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Aloo Gobi


nakji
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What do you put in yours?

I have tried a method where you're supposed to deep fry your potatoes and cauliflower separately before tossing them in an onion and spice mix; and another that calls for spices and onions simmered in ghee and then tossed over raw cauliflower and potato with a bit of tomato and some water to cook down. Both were internet generica recipes; neither impressed me much. I want the ne plus ultra aloo gobi recipe; one with melting cauliflower, creamy spicy potato; piquant spices with chili and ginger and crunchy coriander stems to set it off.

No peas.

I know how I want it to taste, but no idea how to get it there. Help?

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My favourite recipe comes from an unexpected source for Indian flavours, Rick Stein in his "Coast to Coast" book. His recipe is for "Dry Spiced Potatoes and Cauliflower with Fennel Seeds". It's a dry mix, something to serve with another dish with a sauce.

The potatoes are cubed small and parboiled for 6 mins. The spices dry fried and ground. Small florets of cauli are fried with onion, ginger, garlic, green chilli and fennel seeds. When nearly cooked the potatoes plus spices are added and heated through with a lid on for 3-4 mins. Very popular in our house.

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For years my wife and I have been using a recipe "Cauliflower and Potatoes Cooked with Fenugreek and Fennel Seeds" from Madhur Jaffrey's World-of-the-East Vegetarian Cooking which was printed in The Chicago Tribune way back in 1983, and still make it once or twice a month. It appears on many sites on the web, often uncredited. One that acknowledges the source is this one. (It leaves out "1 tsp whole fennel seeds" from the ingredient list, but does refer to them in the instructions.) It doesn't sound quite as elaborate as what you're looking for (no ginger or coriander stems), but it might be a good place to start.

Dick in Northbrook, IL

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No recipe here, but I do have a few observations relating to some of the better Aloo Gobi's I've had.

Moisture Level

I've had relatively dry aloo gobi's and relatively wet ones. I would say, without a doubt, that, if done well, the drier version wins every time. The potatoes really should have crisp edges (like french fries) and, with a wetter version, the potatoes tend to take on a boiled quality. Since dryer AGs are (imo) superior, I would think that the initial deep fry is the way to go. I'm guessing that your deep fry recipe, correct with the deep fry aspect, probably veered off path with the treatment of the onions. Which brings us to:

Onion Coloration

As with most great Punjabi cuisine, the onions should be well caramelized. Not simmered or fried, but slowly sweat in a thin layer with plenty of ghee or oil. The end result should be golden brown, and if the onion breaks down to a point where it's just a paste, that's fine too.

Fat

Some of the best aloo gobi's I've come across were on buffets. They were on a wide flat heated frying pan and would slowly sizzle for hours. This would take the potatoes and give them brown crunchy bits and it would take the onion spice mixture and give you little brown clumps of heaven. In order to fry, it would take a lot of fat, especially with cauliflower, since cauliflower, as it cooks, absorbs a ton of fat. And the cauliflower should cook. There's no al dente in good aloo gobi.

Time

Lastly, if you are going with deep fried veggies and separately caramelized onions/ginger, then once everything is combined, you're going to need some time to allow the flavors to permeate. I think a very low oven (perhaps 150) will give that slow sizzle I talked about earlier. If you want to add fresh cilantro and/or a pinch of garam masala, I'd do that before serving.

Edited by scott123 (log)
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No recipe here, but I do have a few observations relating to some of the better Aloo Gobi's I've had.

Moisture Level

I've had relatively dry aloo gobi's and relatively wet ones. I would say, without a doubt, that, if done well, the drier version wins every time. The potatoes really should have crisp edges (like french fries) and, with a wetter version, the potatoes tend to take on a boiled quality. Since dryer AGs are (imo) superior, I would think that the initial deep fry is the way to go. I'm guessing that your deep fry recipe, correct with the deep fry aspect, probably veered off path with the treatment of the onions. Which brings us to:

Onion Coloration

As with most great Punjabi cuisine, the onions should be well caramelized. Not simmered or fried, but slowly sweat in a thin layer with plenty of ghee or oil. The end result should be golden brown, and if the onion breaks down to a point where it's just a paste, that's fine too.

Fat

Some of the best aloo gobi's I've come across were on buffets. They were on a wide flat heated frying pan and would slowly sizzle for hours. This would take the potatoes and give them brown crunchy bits and it would take the onion spice mixture and give you little brown clumps of heaven. In order to fry, it would take a lot of fat, especially with cauliflower, since cauliflower, as it cooks, absorbs a ton of fat. And the cauliflower should cook. There's no al dente in good aloo gobi.

Time

Lastly, if you are going with deep fried veggies and separately caramelized onions/ginger, then once everything is combined, you're going to need some time to allow the flavors to permeate. I think a very low oven (perhaps 150) will give that slow sizzle I talked about earlier. If you want to add fresh cilantro and/or a pinch of garam masala, I'd do that before serving.

ITA on the dry aloo gobi. My favourite restaurant offers both versions, and I always choose dry - it's the crunchy bits that make it, I think. I find deep-frying large batches of cauliflower and potato tedious, but oven baking them might be a good idea while I sweat the onions and the spices.

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Erin,

Your vision of the definitive Aloo Gobhi is the General Tso's chicken of Punjabi restaurant menus created in the diaspora. That does not mean a negative, just that there is no standard.

Let me expand further. In Indian Punjab, at least, there IS a STANDARD aloo gobhi. But YOU would be horribly disappointed! It is a SIMPLE, non-greasy, non-spicy, dish with no onions, tomatoes, crisp potatoes etc. It may have onions & tomatoes added,if you wish, but it is an extremely simple, delicious plain dish.

This is characteristic of a class of DRY-COOKED vegetarian dishes across the northern Indo-Gangetic plain, whose name in the West Bangala foodway is termed CHENCHKI. Here, the vegetables are cut in specific ways, fairly small, and never deep fried. I shall describe the procedure shortly, so you understand the underlying principles.

The second TYPE of WET or gravied vegetarian preparation is known in Bangala as DALNA. That involves shallow-frying each component, e.g. cauliflower & potato, in large chunks cut in specific planes. The potatoes get roasted nice & golden! An aromatic temper is followed by a wet spice paste that is slowly brought to a gravy and the semi-cooked vegetables braised & finished off in that sauce with clever touches that bring out the flavor,e.g. ghee etc.

In "Indian" restaurants, a hideous boiled onion-tomato masala is prepared for every thing,fish to vegetables, and everything cooked in this. Cream, tomato, oil, MSG, loads of cilantro & the deepfryer are used to cover up this essential truth. And people have grown to like this taste. NOT A PROBLEM. Food snobbery sucks,IMOP.If it tastes good to you, let me know. I shall explain how to make this basic magic sauce which is excellent if well-made.

You can turn out tikka masala, aloo gobhi, butter makhani, korma, paneer bhurji, fish & chicken balti and every curry house magic with this single MOTHER sauce! Healthy, simple & cheap to make.

But to return to the basic dry-cooked simple vegetable preparation, relished by MOST BENGALIS I KNOW. This is the template you need to understand first. Then, go on to other things. In arithmetic, you start with addition, & then move onto more complex operations; so too here.

Cubed Yukon Gold or russet type potatoes, or any, scrubbed, skins on; 3-4 medium.

Ghee, or clarified butter, failing which, peanut oil; a decent slosh.

Nigella seeds, a teaspoon full or more.

1 Cassia tamala leaf, of good quality, if you have it, or omit.

Good salt, a little sugar to taste.

A heavy wok or frying pan with cover.

Heat pan, then ghee, until it shimmers with heat, but does not smoke. Add cassia leaf, then nigella seeds; let then swim around & release aroma. You should see each seed enhaloed by a ring of minute bubbles; that will tell you that the fat is at the correct temperature. This takes just a few seconds!

Add potato cubes, toss around to coat with hot oil, and cook without browning. Season with scant salt, and sprinkle just a few drops of water with your finger tips, just flicking some in to generate a trace of steam as you cover tight & reduce heat to medium low and steam-fry. No browning, ever! Cook for 6-8 minutes, depending on your stove etc. and remove cover. Scatter in a bit of sugar, raise heat and toss and turn to evaporate moisture and finish cooking. Some cubes will be breaking up and that is ideal. You will smell the Nigella & ghee. Off heat & serve with chapatis.

Now, with cauliflower, break of florets with a knife. If you have no patience, slice them small. Include all the young leaves and meaty white stalks holding florets to the head. Start as above, but now keep moving and allow brown spots and scorches to develop on florets. When enough have countenances like "Spotted Dicks" and the smell has changed to inviting, add salt & sugar, reduce heat. You will see moisture begin to exude. Quickly cover, and regulate heat to maintain head of steam that will tenderize the florets without making them mushy. Off cover, raise heat, toss and dry fry, caramelizing, going by smell, color and looks, until just there. How you have cut the cauliflower, etc. will matter whether you end up with mush. The traditional Indian cauliflower varieties withstood this treatment very well. They also could be deep-fried to produce a crisp treat that cannot be duplicated with US types that get saturated with oil.

Now that you know how to do potato & cauliflower separately, do them together, adding SUGAR + SALT before covering. The moisture pulled out will cook both together to perfection. Once you learn how to control the textures correctly, you will have succeeded in reproducing the authentic BASIC ALOO GOBHI.

Then can we proceed to add bells and whistles, the spicing according to the various regions.

The Ur-aloo gobhi is still going to be VERY mild: a hint of turmeric, fresh ginger, whole green chiles for aroma, cilantro, fresh ground coriander seed, cumin seed as temper, a hint of a souring agent: traditionally, dried green mango powder or dried pomegranate seed. That spells Punjab.

West Bengal Brahman or Vaishnav flavorings would be the 5 whole seed spices: Nigella, cumin, fenugreek, fennel and randhuni, +cassia leaf as tempering mustard oil, followed by turmeric, cane jaggery, & a thread of raw mustard oil to finish.

Please NOTE WELL what is MISSING from these authentic INDIAN FOODWAYS: CHILI HEAT, onions, garlic, grease, tomatoes!!!

Hundreds of millions of Indians actually eat food like this, not resto. style food!

Once you get this very simple dry-cooked vegetable under your belt, you will be ready to handle the next class of dishes, the gravied DALNA type. When you get that authentic type down pat, we can show you the restaurant sauce & their deep fryer version. Perhaps that is the rich version you are seeking?

After that, you can invent your very own favorite by mixing & matching.

P.S. People relish plain boiled dal, i.e. pigeon pea dal, arhar or toor, boiled soft with a hint of turmeric & salt; or red lentils, ditto. Eaten with rice, salt, a slice of lime, a drop of ghee, mashed bitter melons. I eat like this all the time, every week, my comfort food.

A famous dish in Bengal is whole mung beans very slowly cooked with whole tender daikon, whole very tender eggplant, very tender entire plants of spinach, roots & all, small whole potaoes and small taro, Asian white sweet/purple potatoes. Nothing cut is included, but you may add kabocha, some ginger, and a cassia leaf or two, plus cane jaggery. This is eaten with either ghee, butter or mustard oil on steaming rice.

Just to bring to your attention how people really eat, as opposed to the popular impression of stomach-searing spices floating in oil. People are not wealthy enough to afford either oil or spices! Read the IFPRI reports, India, Bangladesh etc, and you will see what I mean!!

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Scott,

That's how G-d created A-G: naked, innocent, shorn of adornment!!! Much as we once might have been, ourselves!lol Then, along came the Devil wearing Prada, and guess what? Added Stoff, gelbstoffe.

Seriously,though, as I mentioned in the bit about traditional Indian varieties, what was remarkable was the intense flavor and specific texture, now lost in a sea of non-vegetables. When you put irrigation and copious N, the plant finds it far easier to enlarge cells and fill them up with water. It is much harder for it to increase photosynthetic rates per unit leaf surface, AND net canopy photosynthetic rates in the more densely growing/planted field. Where will the photosynthate to PROPORTIONALLY INCREASE DRY MASS come from? Well, it just does NOT! There is a massive increase in FRESH WEIGHT, thus MARKETABLE YIELD. This has no reference to either PRODUCTIVITY, [which tabulates yield in terms of how efficiently various inputs are used by that crop] or the Yield of Dry Mass, hence Nutritive Value.

You get to fry watery pustules that collapse on you. The older types were grown with much less irrigation & different sources of N, low & slow. Harder cell walls developed, plus many more metabolites from the Phenylpropanoid pathway. Cauliflower heads were never blanched, but yellowed & "hardened" by sunlight, Phenylalanine Ammonia Lyase point ramped HIGH, if you want details.

Getting back to that cauliflower, the peduncles attaching the second order florets, just pedantry for for flower stalk, were considerably more elongated, and greener. When placed in hot oil, they turned a bright green, and the florets could be fried a crisp crunchy gold without affecting the peduncle. I have tried this hundreds of times, without success here. The oven-roasted cauliflower that is a rage nowadays is a dim approximation of what good fried cauliflower might taste like.

You cannot ever reproduce that texture with US Snowball types, nor with modern hybrids in India. Likewise, for the "wet gravy dishes" the US cauliflower & eggplant soak up oil like crazy. They are not dense.

I can give you precise cultivar names for Indian eggplant, and you can cross-check with AVRDC, Taiwan, yearbooks 1997, 1998, about Dry Mass & Total Sucrose %. Specific types clock the highest in the world with 9% DM at tender stage, and 27-36% Sucrose on Dry Mass basis. We do not have the seed at our USDA Southern Regional Plant Introduction Center, GA, the holding location for the US eggplant collection. I have gone through ALL 3300 odd cultivars stored there, seeking certain traits, because the physiology of this process is important to me.

What it means is a denser, sweeter eggplant.

The Japanese have a special cultivar, traditionally bred for FRYING, the KAMO-nasu, as opposed to those bred for various methods of pickling, each with slightly different cell structures, moisture content, dry mass and other traits. KITAZAWA in Oakland sells KAMO-nasu. I have grown it, and strongly recommend it. It needs TLC; then bears heavily.

Willhite Seeds, TX, sells derivatives of the Indian variety SURATI RAVAIYA, which is up there, but not the finest, in terms of DM & Sucrose. It IS beloved by those from Surat, a town in Gujarat state, and ideal for the stuffed eggplant in UNDHIU.

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Thank you, V. gautam; as ever, fascinating and informative responses. The sugar is new to me, but in retrospect makes perfect sense as it will draw out moisture and help with carmelization, no?

The cauliflowers I have to work with are nowhere near as big as the ones I saw in Canada, but nevertheless are quite white and round. I slice them in largeish florets, but thinly. Less satisfying are the potatoes available, which manage the near impossible feat of being both granularly floury AND mushy. But I soldier on.

In "Indian" restaurants, a hideous boiled onion-tomato masala is prepared for every thing,fish to vegetables, and everything cooked in this. Cream, tomato, oil, MSG, loads of cilantro & the deepfryer are used to cover up this essential truth. And people have grown to like this taste. NOT A PROBLEM. Food snobbery sucks,IMOP.If it tastes good to you, let me know. I shall explain how to make this basic magic sauce which is excellent if well-made.

Interesting from an academic standpoint, but I came late to Indian food. My only exposure to it was a childhood friend with Punjabi parents, who made poori for us as after school snacks. There were no Indian takeaways in my suburb growing up. I had my first real exposure to "curries" in Hong Kong at the ChungKing Mansions, and I have no nostalgia for them. Although they do taste good, in situ.

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In "Indian" restaurants, a hideous boiled onion-tomato masala is prepared for every thing,fish to vegetables, and everything cooked in this. Cream, tomato, oil, MSG, loads of cilantro & the deepfryer are used to cover up this essential truth. And people have grown to like this taste. NOT A PROBLEM. Food snobbery sucks,IMOP.If it tastes good to you, let me know. I shall explain how to make this basic magic sauce which is excellent if well-made.

You can turn out tikka masala, aloo gobhi, butter makhani, korma, paneer bhurji, fish & chicken balti and every curry house magic with this single MOTHER sauce! Healthy, simple & cheap to make.

I have found many variations of this master sauce, and would be extremely interested in your version of a master sauce recipe ala Indian-restaurant-style-dishes v. gautam if you would be so kind!

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I never deep fry the potato or cauliflower when I make it home - too much grease and effort!

I usually par-boil the potato first. Then I heat some ghee in a good pan (a wok works well) and add mustard, cumin and fenugreek (in that order). When the mustard pops and the fenugreek browns, in goes some asafetida (the whole stuff, pounded to a powder, not the rubbish pre-ground kind). Sometimes I add a few curry leaves at this point too. Then in goes some minced fresh ginger, minced green chillies and the cauliflower florets and parboiled potatoes. Stir and fry until slightly golden on the outside. Then add turmeric, chilli powder, ground coriander and salt. Stir and fry until well coated. At this stage you can add a little chopped tomato if you like, or a few tablespoons of yoghurt. Otherwise keep it simple and pure! Cook until tender, adding a few splashes of water every now and then to prevent sticking. Turn off the heat, stir in some chopped fresh coriander and serve. A squeeze of lemon over the top makes it extra delicious!

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@Scott

You say "As with most great Punjabi cuisine, the onions should be well caramelized...."

Not disputing your taste or opinions, but my years in the Indian Punjab, exploring the cooking of the doaba as well as the sub-montane districts : Ludhiana, Ropar, Dera Bassi, Mani Manjra, Hoshiarpur, up into Pinjore/ Kasauli, thence Mandi & the Himachali band], 1971-88, and thereafter tryng to understand the cooking of Pakistan Punjab in some detail, some things struck me:

1. The caramelized onions you refer to are THE distinctive feature of the Punjabi chicken pulao, especially the Muslim styles centred around Lahore. They are distinctive from Mughlai pulaos in having the chicken cooked with the caramelized onion, not the crumbled berishta of the latter. Also NO cassia leaf, NO mitha itr, no kewra, NO green cardamon, or hot spices, no green chilies, nothing superfluous.

2. I was surprised by the huge number of Pakistani Punjab meat & chicken dishes authentically prepared without either onion or garam masala. Very few spices, very light hand, no chili heat, NO TOMATO! NO CILANTRO!

corollary 1. If you dip just below Multan, you enter a Sindh-Seraiki-Punjab confluence: here you have chicken cooked in clay pot, no onion, yes to chili paste & turmeric, not much else other than wood fire, garlic, ghee, and country birds.

corollary 2. Go north-west, to Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa: the karahi lamb is just that, lamb, lamb fat, a few tomatoes, maybe a few whole green chillis added near the end for aroma ONLY.

FOR each of these dishes, high quality flat bread is indispensable, be it chapati, tandoori roti, or naan.

3. Back to the Indian Punjab: the distinguishing characteristic between Punjabi vegetarian cookery & that of Rarh Bengal, for these dry-cooked cauliflower dishes, is the absence of ANY caramelization in the Punjabi orbit.

In the Rarhi style, 2 rounds of caramelization & roasting are "inflicted" on the vegetable, once before adding sweetener, then after the steam-cooking phase. This last part creates the characteristic Bengali "taste" and also overcooks!!

Punjabi cauliflower cookery in its home ground is more like Jenni suggests: there is not much oil, none of that absurd spicing synonymous with restaurant preparations here.

Either just cauliflower florets, or blanched cubes of potatoes are tossed in aromatised oil [very simple temper: cumin, asafetida], florets follow,lightly roasted POUNDED [kootii hui] coriander, cumin are added, very light hand with turmeric, and then follow what Jenni says. That is how people actually cook & eat in their homes.

ALWAYS WITH a very simple dal served hot on which a FEW drops of ghee are added as FLAVORING, always with plain yoghurt, a few pickles, maybe some cucumbers, tomatoes, and chapaties, and another vegetable. That is what an ordinary affluent family has for lunch in Punjab and contiguous areas influenced by Sikhism & the Bhakti movement.

TRUST ME ON THIS: very, very little onion or garlic, where traditional recipes prevail. Yes, the Harmandir Sahib Temple dal employs both alliums, but in minute quantities, for 150 kg lots of raw dal!! NONE of it fried! For most Amritdhari or baptized Sikhs, food is meant to be spare, devoid of exaggeration.

Some friends cajoled me into cooking them a meal exactly the way I would prepare an authentic Rarhi lunch. I told them they would be disappointed and they were: it was not "Indian" enough! There was no spice, no oil, no excitement, no zing! But it was my all-time favorite set of dishes, reproduced perfectly & which have won much appreciation from Bengalis of an older generation. Like kaiseki-ryori, there is a world behind those foods.

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@ infernoo,

There is a very simple dhaba tomato base, which is then modified into a makhani base. That is in India.

Then there is the hideous restaurant base, the diaspora demon stuff, DD2. Pun intended.

There can be a third, which I call the lesser-demonic balti and kotthu paratha gravy.

Let's go with #1 today. I have explained this in gourmetindia.com, and will repeat my words.

This is a basic tomato puree. You are in Australia: gather pear tomato, cherry tomato, some heirlooms, others, & keep some canned puree handy, just in case.

Heat a little oil in a heavy pan. Throw in some cassia bark, some whole cloves, a very few peppercorns, a couple of black cardamoms opened [if you have them, bringing a very "Punjabi" flavor] some green peppers or chillies of your choice for aroma ONLY, some slices of ginger, ditto, coarsely chopped onions, stir to release aromas, then add tomatoes and very little salt. Cover, allow to simmer for a short time until pulp just released. Add puree if tomatoes are too watery. Don't cook too long or wait to reduce, keep it fresh-tasting. Perhaps use more cherry & pear tomatoes? They add solids.

Stick blender in a 25-30 liter brazier? Strain through a chinese hat, reserve the residue.

Divide your tomato base into 2 portions.

A. Leave plain for everything that needs just a shot of tomato sauce.

B. This is going to be enhanced with nut paste, and become the base for makhani, navratan korma, any curry where extra richness is desired, e.g. some fish curries, any number of pseudo-kormas, some balti dishes.

C. Take the tomato residue. Slow fry fine sliced onions, add chopped garlic, then add turmric, vthen chopped chicken bones, FEET & HEAD, OR for lamb gravy, lamb trotters, bones, ear cartilage, tail, tongue,head pieces. Bhunao, adding grated ginger or ginger paste, cassia leaf, coriander/cumin paste [roast & paste on stone], not much, then tomato residue. No water, cover, braise, until juices thrown out.

Evaporate & go towards a demi-glacee carefully, we call it KOSHO, in Bengali. Control that level to achieve the right taste: size& shape of vessel, heat level/rate of evaporation, how long you let the fond stick before removing it & letting it reform repeatedly in the pan, how you keep smelling for the right "doneness", all affect the gravy quality.

You start adding boiling water little by little to the hemi-demi-glace, and bring it up to a bubbly place, and cover, then more. When you make curries, too, this slow gradual building up of the gravy adds a lot of fine texture. Anyway, here we are not looking for that, only a coarse stock, so we fill up, and allow to gently simmer. Strain and we have our BALTI BASE.

WE have A & C.

Now B: bring the remaining tomato sauce to slow simmer. You will have soaked some raw cashew + raw blanched almonds. Grind these fine in a blender. Add them to the sauce and cook while stirring, to prevent scorching. Use just a tiny bit of nut paste, to not drown out the tomato paste, but just give it a tiny hint of body. Nut paste scorches easily, so be very careful.

In India, and Bengal, we use the seeds of melon instead of nuts. I always save the insides of cantaloupes/honeydew, put them in a jar with a cap & ferment them for a day or two, until the seeds are just released from the gel, but no bad smells have developed!! I have a big lot sitting out here in my kitchen, saved over the summer from every melon enjoyed; 2 melons/week x 12!!. Why should I pay US$7/lb for cashew nuts?!! And throw these goodies away? (Other types of melon seed are sold for high prices in India and loved in the confectionery & food industry.) So, we fry them just a little and we are SO GOOD to go!!!!Grind them in the blender and pour them through a tea strainer.

We now have 3 dhaba-style bases:

A. A simply-flavored tomato sauce.

B. An enriched tomato sauce.

C. A basic chicken or lamb/mutton/chevon gravy.

With this, the entire side dish menu of a basic dhaba, e.g. paneer bhurji, chicken makhani, navratan korma, chicken masala, balti/karhai, keema kaleji [mince with liver], many more dishes, can be prepared in minutes.

They all might be much of a muchness if seen from our end, but not necessarily to the customer, who picks dals, breads, tandoori items, and one or two of these gravy things. Various materials and spicing allows the same sauces to work their wonders in different dishes. However, you must be in the mood for the dhaba style, in-your-face cooking.

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Thank you Abra, but I am hardly worth your appreciation. My efforts grow out of the following points of anguish:

1. 90-95% of South Asian restaurants exist solely for reasons other than to showcase the types of cuisine they claim to represent. Sadly, some of the most authentic ones go out of business instantly. Why I cannot say, perhaps because of the negatives of self-appointed experts of certain internet sites, who would have no idea of any true regional cooking. I have sufficiently satisfied myself of the baneful influence of these poseurs. Moreover, other than the few excellent South Indian vegetarian places, few Indians seem to worry about standards to the degree the Chinese restaurant patron does. The non-vegetarian Indian is very happy with experimentation, and has a poor grip on his traditional roots. The only group of non-veg Indians who might insist on excellence would be the Muslims of selected regions, and true to this, a FEW owners from Hyderabad TRY to maintain standards.

2. Cooking is done by anyone at all, never by trained chefs. Even cooks imported from India might be of indifferent quality, and trained in the generic garbage tradition of restaurant cooking.

A corollary, Indian cooking is about TECHNIQUE. Each tradition has a set of techniques that need to be carefully mastered. This emphasis on technique is completely missing, either in Indian cookbooks, or in training programs in India. I don't care what celebrity chefs come out of where in India. Except a precious few, NO training in technique. We see that in TV chefs: good heart, great personality, every positive attribute in the Universe, but someone just never taught the person the fine points of technique. His food will be awful, and people will learn that awful taste as THE STANDARD INDIAN TASTE!!

3.In India, within a single generation, there has been an astonishing erosion of traditional cooking traditions. There used to be close to 3000 endogamous groups in India, each with a distinct culture & cooking tradition. Even withing a group such as the Syrian Christians of Kerala, who consider themselves descendants of high-caste Hindus, and will absolutely not mix, and avoid physical contact with the Catholics who in turn avoid the Church Mission Society converts (!!) there is an arc of settlements where beef and pork are used. That is, there are Nasrani [syrian Christian] regions where pork and beef form some of the dishes that identify "Syrian Christian" to the rest of India, whereas those who do understand this culture in depth would know how these meats are shunned in other areas, and do not at all represent the Nasrani over an equally significant tract. Cookbook writers never offer these details and self-styled experts then spring up, teaching others, how Indian food should taste!

4.So much of the Indian population have become completely divorced from their rural roots, >43%. Many of the foods experienced in my formative years were derived from a rural countryside where a mosaic of woodlands, secondary forest, wetlands, field, drainage canals, grazing commons all co-existed. Wildflowers, wild food, vegetables, natural fisheries and natural beauty were freely available. Tall trees of many types provided things significant to the diet. India today is increasingly shorn of these elements, and moving towards a science fiction dystopia, at many levels. Not that the old days were good. They were horrible. But the present is another type of horror, shorn of all beauty.

Almost 80% of the dishes I ate growing up are extinct. No one knows how to expertly prepare them, nor are the quality vegetable materials available. Nor does the modern generation give a *&%# about the precision, the sequence of courses, the mix of various temperatures, the understated elegance that characterized that cooking. As I mentioned, it was like kaiseki-ryori, it requires a human being cultivate him/herself that food is just not another metaphor for grasping, and consuming without end.

For that we have the roadside dhaba, and the restaurant cooking, which are taking over India; aiding modern India to achieve the requisite coarseness & brutality of soul that will allow her to emulate the Mongol hordes!! You ARE WHAT & HOW you eat! Long a defining dictum of the Indian Scriptures, now thrown in the gutters along with their dietary restraints!!

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  • 2 months later...

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I don't have a set method. Usually just black mustard seeds, green cardamom pods, turmeric, salt, chiles. Fresh cauliflower, potatoes and diced tomatoes. A squeeze of lime juice. Cilantro if I have any on hand.

That's it.

Fry the spices in ghee, add the potatoes until they start to color. Add cauliflower, tomatoes, turmeric, salt and chiles. Cook until potatoes are fork tender. You can add water if you want, depending on how much gravy you want. I like it somewhere in the middle between semi-dry and dry. Can't tell you ... I just know.

Taste for salt, add lime juice and cilantro. The pic shows it served over rice with some mint raita spooned on top.

Recipe on the blog, for the quantity-challenged.

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  • 1 year later...

Gautam, your first post above is really revelatory, especially to one innocent like me who always insists on doing too much to food. I'll try your suggestions this weekend, but let me ask you this. As you so decry the increased water content and diminished flavour of vegetables such as cauliflower, and others, does it not make sense to try to coax additional flavour through caramelization if the foods available to use are inferior?

Again, serious about the word revelatory. Could you point me to where you might have some recipes posted? I agree that in the U.S. most restaurant Indian foods seem to have one master sauce, occasionally with minor variations.

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  • 1 year later...
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