Come on Indian MeFites, spill the lentils, divulge your most tasty family recipes.
May 25, 2008 10:19 PM   Subscribe

To the Indian MeFites - and the non-indian chefs as well - what are your favorite family Indian recipes and what are some tricks in the preparation to give the food that authentic Indian taste. You know, rich, delicious, mouth-watering, and savoury to the point that eating becomes a spiritual experiece in itself.

Perhaps I should have worded this question after I ate, but now that I'm returning to the Western diet after a few months of pure Indian goodness I already begin to feel the withdrawal symptoms taking hold, "Where's the spice in these potatoes? This bread needs some buttery sauce! Why is this food so depressingly bland and dry?!" I've already promised myself I'd start practicing and preparing my own Indian food, and with a large Sikh population nearby I have access to an Indian market specializing in ingredients from the Punjabi region, which is good because I do love my dal makhani. But I'd appreciate learning of recipes that run in the family as well as some tricks to the art of Indian cooking. For example, what's a good method of emulating a tandoor?

Any online resources are also much appreciated. Time to go eat lunch.
posted by ageispolis to Food & Drink (17 answers total) 209 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: Some sites that I've found useful in the past:
Chachi's Kitchen
101 Cookbooks (not necessarily Indian, but yummylicious recepies)

The slow cooker is a new best friend that I’ve just discovered. It lets you make all those Punjabi daals, kheers, or many other dishes with ease (here are some slow cooker recipes).

Use canola oil instead of vegetable or peanut.

Something we do in our family that might or might not be of liking to others: We use jaggery instead of sugar, especially in our daal.

I'm not a personal fan, but ghee is always a key ingredient in any Indian food. Many times in doing tadka, use ghee instead of oil.

A trick my parents use for making baingan bharta (eggplant):
They oil the eggplant and broil it in a small toaster oven. This makes it soft and the skin is easy to take off. Plus for me (non eggplant lover) the bharta turns out much more edible without all the stickiness and the seediness that comes with the eggplant.

Last but not the least, go by whatever you feel right and it'll turn out great.

Hope it helps and happy cooking.

Ms. Upal
posted by Upal at 11:28 PM on May 25, 2008 [4 favorites]

Punjabi/Sikh food generally has a lot of cream/fat added to it which gives it a nice texture and an awesome taste. Take it from an Indian who absolutely adores Punjabi food. Like any other food, experimentation with different tastes (spices, in this case) can give you great results. Plus, you can prepare gravies seperately and then add in different veggies/stuff as needed. You should give it time to mix and the veggies to get the flavour though.

If you're looking for popular recipes, you can try out things like "Sarson da saag", "Paneer makhanwala", "Dal Tadka", etc.

It's just morning so I can't think of much yet. Give me a few hours and I'll suggest you a lot more :)
posted by cyanide at 11:37 PM on May 25, 2008

Hooked on Heat is my favourite Indian recipe blog. Clear, engaging writing and some really good recipes.
posted by bunglin jones at 11:55 PM on May 25, 2008 [1 favorite]

Here's a nice cooking blog with an emphasis on south indian recipes: Masala Magic
posted by dhruva at 12:04 AM on May 26, 2008

IANAI, but Indian is one of my favourite cuisines to cook, especially when entertaining.

I'm quite lazy about it, too: usually I just make one meat curry, not even from first principles - ie using a spice masala, rather than mixing my own spices. It's rarely more complicated than just softening some onions & or garlic in ghee, adding the masala for a few minutes, then browning the meat, adding water & simmering.

The trick for making this special is the side-dishes & condiments! *YUM* - serve on rice with sides of curd, and a range of hot or sweet pickles & chutneys, pappadums, raita and one or two packaged veg curries (they're selling these pre-prepared in all the indian shops now - about $2 for enough for 3 ppl). All deceptively easy to do, quite cheap & definitely tasty.
posted by UbuRoivas at 12:05 AM on May 26, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'm not Indian, either, but the biggest basic difference, the thing that makes that deep, rich flavour and colour in a lot of dishes, is browning/caramelizing the onions. I've found Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks to be an excellent resource; she usually says to slice the onions paper-thin before browning. I do it over medium heat so I can keep an eye on them and make sure they don't burn. (I'm definitely bookmarking the sites recommended upthread now. Wow.)
posted by elizard at 12:36 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've been trying to replicate some of the South Indian dishes we miss since we moved and the best trick I found was fenugreek. There definitely is something to be said about having the right spices. There are plenty of Indian food blogs out there, and if you don't live in an area with a convenient Indian market, there's always Kalustyans.
posted by cobaltnine at 5:36 AM on May 26, 2008

IANI (I am not Indian) but I love Indian food, and my personal favorite recipe to make is called "Peter's Lamb Curry" from one of the Jamie Oliver cookbooks. (Peter, I believe, is one of Jamie's bestest mates, as he might say. It looks like it's reproduced on this blog. I'm also getting kinda interested in that soup recipe she's got...

As far as tips for this one go, I've just followed it verbatim. It's a bit of work with toasting the seeds and bashing them up in the pestle & mortar, but it's fun and I think the freshness is what makes it so good.

I made the same curry with chicken instead of lamb, and it was great too.
posted by altcountryman at 6:44 AM on May 26, 2008

Maya Kaimal's Curried Favors is extremely good as far as southern Indian cuisine is concerned. Great recipes, full of tips for beginners. We use it on a weekly basis (at least).

One thing that makes a big difference (we find) is the freshness of the spices: we grind our cumin and coriander seeds, rather than buy them already ground.
posted by bluefrog at 7:16 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Seconding bluefrog on the freshly ground spices, I'm pretty sure they are what makes the difference between "tastes great" and "tastes so good, witchcraft is suspected".
posted by tomcooke at 8:30 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

IANI (I am not Indian) technically, but what I found is that people will substitute in bad ways - if the recipe says coconut or palm oil, do not in the name of all that is holy use some acrid canola or whatever. Just don't do this. Bad fat (which also often means cooking at the wrong temp) seems to be the major problem with a lot of ghastly faux Indian hippy chow I've eaten.

You can make great dosas in a cast iron skillet, though.

And Kalustyans is a great tip, cobaltnine! They seem to have Vicco Turmeric shaving cream in stock which is more than I can say for the Indian market around here who seem to carry it seasonally.
posted by Lesser Shrew at 8:52 AM on May 26, 2008

Best answer: I've found the blog One Hot Stove to be a great source for (vegetarian) Indian recipes.
In terms of tips for making Indian food, I think the best thing to do would be to get familiar with the spices that are used. In the same way that you know for Western cooking what an appropriate amount of salt, pepper or cinnamon would be, as well as at what stage of the cooking process they should be added, Indian spices have similar guidelines that you can learn as well.
For example, spices like cumin, cayenne and dried coriander powder need to be added during the initial stage of the cooking process and need to be fried to get rid of the raw taste. Something like garam masala would be added towards the end. Be a little generous with spices -- for example when I cook an Indian curry I use 2-3 tbsp of cayenne or cumin, whereas typical amounts used in Western dishes are 1-2 tsp.
I would also like to reiterate the importance of caramelizing those onions. The thick brown gravy seen in so many Indian dishes in restaurants is basically composed of onion puree fried till brown, along with some spices, tomato puree added and fried. At the end cream is added to give you a creamy mouthfeel.
Another thing that I think is essential to cooking Indian food is having a heavy duty mixer/grinder. Good Indian brands aren't exactly cheap but are definitely less expensive than American or European brands with comparable capabilities. I own the Preethi Chef Pro Plus and hardly a day goes by that I don't feel thankful for its presence. It makes short work of pureeing tomatoes and soups, grinding spices and coffee, making pesto and garlic-ginger paste.
posted by peacheater at 8:57 AM on May 26, 2008 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you kindly for all your suggestions. I'll post a follow up after I've made my first attempt, likely to be a disaster story. In the meantime, any personal homemade recipes?
posted by ageispolis at 10:48 PM on May 29, 2008

Here's the thing. Making Indian food takes an incredible amount of time and energy. My mother makes her own ghee out of butter, she uses fresh ginger and garlic every time, she makes most of her own spices by grinding up the ingredients, etc. etc. The only thing you'll find store-bought that ends up in the meal are raw ingredients.

However, the freshness of the ingredients is always key regardless of style of food. I think the reason you expect higher quality from Indian food is that it isn't really mainstream outside of the butterfest that is Indian restaurants (don't get me wrong, they're delicious; but I have yet to eat at an Indian restaurant that tastes remotely like anything my mom makes. They're usually just incredibly fatty cream-laden dishes). So, you haven't been normalized to mass-produced dulled down food like other styles you encounter in the states. Take, for example, freshly made Italian food where the pasta, sauce, etc. are all handmade from scratch -- it's a world of difference compared to what you find at, say, The Olive Garden or even any "good" Italian restaurant.
posted by spiderskull at 1:23 AM on June 1, 2008

Best answer: Oh, and the recipes themselves aren't terribly complicated once you have all of the ingredients. The general formula for Gujurati food is:
- Brown some onions in a mixture of ghee and any oil of your choice (lately I've been using olive oil, which seems to work just as well as vegetable or canola oil).
- Add spices (cumin, turmeric, coriander, chili [cayenne], salt, and bay leaves if you like). If you want to really make the dish authentic, throw in whole cloves and whole cardamom pods. Again, fresher = better.
- Add whatever you want to cook -- meat, vegetables, paneer, tofu, whatever floats your boat
- From there you can decide what sort of dish you want to make. If you want something that's got a rich sauce, add some fresh peeled tomato chunks and let them "melt" into the mixture.

A few cooking tips -- when you're browning the onions, medium-high heat works well. If you're going to grill, say, potatoes into it, keep the temperature relatively high until you've browned the edges. This applies to vegetables, too, if that's the consistency you want. If you're aiming for a more mushy texture (which works well for anything with eggplant -- bhaigan bairut comes to mind), just grill it a little before adding the tomatoes. Once you add the tomotoes, you want the flavor to really mix in well, so keep it at medium-low heat and let it simmer for a while. Figuring out how to avoid overcooking the food just takes practice and very low initial standards. I've eaten many awful dishes that I've chocked up to learning experiences.
posted by spiderskull at 1:36 AM on June 1, 2008 [8 favorites]

Palak Paneer (aka Saag Paneer)

Simmer a whack of spinach in not a whole lot of water. While this is simmering:

Brown a thinly sliced onion in ghee (or butter) and oil. Add garlic, ginger, cook for a few minutes. Add garam masala, turmeric, whole cumin seeds, a fair amount of salt. Cook until nice and fragrant.

Fry up some paneer in butter. You can buy this in any Asian grocer, or you can make it really easily (bring a lot of milk to a simmer, add lemon juice 1tsp at a time until curdled, let sit for ten minutes, strain through cheesecloth, squeeze, set on a plate with a heavy weight on it for two hours, refrigerate. Cheers! You've made cheese!)

Blend spinach and onion/spice mix together in small batches. Be careful! This is hot and will explode all over you if you put too much in the blender! Pour back into the pot, sprinkle some cornmeal (or cream of wheat) on top. Mix in, let simmer for a few minutes. Stir in paneer. Serve!

No measurements, you'll just have to wing it. This is my absolute fave Indian dish and I make it any time I cook Indian food. In fact, I have some leftovers in the fridge right now...
posted by arcticwoman at 7:59 PM on June 23, 2008 [9 favorites]

I know I'm a little late to the party, I just love Indian food so much that now that I've found this thread I can't leave it alone. The best part of that recipe I just wrote down (palak paneer) is that onion/spice mix. It's called turka or tarka and is the base for so many recipes.

Have some chickpeas? Sautee them with turka, some curry powder (if you have it), throw in a couple of chopped tomatoes, let simmer for half an hour - voila! Chickpea curry.

Have lentils? Boil the crap out of them, mash them up, throw in the turka and another scoop of ghee - you have dal!

Pan fry some potatoes and cauliflower with turka and tomatoes, add some chopped cilantro right at the last minute - Aloo Gobi!

Just google turka and you'll see all the wonderful dishes you can make with this very simple (and freezable) mix, and all the various recipes for the mix itself. Never buy curry paste again!
posted by arcticwoman at 8:04 AM on June 24, 2008 [3 favorites]

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