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Your first experience with Indian food


Suvir Saran
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I started experimenting with spices and dals at home, and now make a mean samosa of my own, as well as many other Indian dishes of all sorts, including kheer, which is one of my favorite comfort foods.  We have dal almost every week, and roasted cumin, cardamom and mustard seeds are now my favorite spices  :wub:

Kheer, you are blessed, I feel one has to be blessed to have discovered and enjoyed the magic of Kheer. It is sublime and so wonderful. Sadly, people think the common versions of Rice Pudding we find easily and accessibly in the US are acceptable, but once you discover Kheer, there is no going back. But to prepare it, enjoy it and find comfort in doing so is divine. I guess you are a fellow kheer lover, and so I am gushing with admiration. :wub:

And samosas, if someone can make a mean samosa, they have my admiration. Again, something simple and common, but if made at home, with love and care, it is magical. How do you make your samosas? What do you fill them with? Where did you finally get your recipe? Did you find your suitable to your palate in comparison to those first Samosas you tasted in 1986? Were they even better? The same? Or worse? Did it take much practice, or did you have good results from the very first attempt?

Calling roasted cumin one of your favorite spices, makes you very dear to the heart and thinking of many a culinary Indian. Roasted cumin, is a spice few kitchen in India know how to prepare and store correctly. It is also that tiny bit of almost nothing that can make a BIG difference to the dishes where it ought to be added. I always have a tiny amount saved up, for adding into Raita and some other stuff. And people that have enjoyed it in my kitchen, crave it for long after. Talk about heady spices.

Thanks for sharing your experience. And I would love to learn from you more about all your other favorites.

What are some of the dishes you make with Mustard seeds? You have aroused my curiosity in a wonderful way. I am glad the samosas moved your nose that time in your college days. It seems you have found pleasures of Indian cooking many Indians should seek as well. :smile:

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(BTW...can you share a good recipe for Paneer Naan?)

Do you make any Indian breads? DO you make Naans? How do you make them?

If you can share answers to these, it would make it easier for us to help you with the preparation of Paneer Naan.

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What are some of the dishes you most enjoy preparing and eating?

Only occasionally do I have enough time to prepare more than 2 courses of Indian food at once, so often Indian food night will consist of a meat dish, vegetables or dal, and basmati rice. Storebought parathas or naan are nice time-savers, but you have to reheat them.

Here are some perennial favorites:

Biryanis are wonderful to make but take so much time and effort.

Jaffrey's Sindhi Gosht -- cubed lamb marinated in spices (most prominently coriander) and vinegar, then simmered for an hour and finished with fennel seeds and kalonji

Masoor dal with ginger and garlic and tumeric

Chickpeas with ginger and garlic and a little tomato

Green beans with ginger & spices

Saag mathar

Baingan bartha

Chapattis (the Indian bread I've had the best luck making at home)

... and there will be more to come. I've been very into Indian food for the last two years or so and hope to continue broadening my repertoire. Any cookbook suggestions? I'm very excited -- just moved to a new apartment in Philadelphia four blocks from a huge Indian grocery store.

As for what to make to introduce a novice to Indian food... I have had success with the aforementioned Sindhi gosht, saag mathar and masoor dal. My first taste, I think, was someone's nasty potluck curry with way too much fenugreek. My first pleasant taste was tandoori chicken, chicken tikka masala, and a spicy, cuminy chickpea dish.

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Kheer, you are blessed, I feel one has to be blessed to have discovered and enjoyed the magic of Kheer. It is sublime and so wonderful.  Sadly, people think the common versions of Rice Pudding we find easily and accessibly in the US are acceptable, but once you discover Kheer, there is no going back.  But to prepare it, enjoy it and find comfort in doing so is divine.  I guess you are a fellow kheer lover, and so I am gushing with admiration. :wub:

And samosas, if someone can make a mean samosa, they have my admiration.  Again, something simple and common, but if made at home, with love and care, it is magical.  How do you make your samosas?  What do you fill them with?  Where did you finally get your recipe?  Did you find your suitable to your palate in comparison to those first Samosas you tasted in 1986?  Were they even better? The same? Or worse? Did it take much practice, or did you have good results from the very first attempt?

Calling roasted cumin one of your favorite spices, makes you very dear to the heart and thinking of many a culinary Indian.  Roasted cumin, is a spice few kitchen in India know how to prepare and store correctly.  It is also that tiny bit of almost nothing that can make a BIG difference to the dishes where it ought to be added.  I always have a tiny amount saved up, for adding into Raita and some other stuff.  And people that have enjoyed it in my kitchen, crave it for long after.  Talk about heady spices.

Thanks for sharing your experience.  And I would love to learn from you more about all your other favorites.

What are some of the dishes you make with Mustard seeds? You have aroused my curiosity in a wonderful way.  I am glad the samosas moved your nose that time in your college days.  It seems you have found pleasures of Indian cooking many Indians should seek as well. :smile:

Ah, another kheer fan! I love kheer - the subtle flavor, the contrast of the softest rice with creamy thickened milk around it, the flavor of cardamom, the crunch of a dusting of chopped pistachios. Absolutely delicious, and definitely one of my favorite comfort foods.

I will admit I cheat a bit on my samosas. I have made the pastry and fried them up properly, but at one point wanted to make a rushed version. Wracking my brain for something flaky that didn't involve frying, I thought of frozen puff pastry dough. I roll the sheets very thin, then seal the filling inside and bake until flaky and golden. The effect is actually very similar in taste and texture to deep fried samosas, it just takes a lot of the work out of the process (and saves some fat and calories, though that wasn't my original intention). I started with a recipe from Madhur Jaffrey, but over the years I have fiddled with it until it makes me happy. I think what I have now is better than what I tasted back in 1986, which fills me with pride. The biggest compliment I ever got was a few years back, when I prepared samosas to share with a creative writing class. One of the students told me the samosas were as good as her grandmother used to make :cool:

I recently shared some roasted cumin with a friend of mine who literally swooned and asked if she could have the bag I brought over. I've found that it adds depth to many dishes that call for cumin - something about the smokiness added by the roasting works well in many of my favorite mexican-themed dishes as well.

Mustard seeds I usually add to sauteed vegetables such as cauliflower, cabbage, potatoes, carrots, usually along with some chiles to add spice.

By the way, I made your recipe for ckicken tikka masala a few weeks back and really enjoyed it! I did have a question - I noticed that there wasn't any minced ginger in the main recipe (as there had been in the marinade), but it seemed like there should be, so I added some in with the garlic as those are so often paired. It came out wonderfully that way - I was just curious to see if that was how you usually make it up. Added some paratha, rice, and cauliflower and there were no leftovers :biggrin:

Edited by tejon (log)

Kathy

Cooking is like love. It should be entered into with abandon or not at all. - Harriet Van Horne

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When was it?

Where was it (restaurant, home or other)?

How did it come about?

What did you think of it?

What did you like most?

What did you not enjoy at all?

Was it love or hate that first time?

How did it change your eating habbits, or has it?

Have you ever cooked it at home? 

Have you introduced it to other non-Indians?

What have their first reactions been?

What dishes do you think ought to be used for the first introduction to this complex and varied cuisine?

I'm new to eGullet, but thanks to all for sharing expertise and enthusiasm.

I grew up in a small town in Hawaii, and there were no Indian restaurants. There were only dishes called curry stew that were closer to thin Japanese curry. Then for college I moved to Stockton in the Central Valley of California, which is not very diverse ethnically nor culinarily. I was curious about Indian cuisine, but had no access to it. I was getting interested in cooking, so I would watch Madhur Jaffrey on TV when I could. I guess the closest restaurants would have been the Bay Area or Sacramento, but we always seemed to end up at Chinese or other places.

So really, my first experience with anything remotely authentic was at Gaylord restaurant in Beverly Hills. I was brokebrokebroke, having just moved to LA and working at an unpaid internship (about 11 years ago). I was watching my money very carefully. My friend and his friends were going to this restaurant, so I tagged along.

I don't remember the menu, but I recall distinctly having naan and using it to pick up various dishes. I loved the almost grilled flavor or the naan as a foil to all the other dishes. The fragrant basmati was so different and flavorful compared to the Japanese rice I was accustomed to. It was definitely love at first bite, even though I didn't even know whether this was authentic or representative of Indian food in any way. The spicyness did not always have heat with it, but complex and very foreign, but undoubtedly delicious. I spent about $30, which freaked me out because it was about a weeks' budget of lunches. A true extravagance at the time.

I would say that I've learned a tremendous amount from Indian flavors and technique, but it hasn't become a normal part of my cooking yet. I always feel like I'm still being introduced to it myself, and it remains exotic. The palette of flavors and aromatics is so broad compared to Western or Japanese food. I was once lucky enough to go to a wedding of a good friend where all the food was homemade and quite exquisite.

I think good dishes for beginners are tandoori, cauliflower & chickpeas, the various breads, and dishes where cream is added (korma or masala?). I apologize that I don't know if this is a regional variation or even an acceptable one, but the cream tends to soften and blend the flavors somewhat.

~Tad

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When was it?

Where was it (restaurant, home or other)?

How did it come about?

What did you think of it?

What did you like most?

What did you not enjoy at all?

Was it love or hate that first time?

How did it change your eating habbits, or has it?

Have you ever cooked it at home? 

Have you introduced it to other non-Indians?

What have their first reactions been?

What dishes do you think ought to be used for the first introduction to this complex and varied cuisine?

I first ate Indian food at the Taj restaurant in Fullerton, California when it opened around 1987 (I was about 12). My mom had been to India and wanted to try it, and there were no other Indian restaurants in the immediate area. I absolutely loved the food, the decor, everything. We usually ordered something called Ginger Chicken and naan (and I often had some mixed non-alcoholic drink that was particular to the restaurant); I can't remember the other dishes. We actually went to India that winter and I remember thinking how much better I liked the Indian food "back home." Anyways, I still eat Indian food at least once a week (moving to Cambridge, MA for college broadened my experience) and cook it from various books, particularly Maya Kaimal's. I actually introduced my boyfriend of 12 years to the cuisine back in high school and he loves it as well. My vote for the best introductory dishes would be chicken tikka masala, tandoori chicken and garlic naan.

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The first time I offered an Indian dinner to my guests, I just tried to compose a menu that could give them an idea of the main types of indian dishes. I suppose that it didn't make so much sense from the culinary point of view, but this was my menu:

-Chicken korma, of course!

-Tandoori fish

-Aviyal

-A chickpea stew (I used a recipe for channa poori, without pooris)

I served as sides a potato raita, cachumber, mango chutney, plain rice, poppadums and naan. Ended the dinner with a large tray of tropical fruits, decorated with flowers and served with icecream.

I have to go now, but I'll post more later on!

Pongi

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I was introduced to Indian food at an early age by my Father, who was a bit of a 'Curry Pioneer' in his day - He used to go on his own to restaurants in Manchester (There were none in the suburbs then), until he started persuading his friend to join him.

We used to go to the Rusholme area of manchester, where there is the infamous curry mile (Interestingly the restaurants, takeaways and sweet shops here are almost all run by Punjabis and Pakistanis - rather than Bangladeshis which is the case across most of Britain)

I used to prefer tandoori dishes as a child - not liking things in too much sauce. I now eat pretty much anything, and try to seek out more authentic dishes when possible - although I still enjoy the formulaic curry house dishes too.

I think the thing which appealed (Apart from once being taken into the kitchen and helped dish out the poppadums and watched them cook) was the style of the meal - being able to share dishes between us, and trying a bit of everything. I do remember eating a particularly strong chilli once - which was not pleasant. Funny thing is, now I probably would pick it out to eat straight away!

I cook indian style dishes for myself at home - I use the word style, as although the techniques and spicing may be indian, I do not tend to follow particular recipes. I particularly enjoy making and eating vegetable and pulse dishes.

I love animals.

They are delicious.

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As for naan, well, I must admit that it's still an issue for me, mainly because I obviously have no tandoor oven :rolleyes:

Although many recipes suggest to bake naan in a regular oven, I've always had poor results this way, independently from the recipe I used. In my experience, naan ends up too "breadlike"...I mean, looking (and tasting) like Western bread. So, I tried with a nonstick pan. I slightly grease it, put it over a high heat and then cook Naans about 5 mins each side, keeping the pan covered. This way my results are better, provided the recipe isn't too rich, or my naans end up too heavy.

So, the recipe I generally use is very simple: only flour, water, margarine (or butter), sodium bicarbonate or baking powder, and salt. Sometimes I add a little yoghurt.

Although my guests generally love it, I'm not fully satisfied of my naan (I mean I KNOW the real thing! ), so your precious advice is needed!

Suvir, I'm honored by your request of dessert recipes :smile:

My thoughts are that many of the most traditional Southern Italian desserts would be suitable for an Indian meal...although, of course, many of them are so easily recognizable as Italian that maybe the Indian atmosphere would be a bit compromised :biggrin:

I'm speaking of things like Cassata, Sfogliatelle Napoletane or Cannoli alla Siciliana, or some kinds of Granita (an Almond, Coconut or Melon Granita would be wonderful with indian food...)

So, I'll start with a Sicilian summer recipe, which probably cannot be easily recognized as Italian because is rather unusual...but delicious, and very decorative as well.

GELO DI MELONE (Watermelon pudding)

Ingredients:

-1 watermelon, about 4 kg

-150 grams granulated sugar

-120 grams wheat starch

-1 tbsp powdered cinnamon

-about 40 fresh jasmine flowers

-100 grams candied pumpkin (or orange peel if you can't find it) diced in small cubes

-100 grams chocolate drops (optional)

Skin and seed the watermelon, process the flesh in a liquidizer and take 1 liter of juice. Dissolve the wheat starch in the juice (never use another kind of starch as the result wouldn't be the same!) then add sugar, cinnamon and jasmine flowers. Bring slowly to the boil over a low heat and cook, stirring continuously, for 5 mins. Cool down, add the candied fruit and chocolate drops, give it a mix and pour into a pudding mold. Refrigerate at least for 4 hours, then unmold the Gelo, sprinkle it with cinnamon, decorate with other jasmine flowers and enjoy!

Pongi

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I will admit I cheat a bit on my samosas. I have made the pastry and fried them up properly, but at one point wanted to make a rushed version. Wracking my brain for something flaky that didn't involve frying, I thought of frozen puff pastry dough. I roll the sheets very thin, then seal the filling inside and bake until flaky and golden. The effect is actually very similar in taste and texture to deep fried samosas, it just takes a lot of the work out of the process (and saves some fat and calories, though that wasn't my original intention).

I'm Indian by Nature and American by Nurture and this was a trick my mom came across as well to make her samosas!

I can't say I know much about traditional indian cooking, as my mother hated to cook, and made reasonable facsimiles of Indian food for my father. I can say it definitely doesn't taste like what you get in restaurants.

We're also south indian, and most of the restuarants serve north indian food so that may be a difference as well.

I've always found samosas to be the best food for secretly introducing other people to Indian food. or even just the filling (i usually do ground beef) over rice. People have also quite liked my spinach dhal recipe.

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  • 15 years later...
On 5/24/2003 at 9:26 AM, Suvir Saran said:

When was it?

Where was it (restaurant, home or other)?

How did it come about?

What did you think of it?

What did you like most?

What did you not enjoy at all?

Was it love or hate that first time?

How did it change your eating habbits, or has it?

Have you ever cooked it at home?

Have you introduced it to other non-Indians?

What have their first reactions been?

What dishes do you think ought to be used for the first introduction to this complex and varied cuisine?

1

 1)The first time I tried any Indian Food was back in 2012 when I and a couple of friends had gone backpacking in the foothills of Himalayas.

2)We had our base camp at Rishikesh and it was in one of the local dhabas that we first tasted any Indian food. 

3) The dish was called "thali"(cuisine meaning in Hindi). It had a variety of dishes, including Rice, dal, Indian bread (naan) and a variety of vegetables. Of that, I just loved the "Palak Paneer". It is a lip-smacking vegetable dish made up of Paneer (Indian Cottage Cheese) and a gravy that mostly includes Spinach

4)Palak Paneer is by far my most favourite Indian Dish.

5) After our trip ended, I did try that dish again in a couple of Indian restaurants in my city.

6) Being a food enthusiast, I even tried cooking the dish at home. I downloaded the recipe from the internet. However, I could not get all the Indian spices that were mentioned in the book.

7) Yes, I have introduced the dish to my other non-Indian friends and they have absolutely loved it. I am even experimenting with cooking other Indian dishes as well. So far I have tried my hand at cooking Malai Kofta, Chicken Tandoori, and Hyderabadi Biryani. So far the verdict of my friends who have tasted these dishes has been good. This encouragement has nudged me to try my hands at cooking other Indian delicacies as well. 

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