Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Indian Cuisine at Home

I love Indian cuisine, and so do my cousin and her husband. So when they asked me to cook up an Indian meal for them last weekend, I obliged happily.

One of the reasons I jump at the chance to make Indian food is because in order to make one or two dishes, you have to pretty much stock up on spices. And once you've stocked up on spices (which are usually sold in quantities far greater than you need for one meal), you don't want them to go to waste, do you? Of course not.

Another reason Indian cuisine is great is because it's easy to satisfy both vegetarians and non-vegetarians alike. I've always thought that if I were a vegetarian, I'd have to eat Indian food a lot, because it's one of the few ways that vegetables are so infused with flavor that I barely notice the absence of meat (not that I don't like vegetables on their own, but if I have them solely and repeatedly, I really notice the absence of meat).

At first I was going to make two dishes -- aloo gobi and murgh makhani, along with homemade raita and naan. But then I started to feel bad that my cousin and I would have sauce to eat with our naan while the aloo gobi was dry so my cousin's husband wouldn't (he's a vegetarian). At the last minute I decided to make palak paneer ... the only problem being that I didn't have the time to make paneer, and I don't have an Indian grocery store close enough to me to make the trip worth it. And to be honest, I wasn't really heart broken about it; while I enjoy making my own paneer, I'm rather indifferent to eating it. It turns out that my cousin and her husband feel the same way, so it was all for the best. I ended up replacing the cheese with peas (as the palak on its own seemed to need a bit of chunkiness), and thus creating "palak mattar." Hee. I'm going to be making it that way from now on -- just as yummy, in my opinion, but easier and fewer calories.

The raita, which we like to eat with pretty much everything, was delicious, and the naan was as well, even if it didn't turn out quite as aesthetically pleasing as I had wanted (though there were some nice-looking pieces; the kids got to them before I could take a picture). The murgh makhani's sauce was absolutely perfect; it tasted just the the butter chicken I've had in restaurants. The only thing I'll change for next time is the kind of chicken meat I used -- breast rather than thigh. I prefer dark meat, and this dish is usually made with it, but at the time I went to the store they didn't have anything but breasts.

For dessert we had a wonderful cheesecake, but that's going to have to wait for another post. :-)

Palak Mattar (recipe adapted from here)

  • 1 10oz package of frozen chopped spinach or 4 cups of fresh, finely chopped spinach
  • 3/4 cup of frozen peas
  • 2 medium tomatoes
  • 1 tsp chopped ginger
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tbsp oil
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seed
  • pinch of asofetida
  • 1/2 tsp salt, or to taste
  • 2 tbsp of whole wheat flour
  • 1/3 cup heavy cream


  1. If you're using frozen spinach, thaw it and squeeze out the water.
  2. In a blender, puree the tomatoes and ginger together.
  3. Mix together the coriander, turmeric, and red chili powder with the tomato puree and set it aside.
  4. Mix the whole wheat flour with the heavy cream and set that aside as well.
  5. Heat the oil in a saucepan. Test the heat by adding one cumin seed to the oil; it should sizzle enthusiastically. If it doesn't the oil's not hot enough.
  6. Add the asofetida and cumin seeds. Let the seeds sizzle for a bit, then add the tomato puree mixture and let it cook for a few minutes until the tomato puree is reduced by about half.
  7. Add the spinach, mix well, and let it cook on medium low heat for about 10 minutes, covered.
  8. Add heavy cream mixture cook another 5 minutes or so.
  9. Add the peas and fold them gently into spinach. Let the dish simmer for about 3 minutes, or until heated through, then serve immediately.
Aloo Gobi (recipe adapted from here)

  • 1 medium-sized cauliflower, cut into bite-size florets
  • 2 large potatoes, cut into bite size pieces
  • 1 cup frozen green peas
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 1/4 cup water
  • 1/2 tsp cumin seeds
  • pinch of asofetida
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 1 inch piece ginger, minced or grated
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 large tomatoes, chopped
  • 2 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 1 tsp garam masala
  • red chili powder, to taste
  • 1/2 tsp amchur (mango powder)
  • salt, to taste
  • 5 sprigs cilantro, chopped


  1. Heat oil in a large pot.
  2. Test if the oil is ready by adding a cumin seed -- it should sizzle enthusiastically right away. When the oil is hot, add all the cumin seeds and let them to sizzle for a few moments.
  3. Add the asofetida, turmeric powder, and diced onion. Saute about 3 minutes.
  4. Add the ginger and garlic to the onions. Saute until the onions are soft and just beginning to brown. Stir frequently.
  5. Mix in the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes have broken down quite a bit and the oil starts to separate from the mixture. Stir frequently.
  6. While the tomatoes are cooking, place the potatoes in a microwave safe bowl, sprinkle on a little salt, add 1/4 cup water, cover the bowl, and microwave for about 3-5 minutes, until they are about half cooked.
  7. Wash the cauliflower florets and place them in a microwave safe bowl, cover it, and microwave for about 3-5 minutes, until they are about half cooked. Lightly salt the cauliflower while it is still warm. (Please note that you salt the potatoes before they're microwaved and the cauliflower after. Also you can skip the microwaving step altogether, it'll just take longer to cook.)
  8. Once oil has separated from the tomato mixture, add the coriander powder, garam masala, red chili powder, cumin powder, amchur and salt to taste, then mix well.
  9. Add the half-cooked potatoes, mix well to coat all the potato pieces with spices, and turn the heat to medium low. Cover and cook for 5 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender but not breaking apart.
  10. Add the green peas and half-cooked cauliflower and mix well to evenly coat the cauliflower with spices. Cover and cook until all veggies are tender.
  11. Take the pot off the heat and mix in the chopped cilantro.
Murgh Makhani (recipe adapted from here)

  • 1 lb chicken thighs, cut into bite-sized pieces
  • 2-3 tbsp butter
  • 4 shallots, sliced into thin strips
  • 2 tsp lemon juice
  • 1 tbsp ginger, grated
  • 1 tbsp garlic, minced
  • 1 tbsp garam masala
  • 1 tsp chili powder
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground fenugreek
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/4 cup plain yogurt
  • 2/3 cup cream
  • 1 cup tomato sauce
  • 1/2 tsp red chili powder (or to taste)
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • 3-4 tbsp cilantro, chopped


  1. Cook the shallots in butter until they are limp and soft. Remove them from the pan, leaving as much of the butter as possible, and reserve them.
  2. Turn up the heat and add the chicken. Cook quickly, browning all sides.
  3. When the chicken is cooked through, add the spices, ginger and garlic, and stir for a few moments.
  4. If the pan is dry, add a few tbsps of water and use the liquid to deglaze, scraping up any bits of cooked chicken or spice that have stuck to the bottom of the pan. More than likely you'll have chicken juices to do this with.
  5. Add the tomato sauce, lemon juice, and the cooked shallots into the pan and set it to simmer.
  6. Put a few tbsps of the sauce in a bowl and mix it with the cream and the yogurt. Pour it into the chicken mixture.
  7. Simmer the dish for a few minutes. Taste it and add salt as desired.
  8. Place the chicken and sauce into a serving bowl and sprinkle chopped cilantro on top.

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