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Ingredients that are exotic in the Indian Kitchen


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How do you cook foods that are ‘exotic’ (asparagus, leeks, etc) with an Indian flavour?

Ideally not at all. At least, not the two veggies you've mentioned. I think one has to be realistic about Indian cooking, in that it takes a pretty strongly flavoured veggie to be able to hold its own with the spices. If the flavours are delicate like with leeks, most Indian cooking methods are best avoided. Asparagus I don't know - maybe someone could come up with something, but I've never eaten any Indian style of cooking asparagus that allows that taste to come through.

This doesn't just apply to veggies. That delicate flavour of crabmeat, for example, is killed by most Indian recipes. What works are smaller crabs, where you can get a subtle delicious crab from the whole creature, and don't really need to bother extracting the flesh. Bombay restaurants often wave monstrous meaty crabs at you, and these are really best eaten in their butter-pepper-garlic style which isn't that Indian really. Its a total waste to eat them cooked in most masalas.

This is not to say that no 'exotic' ingredients should be used. Broccoli, for example, I can see coming through quite well. I've added it to sambhar and its been pretty good. That Rasa guy has a recipe for broccoli thoran in his "Fresh Flavours of India Book" and I can see it might work. What other ingredients are strongly flavoured enough to work with Indian food?

As a slight aside from your question, do you know what common ingredient is really exotic in India? Lemons. I can't ever remember seeing real lemons in India except in the most fancy 5 star hotel restaurants and there they were more decorative value than use. So common is the substitution of limes for lemons that no one seems to have bothered to grow them in the parts of India they would grow, like the hills, and the use as substitutes in recipes is taken for granted - all one has to do is allow for the greater acidity of limes and adjust accordingly.

This isn't a problem for me, since I love the acid coolness of limes. But just as a matter of curiosity I wonder how readily substitutable they really are and if anything is lost either way.

Vikram

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If the flavours are delicate like with leeks, most Indian cooking methods are best avoided. Asparagus I don't know - maybe someone could come up with something, but I've never eaten any Indian style of cooking asparagus that allows that taste to come through.

That’s the whole point! Should we not try to use exotic ingredients? But why not?

Had our ancestors not been adventurous, we’d have never adopted chillies, pineapples, potatoes and tomatoes, just to name a few

I spent the morning yesterday contemplating how to cook leeks in an Indian style and then decided against it and did a gratin. I just could not imagine a spice or spice mixture would go with it. I will continue to think and experiment though :-)

I have cooked asparagus in the following way: have a mustard-hing-cumin takda. Add chopped asparagus + one chilli. Then when cooked add coriander and fresh coconut + seasoning. A bit like the avials (not too sure)

As a slight aside from your question, do you know what common ingredient is really exotic in India? Lemons. I can't ever remember seeing real lemons in India except in the most fancy 5 star hotel restaurants and there they were more decorative value than use.

You’re right about the lemons! I remember when I first arrived in Europe that it was hard to find limes and I thought that lemons did not have enough zing. Now though lime are available easily.

Shallots are another such ingredient that raise a polemic in any culinary list (compared and opposed to onions)

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How do you cook foods that are ‘exotic’ (asparagus, leeks, etc) with an Indian flavour?

Ismail Merchant has a recipe for Asparagus in one of his cookbooks. Not that it's particularly Indian, but it veers towards it with mustard and chili powder.

If I were challenged - a la Iron Chef - to make something Indian with Asparagus or Leek, I'd make a soup, possibly a cool soup, and flavour it with cumin and other spices. Otherwise, these things are simply better and easier tasted in the western context.

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I use shallots a lot in my cooking... in making a lot of the chicken curries. They add a lovely flavor. I have used broccoli -- marinated and then deepfried -- although I had not earlier.

I would be curious to hear if people have used brussel sprouts or artichokes in Indian cooking here in the States??

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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I use shallots a lot in my cooking... in making a lot of the chicken curries. They add a lovely flavor. I have used broccoli -- marinated and then deepfried -- although I had not earlier.?

i don't think of shallots as being alien to indian cuisines; certainly my kerala cookbook--written for an indian audience--has them in almost every recipe. as to whether shallot is a adequate translation of madras onion i'll leave to the experts to decide.

in general, i'm with bague25 on this. i don't think there's any reason vegetables (or meats--i love me my turkey keema curries) that aren't indigenous to india can't be incorporated into indian cooking. the key may be to look at different indian cuisines. for example, i can't imagine why asparagus, or leeks for that matter, could not be incorporated into a bengali "panch mishali" tarkari. one would have to select the other 4 vegetables carefully to match, but i think it could be pretty good. in fact, i am inspired to try this this week (bong, gautam, any thoughts?). in general the bengali approach to vegetables is very light on spices so i think delicately flavored vegetables can be used--i already use zucchini for instance.

can anyone think of any other indian cuisines that might be able to substitute asparagus well (as opposed to invent new recipes to accomodate it)?

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I see broccoli was mentioned. My father makes a dish of broccoli (instead of spinach, I think) puree with fresh ginger and several other things that's based on I believe a Madhur Jaffrey recipe, and I certainly find the substitution fine. He also substitutes broccoli for cauliflower sometimes in stir-fries (one in particular that I remember uses fennel seeds), for example.

I don't see why asparagus couldn't be cooked well in an Indian style. Just brainstorming: How about a tarka of fried onions, fried chillies, and mustard seeds or fennel seeds? Perhaps one could experiment with using mustard oil for the tarka, too. I don't know.

Michael aka "Pan"

 

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So I called my mom to see what was the latest. She is in Delhi and I guess the latest at our house is samosas with celery and carrot. Mom says they are pretty good. And she has done pan fried cutlets with broccoli. She promised to look up asparagus recipes

more to come... on that front

I was flipping thru some of my books and saw some interesting stuff from Raji -- nothing else in terms of the exotic ingredients... hmm...

Monica Bhide

A Life of Spice

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We sometimes make "asparagus-poshto". Basically, just replace the potato in "aloo-poshto" with diced asparagus!

"aloo-poshto" = potato with poppy seeds

"asparagus-poshto" = asparagus with poppy seeds.

Also I disagree somewhat with Vikram about his observation about crabs. It is certainly possible to destroy the taste of crab in many different ways, however the Bengali style of cooking crabs (very spicy, and with small mud crabs) I think is quite sublime. I do agree though that its more suited for the smaller crabs.

In the USA west coast, the dungeness crabs I find are not suited to the traditional Bengali way of cooking. However, the east coast blue crabs work fine.

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I use zucchini in a variety of South Indian dishes: curry, torah, and tial, sambhar and avial.

I use leek and celery in a soup.

Can’t imagine shallots in Kerala dishes, and Kerala food is what I mostly cook at home. Mongo, could you give the name of your Kerala book, so I can check it out?

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I use zucchini in a variety of South Indian dishes: curry, torah, and tial, sambhar and avial.

I use leek and celery in a soup.

Can’t imagine shallots in Kerala dishes, and Kerala food is what I mostly cook at home. Mongo, could you give the name of your Kerala book, so I can check it out?

it is the kerala cookbook from the penguin series. the author is k. vijayan. in his glossary he says shallot=madras onion; this may be wrong. since i can't be bothered peeling 8 shallots for every recipe i just substitute onion anyway!

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Why wouldnt the dungeness crabs work? Sorry for being too curious.

I have no idea why they don't work. They are quite big in size, about 10-12 inches, that may be one reason. I just cooked them Bengali style once or twice, and was never happy. However, crab meat from them tastes delicious! You can make great crabcakes (western style) from them too.

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How do you cook foods that are ‘exotic’ (asparagus, leeks, etc) with an Indian flavour?

I have always thought about making sambhar with aparagus, because asparagus tastes similar to DRUMSTICK , and drumstick is GREAT in sambhar. I think aparagus's flavour would work well in sambhar.

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How do you cook foods that are ‘exotic’ (asparagus, leeks, etc) with an Indian flavour?

I have always thought about making sambhar with aparagus, because asparagus tastes similar to DRUMSTICK , and drumstick is GREAT in sambhar. I think aparagus's flavour would work well in sambhar.

I've had similar thoughts but not because of taste (I don't agree too much about them being similar) but because of being able to cut it up into a similar shape.

Does that mean that one could substitute asparagus in all drumstick recipes? Have you tried this? If yes, how did it work?

Tell us more about you Oothapam

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Also I disagree somewhat with Vikram about his observation about crabs. It is certainly possible to destroy the taste of crab in many different ways, however the Bengali style of cooking crabs (very spicy, and with small mud crabs) I think is quite sublime. I do agree though that its more suited for the smaller crabs.

But this was exactly my point in the Crab thread, perhaps expressed somewhat extremely. I don't think its impossible to have a good Indian crab dish - there are innumerable excellent crab curries, and in particular I'm remembering a sublime crab rasam at Raintree, the Chettinad restaurant at the Connemara in Madras, where the fieriness of the rasam was balanced by the intense crab taste. But what works are small crabs and not the big ones. The delight of the big ones is being able to wallow in lots of wonderful, delicately flavoured crabmeat and that I think is done no service by most Indian cooking styles.

Vikram

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i would make the case that exotics might not stand up to indian cooking (history, place, nostalgia) but exotics unequivocally stand up to indian flavors (how does it taste?). after all, what wouldn't be improved by a thoughtful masala?

when using foreign ingredients, i try to follow some rules:

--one exotic ingredient per dish

--never use exotic spices (thyme, lavendar etc.)

--adhere to indian cooking techniques

--taste carefully and recognize success/failure

as mentioned above, and i make these often, asparagus pakoras are excellent. (i think leeks, cut lengthwise, braised and squeezed would also make splendid pakoras.) asparagus would be lovely chopped and used almost anywhere peas or green beans are used.

wouldn't crab be succulent and flavorful atop a chickpea chaat? i make dungeness crab cakes tikki-like and serve them with a simple swirl of lime juice, cilantro and a quick tarka of mustard, minced curry leaf and urad dal. definitely not an indian dish, definitely tastes like india.

here's where i cross the line, :blink: i know! but i have to confess: i toss whole romaine leaves in a spicy dal chutney, scatter roasted peanuts and green chilis on top, then microplane fresh coconut all over. indian caesar salad.

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I've had similar thoughts but not because of taste (I don't agree too much about them being similar) but because of being able to cut it up into a similar shape.

Does that mean that one could substitute asparagus in all drumstick recipes? Have you tried this? If yes, how did it work?

Well, I hate to admit to this...but real, fresh, lovely asparagus, properly cooked and fragrant is NOT the asparagus I grew up with and which I associate with drumstick. What I mean by asparagus is Jolly Green Giant boiled-to-death asparagus which comes in a can! That's what I was served as a kid and that's a very different taste. For gourmets, it is an abomination but for people like me who grew up with it...it is very different than than the real pristine and decently cooked stuff. Both are good. But the canned stuff is what tastes like drumstick to me. I have great respect for drumstick and this is not an attempt to insult it.

I have never tried substituting it in sambhar..but it's definately on my TO DO list. :biggrin:

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