeño peppers, sliced ½-inch thick

Place the vegetables into a heat-safe colander.  Pour 4 cups boiling water over them to soften/sterilize.

to make the achar:

¼ cup canola or vegetable oil
¼ cup lime or lemon juice
½ tsp. turmeric
¼ tsp. garlic powder
salt
asafetida (optional)

Heat the oil over medium in a deep, heavy-bottomed pot.  Add the turmeric and a few sprinkles of asafetida, if using.  Heat the spices and oil for a few minutes, then remove from the heat and toss in the vegetables.  Pour in the masala (spice) mixture, adding the garlic powder and a small palm-full of salt.

Toss everything to coat, adding in the lemon juice and a splash of hot water if you need more liquid.  In cold weather, you can jar the achar and leave it outside to sit overnight.  In warm weather, refrigerate immediately.

Achar will keep well-sealed, for 4-6 weeks.  Shake the jar before serving.

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THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: SUJI HALWA

This is kind of a strange food.  And I feel a little strange blogging about it because I’m not sure any of you will ever end up making it.

Actually, that’s not true; I know at least one of you will.  When I wrote about our big ole Diwali party in October, I mentioned that suji halwa was the featured dessert, fellow blogger Cheryl requested a recipe.  I tucked her request away in my messy mental filing cabinet and am just now getting around to fulfilling it.

Suji halwa isn’t just a slightly weird Indian food I grew up eating; it’s a sacred, slightly weird Indian food I grew up eating.  Basically a sweetened cream-of-wheat, suji halwa is flavored with cardamom, often studded with nuts.

It’s traditional in North Indian, where my people are from, to use suji halwa as prashad, an edible offering brought to temple or puja, blessed in God’s presence and redistributed to those present as nourishment, in both the literal and figurative sense.  As a kid, I looked forward to Tuesday mornings because my mother would rise extra early to make a batch of suji halwa, then bless it through her morning prayers and feed it to me for breakfast.

I don’t think it’s any accident that most all of the world’s religions have traditions and rituals related to food—communion, fellowship, transubstantiation—it’s all an effort to connect to the ineffable through one of our most basic and necessary acts, eating.  We consume, we are consumed, we become one, we are molecularly joined.

This week has brought with it little moments of joy and extended scenes of the most terrifying loss and sadness.  To keep a constant, even if it’s something as humble as a porridge, builds constancy and assurance that this spinning world is still an okay place to be, in spite of the despair that comes with it.

From Diwali 2009: my dear friend Dave & his sister Diane. She is among the missing in Haiti.

SUJI HALWA

If you have ever visited a Hindu or Sikh temple, it’s likely you’ve tasted this stuff yourself.  Everyone’s version is a little bit different—what I like about my mom’s (outside of perfectly fusing with hundreds of Tuesday morning memories, of course) is that it isn’t at all greasy and goes great with a cup of tea.  Try it as a dessert or with a piece of buttered toast for an indulgent breakfast.

This recipe is all about ratios, so you can double it easily.

For the simple syrup, sugar: water, 1:2.
For the overall dish, suji: sugar = 1 :1 + 2 T.

ingredients:

1 cup water
1 cup plus 2 T sugar
1 cup fine suji (semolina)*
½ cup chopped nuts—almonds, pistachios, and/or cashews (optional)
5 T canola oil
2 T butter
1-2 tsp. ground cardamom

First, make the simple syrup by dissolving the sugar into the water and bringing it to a boil.  Set aside.

In a high-sided, heavy-bottomed pan with a lid, melt the butter with the oil over medium heat.  If using nuts, toast them in the butter until fragrant.  Add the suji and stir to coat so that you no longer see butter or oil at the bottom of the pan.

Brown the suji over medium heat, stirring regularly.  This is going to take a little while, between 8-10 minutes.  Patience, my child, patience.  You will be rewarded with an incredibly fragrant aroma and light brown color if you persist.  Don’t rush this step—the finished product won’t taste so good if you do.

Once things are toasted to your satisfaction, remove the pan from the heat and add the simple syrup.  It’s going to get splattery, so have your lid ready!  Return the covered pot to low heat and stir occasionally, using the lid as your shield.

Once the splattering has died down, add the cardamom, crank the heat back up to medium and cook until the syrup has evaporated and the suji has thickened.  The finished product should be scoop-able but still tight enough to hold up a teaspoon.

Serve warm.  Allow to cool before transferring to re-sealable containers for refrigerator (a few weeks) or freezer (a few months) storage.

*You’ll probably need to head to the Indian grocery store for this one, order online, or find packaged semolina at a specialty (natural foods or gourmet) store.

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THE FOOD OF MY PEOPLE: GREEN BEAN & SWEET POTATO SABJI

Please allow me to begin with the requisite disclaimers: I am but one Indian girl.  I do not represent all Indian people everywhere and I am by NO MEANS an expert on Indian food or cooking.  India is home to twenty-eight states, twice as many languages, and innumerable incarnations of what “Indian food” can look like.  Not to mention the fact that we Indians have disseminated ourselves all across the globe, mish-mashing our food cultures with the British, American, South African, Malaysian, etc.

Still…when I put out the call the other day to see what folks wanted to see more of on the blog, Indian food was the definite winner.  So I am giving in!  “The Food of My People” series starts today and will run every Tuesday for the next few months.  Don’t worry, for those of you utterly uninterested in making Indian food at home (no offense taken), “regular” fare will continue to show up every Friday.

The Indian recipes I’m going to post will be a total hodge-podge of regions and technique, utterly subjective and reflective of me.  They will also be fantastically delicious and adhere to the BJG standard of unfussy food OR fussy food that’s worth it.  I hope to expose you to more Indian “home cooking,” the kind of thing you can’t get in a restaurant and can pretty easily make at home (lots of those restaurant dishes aren’t very authentic or simple to make).  If you have any requests, throw them out in the comments or send me an email.  I’ll do my best to accommodate them!


One of the main things that can make cooking Indian seem intimidating are the seemingly exhaustive lists of unfamiliar ingredients; even I think it’s asking a lot for folks to go out and buy twenty spice bottles just to try one recipe.  For the purposes of this series, I’m listing some essentials and extras, the latter of which will serve those of you who’d like to build your Indian food repertoire.  If you’re uncertain about how frequently you’ll use these ingredients, I recommend you buy in small quantities (at a store which sells in bulk is a good choice.)  For the extras, get yourself to an Indian or Asian grocery store!  They can help you find what you’re looking for and the prices will be much cheaper.

ESSENTIALS:

•    fresh garlic
•    fresh ginger
•    onions
•    whole cumin seeds
•    ground cumin
•    ground coriander
•    ground red mirchi (chili), for heat

EXTRAS:

•    asafetida
•    cardamom
•    fresh cilantro
•    cumin seeds
•    fennel seeds
•    fenugreek seeds
•    garam masala
•    mustard seeds
•    sambar powder
•    turmeric

You’ll find that this recipe, like most of the rest I’ll be posting, makes a pretty good quantity of food.  That’s because I DON’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE SMALL AMOUNTS OF INDIAN FOOD.  It’s like, contrary to what I believe in.  You know?  Ethnic mothers who stuff you full at the table, then send you out the door with a plastic grocery bag full of old sour cream and Cool Whip containers, stuffed with leftovers?  I’m totally turning into one.

GREEN BEAN & SWEET POTATO SABJI

Serves 4 as a side, with leftovers

“Sabji” just means vegetable dish and this one is a favorite.  Simple and satisfying, this dish is a riff off of my mom’s original, which she made with white potatoes.  I personally like the way the flavor of the sweet potatoes plays off of the rich spices in this dish; serve it as an accompaniment to a meat entrée or as the main course itself, with store-bought naan or pita bread.

This recipe calls for just a few tablespoons of tomato paste, so opening a whole can of it is a pain.  I am in love with these tubes of paste from Amore.  Use what you need, then store the rest neatly in your fridge.

•    4 medium-to-large sweet potatoes
•    1 pound green beans
•    1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled & minced
•    1 T black mustard seeds
•    1 T sambar powder
•    2 T tomato paste
•    ¼ teaspoon asfoetida (optional)
•    ½ cup water
•    3 T canola oil
•    salt

Prep the vegetables: peel & dice the sweet potatoes into roughly 1-inch chunks, then wash & remove the ends from the green beans, chopping them into inch-long pieces.

In a large, heavy-bottomed pan (with a fitted lid), heat the oil over medium-high heat. After 3-4 minutes, the oil should be quite hot but not smoking. Throw in the mustard seeds & sprinkle in the asfoetida. It’s essential to heat these two ingredients at the outset and let them get very hot or they will make the whole dish taste bitter.

Turn down the heat to medium; remove the pan from the heat, then add ginger. Return to the burner and cook until the ginger begins to soften, adding the sweet potatoes, sambar powder, water, & 1 T salt. Toss to ensure that the potatoes are well-coated with the spices.

Cover the dish, turn the heat down to medium-low, and allow the sweet potatoes to cook until tender, about 15 minutes.  Once you can “smush” a sweet potato with the back of your cooking spoon, add the green beans and cook for another 8-10 minutes, tossing in more water if necessary.

Once the green beans are bright and cooked to desired tenderness, fold in tomato paste to bind the dish. Taste the dish for salt & season accordingly.

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