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Indian cooking

PlainPopcorn's picture

Indian cooking

Indian cooking is a rather broad subject, but I was interested into hearing from anyone who likes to make indian dishes at home.

I'm as white as can be but I like to try new things often, and really get into it. For the last weeks I've been testcooking indian dishes for a christmas family dinner (for white people, who've neverd tried indian food) from and so far have made 14 recipes.

I've been improvising with my immersion blender in a tall jar to make pastes and to grind whole spices, and have come to the conclusion that I should really find a wet and dry grinder/mixer grinder or a "mixie" (as I understand it that's not a misspelling). Hopefully before christmas. But it's been a rough internet search for a good one, I suspect they aren't sold in the netherlands and I'm hesitant to buy online because of the very mixed reviews on the mixies and problems with counterfeit products.

As of right now my shahi paneer comes out royally delicious, albeit a bit gritty in texture.

I can loan a coffee grinder that my friend used to use for grinding flax seeds into powder, but that will only help me with dry whole spices and nuts. But it will surely be better than my immersion blender jar improvisation. And I will take care not to kill her grinder with large chunks of cinnamon and such.

Do you have a mixie?

What are your favorite dishes for celebrations?

clazar123's picture

When I first tried Indian food, I disliked it intensely. Then I had a meal with an Indian national who cooked. He explained the cooking methods and talked about the spices and ingredients used. As soon as the flavor profile was demystified-I loved the food. In my head was a little safety gremlin saying "You don'know what is in this. It may be bad for you! Don't eat it!"  I have since gone on to take an Indian cooking class and have several books.Indian food is in my top 2 favorite and I enjoy it whenever I can.

My advice about introducing un-initiated palates to Indian food is to keep it mild,a little sweet and explain what it is. Use explanations that make it similar to food they already know.

No mixie here. Mortar and pestle or buy pre-ground spices. I know it isn't as fresh but that is what I do.

PlainPopcorn's picture

on the "telling people what's in it" part. I think that will massively help my family appreciate what they are eating. Once you know a bit about indian cooking it stops being weird and I agree that that helps.

One of the reasons I'm test cooking is because of the spiciness (the heat) because I know my mother and her partner aren't accustomed to it. When I cook south korean food and she sees me add the red pepper powder or the red pepper paste she alway says "No! Don't add so much" (it looks spicier than it is though, it's just really dark red) but when she eats it she says "you can make this more often". I've become attuned to how much spice she can comfortably handle. And I know what kinds of foods she likes so I will be avoiding anything that will be extremely weird for her.

Another reason for the test cooking is because I've never eaten many of those dishes before, the flavours were new to me. And I just really want to know a recipe is going to work out well before I prepare it for christmas. Last year I made a stroopwafel (syrup waffle) pie with a recipe from a famous pastry chef and it didn't work out because of the weird flour to fluid ratio. It did not feel good to fail on the day itself and I don't want a repeat experience. Of course I improvised to make it work but it made me stressed.

I won't be adding in too many sweet dishes since they may be too rich and a bit too "indian take-away like", I really want a good savoury to sweet ratio for the whole meal.

Here's my current plan for the meal (for 4 to 5 people), some dishes may be smaller size than others.

-1 raita (probably tomato raita, potato raita or tomato-onion raita)

-1 dal (or other legume/pulse dish), I'm considering dal makhani

-1 savoury paneer dish, I'm considering freshly made paneer in a spinach gravy

-1 curry, I'm considering a slightly sweet one. I'd prefer a vegetarian one (less hassle) but my family would probably say "where's the meat?" so perhaps a toned down kashmiri curry with mango and lamb, or a malaya/malayon curry with banana (no pineapple) and pork. These are take-away type dishes, not indian home cooked dishes but I have a sneaky suspicion it will go down really well with the family. I will make them less sweet than the take-away versions though, those can be overly sweet.

-1 flatbread, I'm considering plain paratha (frozen, spring home brand) cooked until crispy and flakey. IMO much better than rice for dipping.

-dessert, probably a spiced rice porridge because I know my mom loves rice porridge and it's not weird to the rest of the guests.

Doesn't really look like a celebration feast (not enough variety of dishes for that) but if I did my mother would complain that I spoil them too much or that I made too much effort. She really means it too. I could add another curry in just to annoy her, like cashew curry or mushroom butter masala.

I wish I had more recipes for dry/semidry vegetable dishes. Hing jeera aloo (which isn't really a vegetable) was just not good, I doubt north indian roast mushroom or kadai mushroom will make the cut either. Problem is with the vegrecipes site is that many dry/semidry vegetable dishes have vegetables in them that aren't available here, not even in the asian supermarkets. It just came to me that I could make a pumpkin dish, but that doesn't really scream "vegetable" to me.


I know chutneys are a usual part of the meal, but I'll just concentrate on the mains for now, I don't know if I have time left to test cook chutneys. If I do, I might do it.

I used a coffee grinder yesterday to make almond powder for a curry, it was very convenient.


clazar123's picture

Where I live, a menu would be much simpler than a traditional Indian feast.

Appetizer:  Samosa (veg or meat) can be made ahead OR veg. pakora

Tamarind or mint chutney (bottled)

Main Meal: Spinach paneer OR shahi mushroom OR meat (chicken,beef,lamb) shahi OR meat makhani OR mattar paneer (peas and paneer)

Jasmine rice and naan bread (plain,garlic or cheese). Naan bread can be purchased or made ahead. 

Dessert: Kheer (cardamon rice pudding)

Chai tea or mango lassi as a baverage




PlainPopcorn's picture

what I had in mind before (I only had 5 dishes in mind, namely a 1 dal 1 raita 1 curry and 1 flatbread and 1 dessert) wasn't elaborate enough.

I went to a website after I googled "indian celebration menu" and the sites recommended a larger variety than I had in mind. So I got the impression that it's a indian cultural thing to have many different dishes for a celebration. Look here;

To me that made sense, dutch everyday meals are 2 or 3 dishes (1 veg 1 potato 1 meat or fish OR 1 bread and 1 soup/stew) and celebration menus are 5 dishes or so.

I mean you did say that you where you live (where do you live?) a menu would be much simpler than a traditional Indian feast so you know they can be ridiculously elaborate (I mean who needs 20 dishes?).

I'm going to take the opportunity to really show off.. uh I mean bring a variety of nutrition to the table. Most of the liquidy curries and the dal I will make that morning or even the day before (if need be) and I will do the finishing steps just before dinner time. I can make the paneer that afternoon. 

clazar123's picture

I did not mean to sound as if I was giving an expert opinion. I was merely commenting that perhaps a simple (smaller) menu might be more achievable and still be appreciated by your audience. There is only so much one cook can offer in a day. I'm sure Indian feasts are very elaborate and huge spreads (if a wedding is an example) but they have MANY cooks in the kitchen.

I also encourage the cook to enjoy the day, as well as the guests. Have your family over multiple times to explore different dishes. Break bread together as you scoop up some dal and enjoy the best part of any meal- the people you are with.


Have fun.

PlainPopcorn's picture

And spending the majority of the day in the kitchen is something I like to do, I still find the time to have tea with my family (I will be cooking at my mother's house) and catch up. My mother will be the hostess and I will just do the cooking.

As for "achievability" that's totally not an issue. These recipes aren't complicated, they just take a little time (usually 45 minutes per curry). As long as I have tested a recipe before it's all fun and enjoyment. And I like introducing people to new foods.

Every day meals are simple for me (I usually make one-pot meals for myself) and holiday meals are the perfect excuse not to keep it simple :)

andychrist's picture

as you don't really need all that much spice in terms of volume, so it's not too much work to do the job by hand. Not to mention that whole spices are often employed in Indian cuisine, and are often roasted first or quickly fried in oil. Anyway most spices purchased ground keep their flavor well, though a few such as nutmeg and allspice are best grated fresh by hand, because the preground can become peppery with age. And of course dried herbs don't all have very long shelf lives either, though Indian recipes don't often call for them AFAIK.

Haven't yet myself prepared a lot of authentic Indian dishes, but do most of my shopping for savories at India/Pakistani supply houses. Lemon pickle is my favorite condiment, can't easily make it myself because the sweet miniature variety of lemons required is not readily available where I live. But armed with a couple pounds of assorted spices from the local bazar, have successfully churned out many quarts of chutneys and relishes, which do make for festive garnishes. Admit they can be a bit time consuming to prepare but can be made way in advance of any meal and of course will keep well.

BTW have you considered serving chana vadas? Imagine chickpeas should be pretty easy to come by just about anywhere and this dish can be made more vegetabley and colorful with the addition of spinach/red onions/carrots/peas. Again, the batter can be prepped in advance and the fritters cooked at the very last moment.

PlainPopcorn's picture

But in case you don't mind chiming in, I've had to make a few powders from dry roasted whole spices and I am damn glad I have a coffee grinder for that. Some of these spices are so hard or stringy that you'll be mortaring and pestling for a very long time.

As for dried herbs (leafy bits) I have mostly come across kasuri methi (dried fenugreek leaves), dried coriander leaves and not much else.

Preparing indian food from scratch imo is really simple but it can be time consuming (45 minutes per curry) if you're used to cooking stuff that's done in 15~30 minutes. If you don't have a pressure cooker pulses/legumes take quite long to cook. I've had a legume that took more than an hour to get to the right consistency.

But I still recommend it, it's simple enough to make and it's imo a cool feeling to make new flavours.

As for the chana vadas, I'm steering clear of deep fried stuff for now. But thank you for the tip, maybe I will make them next year.

dabrownman's picture

there have to be about a gazillion different varieties and variations to choose from depending on where you are in India.  Plus it is more complicated when more than half the population is vegetarian too. Which explains to some degree why some of these feasts have so many dishes .Making a few dishes well is better than a lot poorly.   If I did Indian Christmas dinner My daughter and i would be in heaven and the rest of them would string us up to dry after skinning us - all in a fine Christmas spirit of course:-) . 

Good luck.

PlainPopcorn's picture

depending on if you trust wikipedia or a vegetarian website so not more than half, but the remainder is feeling the societal pressure to become vegetarian so I have read.

Not making dishes poorly is why I'm test cooking, and I'm selecting dishes that will suit the guests tastes.

I can't understand why your other relatives would string you up about an indian christmas dinner, do they not like indian food?

dabrownman's picture

They are also hard to break.  Some people expect certain things for these special times.  The only time some foods can be found around here, like fruit cake,  Christmas cookies, mince and pumpkin pie, cranberry salad and gingerbread to name just a few,  are the holidays and food ia a big part of what makes these times special.  It just not traditional Thanksgiving or Christmas without a tree, stockings,and all the holiday food.  Folks know they can get Indian food around here any time and do since we make it often.  But they can only get traditional holiday food during the holidays.  No sense getting Great Aunt Tessie all riled up  - she smells bad enough as it is :-)  

So it isn't about liking Indian food at all since it is our favorite cuisine by far, It is just holiday tradition and nothing more.  The thing about tradition though is that they have plenty of pride in them that keeps change at bay.  Traditions can eventually lead to failure when the world changes and the traditions do not. So good luck with your Indian Christmas dinner, maybe you will start a new tradition for your family!  i'm going to put some mango chutney on the table and see what happens ;-)

Happy cooking 

PlainPopcorn's picture

I suspected it to be about tradition, but not everyone has such strong ties to it.

Ever since my brother and I moved out and ever since I took an interest in cooking, christmas dinner has been one international dish after the other. Last year it was shepards pie for main dish, charlotte russe for dessert (cold dessert of Bavarian cream set in a mold lined with ladyfingers), the year before that the main dish was traditional dutch stewed rabbit with prune sauce, brussel sprouts, ice cream for dessert. My mother did a turkey stuffed with chicken mince once (it was gross). There was a year where we did roast leg of lamb moroccan style, with tabouli and salad. 

I suppose you could say our tradition is to have interesting food we never tried before.

There are things during december which we can't go a year without though, like pepernoten/kruidnoten (spiced little ginger biscuits) recipe here 

The years when we were still living with my mother christmas dinner would be boring as hell. Like many dutch people we did "raclette" which is where you sit around a little grill and have your own spatula and tiny pans and would put bits of meat and vegetables on the grill or in the pans.   it was horrible because my mother would buy premarinated processed meat like hamburgers and sausages. I suppose that sounds good to some people. The veg was just sliced bell pepper and button mushrooms. We did that so many years I grew sick of it.

I thought everyone hated fruitcake, but I've never had it.

mandmsand's picture

We live a good hour and a half from a large city.  

Milwaukee is three hours to the east.  

We discovered an Indian grocery store in Wauwatosa, a western suburb. 

They also have on-line store.  

You may want to check them out if your choices are limited.


PlainPopcorn's picture

which means I will not be able to order from the website.

But thank you nonetheless. Always good to have someone come with recommendations.

The lack of indian vegetables is still a pain though, transport is often difficult and it doesn't get warm enough in the netherlands to grow them. I've occasionally seen okra, but that's pretty much it.

Weirdly enough we have a large selection of chinese leafy greens, they're very expensive but they are there. Sadly there's very little overlap with indian vegetables.