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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Chana Masala (Indian Chick Peas)

Spiced chick peas are eaten in India as both a side entree during a meal or as an appetizer.
Most people serve them with various vegetables for people to add to their own bowl, sort of like toppings for chili.
In my family, like most however, chick peas are eaten when we need a vegetarian dish for a meal.

Chana Masala
serves 6 to 8, Prep: 20 min, Cook: 35 min.
  • 2 cans of chick peas (garbanzo beans), drained
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 onion, chopped
  • 2 tsp. of garam masala (it's a blend of spices you can buy in the ethnic food aisle.)
  • 2 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 tsp of fresh grated ginger
  • 1 tsp of tumeric
  • 1 tsp. of corriander
  • 1/4 cup of water or vegetable stock.
  • 2 tsp of oil
  • salt to taste
  • 1 tsp of sugar

  1. In a large skillet or pot, saute onions, garlic, ginger and tomatoes with oil over medium heat.
  2. Once the onions are translucent and the tomatoes are almost melted add the chick peas and saute.
  3. Add salt to taste, sugar, tumeric, corriander and garam masala and the 1/4 cup of stock or water. Let it come to a boil.
  4. Let the stew simmer... until it is the how you want it. Some people like it a little soupy while others want it thicker.

Serve with some garnishes of chopped onions, cilantro and garam masala. Can be eaten by itself or with naan or rice.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Indian Restaurant Guide

Hesitant to try a new type of cuisine? Let me help you the best I can, by sharing a recent experience I had with my family at the Indian Cook House (in Elkton, Md.), combined with my many years of growing up in a home where Indian food is almost as common as peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches in a kindergarten classroom.

The Basics

From a distance, Indian food may seem crazy different from any other cuisine, but it actually has many qualities similar to foods found in any town.

Many people have the misconception that all Indian cuisine is spicy. But, like any cuisine, meats are combined with sauces to create specific flavors, and the spiciness of the food can be adjusted.

Although most Indians do not eat beef (the cow is considered sacred, because a Hindu god named Krishna was a cow herder), they do eat other types of meat including chicken and lamb. Seafood is also quite common, while other dishes are made with only a blend of vegetables, like cauliflower, potatoes, lentils and spinach. Paneer, a signature Indian cheese (somewhat like cottage cheese) is also commonly found in Indian dishes.

The sauces in which these meats are cooked usually combine spices and herbs like ginger, garlic, onion, turmeric, coriander, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg. Depending on the type of sauce, some will have nuts, chilies or curry powder. (Note: the term curry does not always mean it contains curry powder or curry leaves. When the British ruled India, they mistook the word curry to mean sauce — and it stuck.)

Meats are also cooked on the grill in familiar dishes like kebabs and Tandoori chicken, marinated in spices and cooked in a Tandoor, or special clay oven.

Then as in many other cultures, like Spanish and Chinese, rice is a staple of the diet. Some rice meals are plain, while others, known as Biryanis, are tossed with veggies or meat (like Chinese fried rice).

Another Indian staple is bread, sometimes stuffed with onions and vegetables (known as Kulcha,) while others it is just topped with spices. The crispier textured Naan is soft on the inside and cooked in the Tandoor.

Indian cuisine is usually served “family style,” so when going to a restaurant, although there’s a menu and everything comes with rice, a family of four can usually order three dishes and some bread to share.

Although one dish could be ordered per person, it’s more fun to try a variety of food with different sauces and preparations.

For the first-timer

Start off the meal with an appetizer of some pakoras, fried vegetable poppers, or samosas, crispy turnovers filled with spiced potatoes and peas.

To start, most Indian restaurants will give you some complimentary papadum (let’s call it an Indian nacho chip), and some chutneys like coriander, onion and tamarind (an Indian date).

For the main course, order chicken makhni and saag paneer (spinach with cheese), along with some naan.

Try a special drink that will help cool your mouth if needed known as a lassi, a smoothie with yogurt and rosewater, that can be blended with fruit like mangos or banana.

Finally, for dessert, try something traditional like Gulab Jamun, a cheese pastry dipped in milk and honey.

The level of spice can be adjusted, so try mild first, and if you want more spice, ask for some achar, or spiced Indian pickles. If the food is too hot, pair it with a raita, a mix of yogurt, cucumber, and carrots (like the tzatziki sauce used in Greek foods).

Although some people like drinking soda with meals, when eating spicy foods, sodas just aggravate the tongue, so try a juice, lassi or stick with water.

If your food is extremely spicy, there is one more trick: eat some plain bread and the Capsaicin, the substance that makes peppers spicy, will be soaked up by the carbohydrates.

Which sauce is right for you?
Indian cuisine is cooked in a variety of sauces, the spiciness of which can be adjusted to suit your tolerance.

Most of them have ginger, garlic, coriander, turmeric, onion, cloves, cinnamon and nutmeg as a base, with other components added to define the flavor. Here are some common sauces, listed from mild to spiciest:


A spiced sauce blended with cream and cashews. The base can also be coconut milk or yogurt.


A spiced sauce with blended with tomatoes and cream. Often butter-based.


Spiced curry sauce can have curry powder in it, and sometimes contains mustard and poppy seeds.


A sauce with onions, tomatoes, bell peppers and spices including cinnamon, roasted cumin, caraway seeds, cloves, nutmeg, green cardamom seed or black cardamom pods. Commercial spice mixtures sometimes also include dried red chili peppers, dried garlic, ginger powder, sesame, mustard seeds, turmeric, coriander, bay leaves, star anise and fennel.


A thick spiced sauce, blended with oil.


A thick and very spicy curry sauce.

Friday, September 25, 2009

Dal (Lentils) with Vegetables

So lentils are a very basic part of Indian cuisine, not only because they are healthy but because versatile.
Most lentil dishes stay vegetarian, but I'm sure you could add meat- it would be something new.
I stick with tradition, but created my own version.

So this is a real homemade version of Moosor Dal (or Red Lentils) w/ Veggies:
serves 6, Prep: 20 min., Cook: 30 min.

  • 1 cup of red lentils
  • 1 cup of water
  • 1/2 cup of vegetable stock
  • 1 yellow onion (chopped)
  • 1 tomato (chopped)
  • 1 cup of spinach (chopped)
  • 1 cup of frozen peas
  • 1 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp. of salt
  • 1 tsp. of tumeric powder
  • 2 tbsp. of oil

  1. Take the cup of lentils and rinse them.
  2. Place the cup of lentils with a cup of water in a pot over medium heat. Boil. (the red lentils will turn yellow and get pretty thick.) Add 1/2 cup of veggie stock and simmer on low. Add tumeric powder and salt.
  3. In a separate skillet, add a tbsp. of oil. Add fennel seeds and allow to start slightly cooking over medium heat. Add onions and tomatoes. Saute until translucent.
  4. Add sauted vegetables to lentils. Then add peas and spinach. Add tbsp of oil and stir until peas and spinach cook through.
  5. Serve with rice or paratha (Indian whole-wheat unleavened bread; the dough is rolled and brushed repeatedly with melted butter before cooking on a buttered griddle. Frequently stuffed with spiced potato or other vegetables.)

Friday, September 18, 2009

Chicken Makhani (Butter Chicken)

My roommate and I started International Wednesdays - which means we're going to try and make an international cuisine each week.

The first week - I decided to make some Indian food - cause hey, I'm learning right - and practice makes perfect. But really I had a craving for Chicken Makhani, which is also known as Butter Chicken or Chicken Makhanwala (if you go to Indian restaurants). It's a similar texture and look to Chicken Tikha Masala, but in this dish the chicken used is not marinated in Tandoori seasoning.
Indian term for food cooked in a clay oven (tandoor). The meat is marinated with aromatic herbs and spices before cooking. (source:

Instead the chicken in chicken makhani is marinated in yogurt and light spices so that it's super tender and buttery.
Then a tomato and cream based sauce is added to the cooked chicken with spices such as cumin, corriander and onions and garlic.

This time - I was being a bit lazy and decided to buy the sauce ready made, but marinated the chicken myself and added tomatoes and onions for better texture. I also marinated the chicken in yogurt, oil, salt, pepper and yes tandoori seasoning, cause i wanted to have a bit more flavor.

So here's my recipe for Semi-Homemade Chicken Makhani;
serves 4, Prep: 20 min, Cook: 25 min.
  • 2 or 3 boneless, skinless chicken breasts (If large stick with two)
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. pepper
  • 2 tsp. of tandoori seasoning (you can find this in most grocery stores, buy powder if possible, but paste will do (just use less)
  • 1 small yellow onion
  • 1 regular tomato
  • 1 cup of plain yogurt
  • 3 tbsp. of oil
  • 1 jar of Patak's Butter Chicken Cooking Sauce
  •  cilantro for taste
  •   sliced almonds

  1. Marinate chicken: cut raw chicken into 1/2 inch cubes and throw in a Ziploc freezer bag. Add salt, pepper, tandoori seasoning, 2 tbsp.oil and yogurt. Close bag. Using hands mix marinade on all pieces of chicken.
  2. Try to marinate overnight or atleast 1 hour.
  3. Dice tomatoes and onions. Add to a pot with 1 tbsp. of oil. Saute until onions are translucent over medium heat. Add chicken and all of the marinade into the pot and cook until chicken gets brown over medium heat.
  4. Add the jar of Patak's Butter Chicken Cooking Sauce and get the liquid to start boiling. Place temp. on low and cover. Allow to simmer for 20 to 30 minutes until chicken is tender.
  5. When finished place in a bowl and garnish with almond slices and cilantro.
Serve with Basmati rice or Naan (A flat, leavened bread of northwest India, made of white flour and baked in a tandoor.)

Serves 4 to 6.

Wednesday, September 9, 2009


As a 24-year-old, I recently started learning how to cook Indian food. 

I never wanted to learn before because I was able to just ask my mom or grandmother to cook my favorite meals when I had cravings.

Now I'm living on my own in New York City and while I'm up here to study - I still have my Indian food cravings.

I've always known a lot about my Indian heritage. Although I was born in America, my parents came here in their twenties to start a new life and so I was always aware of Indian culture, food, ethics and history.

I've always been a good cook, something apparently I inherited from my father's side of the family - but after attempting to make Indian food once, and failing, I never tried again. 
It was a shrimp dish, that tasted really gross when I was done with it.

So now that I'm here - in a city where ingredients are fresh and ethnic produce and spices are easy to find - I'm learning how to make my favorite dishes. Although most times I call my mom or grandmother for advice on how to make something, I'm adding my own touches.

I also want to explore which pre-made Indian food is good and which isn't - because between Trader Joe's and Whole Foods, Indian food is so accessible and easy to make - but is it good? Is it authentic?

So hopefully you'll come along with me on my journey... This blog will list recipes - so please try them and let me know what you liked and didn't - since I'm learning too and am still working on them.