consumed on 9/18/05
I absolutely love Indian food. Love, love, love it. Which is why I’m crushed that I’m so bad at cooking it. About once a year I’ll try to make an Indian meal, and without fail, I have near catastrophic results. I used to blame it on the recipes, but now Iâ€™m starting to see the common denominator in all these failures: me.
Laura at the Seattle Weekly recently turned me on to Suvir Saran of Devi in New York; she compared him to Vikram Vij of Vij’s in Vancouver. I’m a huge fan of Vij’s so I was excited to learn about Suvir’s latest cookbook, and was even more excited to see sample recipes posted on his website—a perfect Indian menu handed to me on a platter.
This is where I’d like to state that even the best recipe can end up horribly wrong when executed poorly… or if you start making weird substitutions.
My first mistake was to substitute goat for the lamb in the Lamb Curry with Coriander, Garam Masala and Coconut recipe. (Yes, I actually had goat in my freezer from my last trip out to Exotic Meats.) The goat was way too fatty and overpowered everything in this dish. Plus I didn’t grind my spice paste enough so it was grainy and caught in the back of the throat.
The second mistake was making a half recipe of the Rice Pilaf with Standing Spices, but forgetting to halve the amount of oil. Oops. The rice was barely edible because of the greasiness, but it would have been incredible had I followed the recipe properly.
My third mistake was buying the wrong yogurt for the cucumber raita. Somehow it was too thin (or my cucumbers were too water-logged) and the raita ended up anemic and thin. Next time I’ll get some thick, creamy, goat milk yogurt. Mmmm.
The Carrots with Cumin and Lime recipe was probably the only thing that I made properly. The only problem was that the recipe called for curry leaves. I managed to find them at Uwajimaya but I have to say that curry leaf is one of the most unusual and bizarre flavors I’ve ever tasted. I’m at a loss for words to describe the smell or the taste—except to say it is pungent. Curry leaves rank right up there with the likes of asafoetida and Szechuan pepper in terms of strangeness. The weird part is that I can’t even tell if I love them or hate them. I suspect that I will grow to truly love them over time, but for now I have to take baby steps and use smaller amounts until I get used to the taste.
The last mistake never even made it to the table. This was a recipe for tamarind chutney, which I planned to serve with the papadams I found at PFI. The chutney was actually incredible. Until I burnt the hell out of it.
It’s been over two years since I’ve had a dinner go this wrong, but it was a good lesson for me not to try five new recipes in one sitting. Especially in a cuisine where I’ve proven myself to be completely incompetent.
If it’s any consolation – it all looks tasty! But your story did make me laugh, I know I’ve had my share of cooking disasters. I think you’ve inspired me to try my hand at a raita recipe. I’ve been wanting to make something with Fage greek yogurt at Trader Joes. mmmmm!
I like Indian food too but where I live it’s a real disaster to get all the ingredients ! :)
Fage yo is fantastic, but if you only have the regular whole-milk yogurt, just hang it. You cut a big square of cheesecloth, (two-three layers work pretty well) dump the yogurt in the center, hang it in a cool place overnight above a bowl to catch the runoff. It’ll be nice and thick.
You can use hung yogurt for all your lamb-marinatin’ and raita-lovin’ needs. Indian’s my specialty. Lemme know if you have questions or need help with your tarkas or masalas or whatever.
Good on ya, Meg, for sharing a rare failure. I think a lot of home cooks get intimidated because they fear failure, but you can learn far more from failures than successes, and it makes you better next time. I try to post my mistakes, too. Okay, it’s because they’re so spectacularly bad that they’re funny, but still…
I was thinking about that exact same yogurt (it’s sooo good). If you make raita, let me know how it turns out.
That’s a bummer—thank god for online food stores! Although, it’s much easier (and more fun) to browse through the aisles of Indian groceries.
Thanks for the tip missginsu. Indian’s your specialty? Oh yes, I need lots and lots of help. Do you have any foolproof, beginner recipes you can share with me?
I agree—sometimes the failures turn out to be much better stories. When I was writing my dinner party column for Saucy I would secretly hope for something to go wrong so I’d have something funny to write about. Yikes!
You stopping by Brooklyn anytime soon? I’ll give you a tutorial.
Dals and curries are super-easy.
Here’s a simplified version of a bhel puri used as an app. You have to taste it to get the seasoning right. It’s supposed to be a tasty balance of tangy, sweet, spicy & salty. Your tamarind chutney may be sweeter than mine, so it’s difficult to recommend an exact quantity.
Pick up the sev, puffed rice, tamarind chutney and mint chutney at an Indian food shop, online or at an enlightened supermarket.
(I like the Patak’s brand for store-bought chutneys and pickles. Their lime pickle is fantabulous.)
Bhel Puri (makes approx 24-30 apps, served in cucumber cups*)
1 small onion, minced
2 green chilies (anaheims work well), deseeded and minced
½ cup hothouse cucumber (diced)
½ cup tart apple or mango (diced)
½ cup cilantro leaves, chiffonade or chop finely
½ cup chopped mint leaves, chiffonade or chop finely
juice of 1 lime
1 tsp chili powder
1 tsp chaat masala
tamarind chutney (about 1.5 Tbsp or to taste)
mint chutney (about 1.5 Tbsp or to taste)
salt/sugar/cayenne pepper (to taste)
3.5 oz puffed rice (mix in at the very last moment before serving)
Sev (sprinkle on top for garnish)
In a bowl, mix all the ingredients together except rice and sev.
Taste for balance and adjust flavor with chutneys and seasonings.
Add puffed rice just before serving (otherwise, it’ll get soggy).
Scoop by teaspoon into cucumber cups. Sprinkle with sev.
Serve immediately with a hoppy ale.
*Slice hothouse cucumbers into 3/4” rounds. Scoop out a little cup with a spoon or melonballer.
Ha ha! My brother lives in Brooklyn… I may have to stop in for a cooking lesson next time I visit. That recipe sounds awesome. Can’t wait to try it! Thanks!
My effort at braising goat was also a disaster—way too greasy.
BTW, I also have a brother in Brooklyn.
Weird. Is goat always that greasy? Is there a better cooking method for goat? Hmmmm.
I haven’t worked with goat, but you might try twice cooking it, Meg. Render/simmer the fat out in just straight water, let it cool and get the fat out of it, then proceed with your recipe.
As I think about it, most folks who’ve mentioned really liking goat have been talking about barbequed goat, which probably eliminates the grease problem during the hours of slow cooking.
PC, That’s a brilliant idea! Kinda like the way they do Peking duck where the fat is steamed out and then it’s roasted until crisp. Mmmm.
That’s true… mostly I hear about people slow roasting goat. Although they typically call it kid goat, which is younger, right? I wonder if kid goat is just naturally less fatty (and gamey). I might need to experiment a bit more.
I’m so glad to hear you love Indian food. I do too, and not just because I’m Indian, but because its such a vibrant and varied cuisine. Its not at all difficult to cook if you learn some of the basics. I would love it if you check out my food blog sometime, it has lots of tips and easy recipes.
On the note of Indian food, I’d love to invite you to participate in the only Indian food blogging event out there called, From my Rasoi. Details can be found at my site or the link, http://hookedonheat.blogspot.com/2005/11/launching-from-my-rasoi-call-to-all.html
Do drop by for a chat and some nibbles, I’d really be happy! :o)
Your recipes look delish—I will try some of them out. Practice makes perfect, right?
Meg – I still enjoyed the dinner. I never had goat before and I kept an open-mind to it. A little fatty, rustic and different. Cut yourself some slack and let’s try another way of cooking that beast. Maybe with some bacon!!!!!!!
You’re such a good sport!
Hi, I just came across your blog – love it!
I just wanted to recommend Julie Sahni’s “Classic Indian Cooking” I’ve had lots of luck with her recipes, both delicious and easy. Btw – the Dannon yogurt in the small, flat packs (la creme, I think it’s called) worked well for me, I got a really tasty Raita with it. Better luck next time!! – and btw, cooking without the occasional strange result ist just too boring – experimenting rocks!
I love getting cookbook recomendations and that one looks great—it’s now on my wish list. And good tip on the Dannon yogurt, I’ll have to look for that type. Thanks!