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Naan and spice and everything nice

13 Dec

In case you didn’t know, I’m obsessed with Indian food. It’s my favorite. Which is why it’s such a shame that I just now made a visit to our local Indian market last week.

My goal, by the way, was masala powder, and the resulting tikka masala I made was gobbled up too fast for me to get a picture!

One day I'll have enough spices for a tikka dabba (spice rack) like this one!

One day I’ll have enough spices for a tikka dabba (spice rack) like this one!

On entering the market, my sister and I gawked at the huge exotic fruits and vegetables. They had names like “hoosi” and “konguun,” and I had no idea what they were. It was indeed an eye-opening experience.

We moved on to intricately inspect every other item of food in the store, which was fairly large. We both had hazy goals for what we wanted, but higher on our priority list was to simply enjoy the experience.

As we wandered aimlessly, a kindly Indian woman who did not work there asked if we needed help finding something. For a moment I inwardly seethed and considered spouting in perfect Hindi that I’m an Indian with a pigment disorder who knows this place like the back of my hand. But she was really nice. And I only know how to say “Hello” and “How are you?” in Hindi. Plus despite my wishes, I really didn’t know what most things were and could have probably used her help.

Anyway 🙂

In addition to my masala, I scored onion kulcha, which I had never had before but appeared like stuffed naan. Two of my favorite things: naan and something I’ve never tried! Later I discovered that kulcha is a sort of fluffier naan popular in northern India. It usually comes stuffed with cottage cheese, onions, potatoes or spices.

Variants of naan? Be still, my fluttering heart!

Thank you, Patel Brothers Market, for an enjoyable time and supremely yummy food! I have an auspicious feeling that I will be seeing you again soon…

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I can’t believe it’s not butter!

8 Nov

Spoiler alert: butter chicken only has two tablespoons of butter in it.

Yeah, I know, I was shocked too. But then I was grateful, because living in the South, I’ve had my share of buttery dishes and some of them can get nasty.

I had to make butter chicken the other day because my mom accidentally bought too much naan. Thus it needed to be eaten. I could have made tikka masala, but I decided to be “adventurous” and go with the butter chicken. The only real adventurous part is that I’ve never made butter chicken before; it was actually much easier than masala.

In the pot

Note: these are iPhone pictures…it was either that or run for my Canon while burning the chicken! My apologies for the incredible orange color.

Maybe it’s just the recipe I used, but butter chicken is not as spicy or flavorful as masala chicken. It’s also less thick because it has more milk than yogurt. The good thing is that anything goes well with naan!

Mmm

Some of you might have eaten Indian food recently for Diwali, the Festival of Lights. Diwali is one of the biggest festivals in India, and celebrates good over evil, the new year and the hope for a plentiful harvest. Happy (late) Diwali, everyone…may the naan be with you!

4 reasons why new food is awesome

3 Aug

1) New food is a hot commodity

You can’t get new food anywhere. I mean, c’mon, I’ve had a lot of food in my life. It’s not every day I can get my hands on something I’ve never tasted!

2) It’s exciting and mysterious

I love surprises. I love not knowing what something will taste like, or even what’s all in it. The thrill of experiencing the hustle and bustle of a new city is on par to tasting that city’s specialty dish (mmm!).

The meal on my flight to Japan might have been more mysterious than exciting…

3) You can more fully experience small details

Think of meeting a someone new. You say hello, shake hands, maybe ask a few general questions. Five minutes into your conversation, you’ve judged whether or not you like them. If you do, you talk longer and discover a smidgen of their past, their favorite places to hang out and other details that make them unique. Accordingly, when you spy a new food, you scope it out. Give it a cautious sniff and inspect its ingredients. Then you take a bite. If you like it, you eat more, and as you do, you experience its notes of flavor fully and form adjectives for certain characteristics of it in your mind. Granted, you might learn more about a food each time you eat it, but that first bite has your total attention, allowing you to fully enjoy the details.

4) It tells about a country’s identity

In nearly every culture, meals are a time for community. What get-together doesn’t have food in the mix? A lame one, believe you me. If you want to call up that friend you haven’t seen awhile, you ask her to meet you for coffee or at a deli. Why? Food lightens the mood. We’ve been trained to associate food with good feelings (aka, coffee and friendship). Since food is such an important part of everyones’ lives, the things a person eats tells you a bit about them.

I’m not sure what this snack says about me…

Why do you enjoy new food?

An Indian treat of mango lassi

23 Jul

Have you ever eaten something really good at a restaurant and thought, “Man, I wish I could have this more often and for a cheaper price”? Yeah, me too, like all the time. Even if the fridge is full, my stomach wants food only obtainable halfway across the world (or halfway across Nashville, which is just as annoying). But when the mini TGI Fridays never popped up in my kitchen, I grudgingly started experimenting with my favorite dishes at home. The great thing is that, even if my creations don’t end up exactly like the originals, they’re often as good or better.

Such is the case with mango lassi. My very first blog post was on India, because everything Indian makes me happy. It also brings to surface my insatiable wanderlust, but let’s focus on the happy part! Since I like my chicken tikka masala better than any I’ve eaten at an Indian buffet, I decided to take advantage of fruit season (and my favorite ingredient: yogurt!) and try out mango lassi.

Every self-respecting Indian joint offers mango lassi. The mango is the national fruit of India, after all, and the cold sweetness counteracts spicy fare. In India, mangoes are known as the “food of the gods” and grow in nearly every area of the country!

Mango lassi is basically a thin mango smoothie. I would definitely recommend it for a hot summer day (or with spicy food on a cold day). You’ll just need equal amounts of mango and yogurt, as well as milk, sugar and cardamom added to personal taste. Note that if your mango isn’t pureed, you’ll need to blend the lassi very well or it will be chunky.

Did my mango lassi taste like restaurant lassi? Nah. But what’s life without variety, anyway?

Yogurt is taking over the world

12 Apr

A few weeks ago, I told you about the world’s (and my!) coffee obsession. Today we’ll learn about another food item that spread all around the world. Yogurt! Although yogurt doesn’t exactly cause as much excitement as coffee, I, for one, love it.

My yogurt adoration picked up steam when I got a job at Pinkberry. Every time I worked a shift, I was allowed one free cup of frozen yogurt. It was my first experience with tart yogurt, although I was a moderate fan of Yoplait at the time, which is more sweet and fruity.

Another factor in my yogurt love was my five-month stint in Eastern Europe. A normal breakfast drink there is creamy tart yogurt. When I returned home, I missed it so much that I made my own jogurt. Essentially, that entails boiling pasteurized milk, mixing it with live active culture yogurt and letting it sit out for 12 hours. My mom thought I was going to die.

One of my favorite breakfasts - yogurt parfait!

After researching several countries through this blog, I found out a lot of other people are crazy about yogurt too! In fact, it’s next to impossible to go anywhere in the world where they do not consume yogurt.

Here are some interesting varieties of this delicious, nutritious food item:

Iceland

Called skyr, Icelandic yogurt is strained of all its water content to create a thicker consistency (it’s similar to Greek yogurt, which has become popular in the U.S.).

West Sumatra

Dadih yogurt is made from water buffalo milk and fermented in bamboo tubes.

Tibet

Tibetan yogurt is made from yak milk!

The Balkans

Jogurt is often made into cold soup with cucumber, olive oil, salt or dill. It’s usually a side dish.

Jordan

Jordanians salt their yogurt, dry it into chunks and call it jameed.

India

Raita is yogurt seasoned with cilantro, mint or other herbs and mixed with vegetables such as cucumber and onions. The mixture is served chilled and works as an antidote for spicy Indian dishes.

Japan

This doesn’t really count, but I had to include it. Pepsi came out with a new flavor of cola that they sold only in Japan. It was called Pepsi White, “pepsi and yogurt flavor.” This didn’t catch on. I wonder why…

Do any of these international yogurts catch your eye (or stomach)?

Coffee: an international obsession

1 Mar

Strong. Complex. Fruity. Mellow. Earthy.

What do these words have in common? They all describe coffee! Today, instead of featuring one country, I’m featuring one dish…well, one drink, to be exact. Coffee is the most popular beverage in the world, after all, with more than 400 billion cups consumed each year, so I think it qualifies for a post of its own.

People drink coffee from South America to Russia, from Madagascar to Australia. What makes this drink so universally popular? For one, it’s cheap. It also makes mornings less of a drag, and its high amount of caffeine is proven to be addictive.

Yet it’s more than the caffeine that keeps people sipping. A good cup of coffee can brighten your mood, make your day better and put you in a new state of mind. Drinking coffee with friends is a great way to deepen relationships. There is a sort of laid-back coffee culture that says, “You are important, and other things can wait.”

As you can tell, I am a coffee fan, and I love making it in different ways. Here are a few ways I brew:

"All-American" drip coffee maker

This is an easy way to make enough fresh coffee to share with friends. Mine has a built-in bean grinder, which is also time-efficient. It even has a timer function that allows me to prepare the coffee the night before, then have it fresh and waiting for me on early mornings. I don’t know about you, but it’s much easier getting out of bed if I can already smell my cup o’ joe waiting for me!

French press

French presses have become another popular option of making coffee in the U.S. All you have to do is pour your pre-ground coffee into the cup and put on the lid. After a few minutes (I like to wait four), you press the plunger down, which captures the grounds in the bottom of the cup so you can drink your coffee ground-free!

Italian espresso maker

This little guy makes less coffee than the French press, but it’s also a lot stronger. First you fill the bottom section of the pot with water, and then insert a little bowl of finely ground coffee over it. You then heat it on the stove, causing the water to rise into the top section and end up as delightfully smooth espresso.

Turkish coffee pot

Sadly, I don’t own my own Turkish coffee pot, but I hope to one day. This picture is of my friend’s pot I borrowed in Hungary. Turkish coffee is more “hardcore” than others. All you have to do is mix ground coffee and water together in your pot, then heat it up on the stove. At a certain magical point (after you have some foam, but before it’s boiled!), you take it off the stove and enjoy! The result is wonderfully rich and strong coffee, but some people object to the grounds that remain at the bottom of the cup. I, however, most emphatically do not object, and miss Turkish coffee with a passion.

I recently viewed a poll asking if Americans would eliminate their favorite food or drink from their diet if they discovered it might reduce their lifespan by a year. 57% said they would not. I am the 57%! (See what I did there?). I would not give up coffee even if it made me die at age 86 instead of 87. Would you give up your favorite food or beverage for a (slightly) longer life?

Visiting India through chicken tikka masala

31 Jan


I’ve long been obsessed with India – the bright colors, the happy inhabitants and, of course, the flavorful dishes! Although I’ve never actually visited the country, I make Indian food often, so my first dish to share with you is chicken tikka masala. You might have heard of it, as it’s a popular dish in Indian restaurants here in America (although interestingly enough, Britain has laid claim to its origins).

Tikka masala is similar to many Indian dishes, with chicken marinated in yogurt with several different spices, cooked in a tomato sauce and served over rice. It goes excellently with naan, a common Indian flatbread. I have to admit I cheated and bought my naan at Kroger – naan isn’t really naan to me unless it’s made in a special kind of oven called a tandoor, so after failed attempts of baking it at home, I am at peace with buying it pre-made!

If you’d like to try making tikka masala, I’d recommend this recipe. Warning: there’s a liberal amount of both spices and jalapenos!

India is a land of tigers, monsoons and traditions. They let cows wander wherever they will.  They have a whole festival dedicated to throwing colored powder and paint at each other. Would you like to visit this exotic, yet chaotic, country?