Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Over Ambitious Homemade Indian Food

Good god, what was I thinking making two Indian dishes from scratch for a surprise dinner for hubs? I was clearly in over my head. Yet, somehow I produced two delicious vegan Indian dishes and the only thing I ruined was the rice.

To understand how intimidating this meal was for me to make, look how many ingredients I needed for just one of the dishes: Chickpea and Cauliflower Curry

When B arrived home and I told him what I was making and that maybe I should have just ordered in, he gave me a concerned look that said, yes, ordering in is a much better option because we're both hungry and you look on the verge of a breakdown.

But first, let me tell you about the first item on the menu, Baingan Bharta. When I was traveling in India last year I was so excited to try my favorite dish to order at Indian restaurants back in the US, Baingan Bharta. I searched every menu for my Indian food staple to no avail. What gives? Was it called something different in India? Was it out of season? I asked my Indian coworkers and they laughed at me! "That's home food," they said. "No one would ever order that in a restaurant. Only mothers and home cooks make that." I garnered it was the Indian equivalent to a casserole. One day, my coworker surprised me with a sample. She had her cook make me a special Baingan Bharta. "I told her to not make it too spicy," she said, as I picked up a small bite with my right hand and a piece of homemade chappati. It was like nothing I'd ever had in the US, whole chunks of soft eggplant and tomato that tasted smokey and rich and spicy. I kept my eye out, but even though I was in India for six weeks, I never did see it on a menu.

So last week when Jenna over at Eat, Live, Run, made homemade Baingan Bharta, I was inspired to try it myself. I followed her recipe almost exactly. Somehow mine looks nothing like hers. Probably because she is a trained chef and I'm a stressed out wreck in the kitchen. But anyhow. The only step I skipped was the blender/food processor step at the end. By skipping this step,  my version looked and tasted just like the authentic Indian Baingan Bharta I tasted last year.

Item number two on the menu, Chickpea Cauliflower Curry, was a recipe I half invented and half adapted from Almost Vegetarian by Diana Shaw.

Chickpea Cauliflower Curry
1-2 inch chunk of ginger peeled, minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
1 tablespoon butter
1 yellow or white onion, diced
1 granny smith apple, cored diced
1 can of chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1 small head of cauliflower, cored and separated into bite-sized florets
1 tomato, chopped
1/2 cup cilantro, chopped
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tabelspoon ground cumin
2 teaspoons turmeric
Dash of cayenne pepper
Handful of raisins

Saute ginger, garlic, onion, cilantro, and spices in butter  over medium-low heat until onion is translucent.
Stir in apple, chickpeas, and cauliflower and cook over medium-low heat until cauliflower is fork tender. Add the handful of raisins.

The actual cooking of both of these dishes was not complicated. But the prep work took forever. Chopping, chopping, chopping. And I am not the most swift or skilled slicer in the kitchen. I really need someone to teach me the right way to dice an onion. My approach is more like the Swedish Chef with pieces flying every which way rather than anything efficient.

Three hours later, I had miraculously created two spicy vegan Indian dishes (and a gelatinous basmati glob). Paired with some store bought naan (thankfully I didn't try to make that from scratch!), it was pretty delicious, even if I was exhausted.

Next time, remind me that I can just order in.

Now you tell me (using the new improved comment form below!), what's the most surprising or interesting thing you've ever eaten while traveling?