I suggested to a fellow food blogger here in Calgary that we get together for a collaboration. Aditi from @eateastindian went over and above a collaboration – she invited me into her home and gave me a cooking lesson and fed me lunch! Aditi has a channel on YouTube and she offers cooking classes in her home. You can find plenty of tasty recipes on her website. Aditi is from the Punjab region in northern India and she knows how to make Indian food well. I enjoyed the flavours of everything I ate and I walked (rolled) away, completely stuffed!
Aditi greeted me with a slice of homemade dhokla – a steamed cake made with chickpea flour and yogurt. It had a neat kick of flavour with green chilis, mustard and cumin and was deliciously moist. This cake would make a nice appetizer or afternoon snack.
We made quite a few dishes in just over 2 hours – roti (parantha), tofu curry, chana masala (chickpea curry), chicken curry and seasoned basmati rice – this is going to be a long blog post! When we ate I also got to try Aditi’s homemade tamarind chutney (so good!) and in just a couple hours I learned a whole lot about Indian spices that I sure didn’t know before. To start, Aditi showed me a typical tray of Indian spices that you can find in almost every household. Although, the specific spices that are in each container varies with personal preference, Aditi’s tray included: coriander seeds, turmeric, salt, pepper, mustard seeds, cumin seeds and chili powder (hot stuff!). Some people may include: garam masala, cloves and/or cardamom in their trays. I also learned that many of the spices are purchased whole and ground at time of use to ensure the flavour remains potent. This is great because you can buy those big bags of whole spices at Superstore and know they won’t lose their flavour (as quickly as ground spices would).
One thing I didn’t realize is that garam masala is not always used as a spice, per se – it is sprinkled on the top of dishes, prior to serving. Interesting, eh? Aditi uses an old school pressure cooker to cook her chickpeas, which is kind of neat. It also keeps the cost down as dried beans are way cheaper than canned beans. Just like I don’t really measure herbs and spices when I’m cooking, Aditi didn’t really measure the spices she used in these recipes. Just like anything – start with small quantities and add more based on taste, but it will also come with practice. Please check out Aditi’s YouTube channel and website for actual recipes and measurements.
The first thing we did was prep the roti (parantha). It’s super simple, but kind of mucky. It’s super simple – just whole wheat flour (it’s always whole wheat), mixed with a bit of water. No oil, no salt. Just keep adding a bit of water at a time until a heavy ball of dough forms, that isn’t too wet nor too dry (this is the value of experience, right here folks!). Aditi sprinkled the dough with a touch of oil at the end so that it wouldn’t dry out when resting. We let the dough stand for the rest of the time we cooked and fried it up just before we ate. Apparently, the dough will sit well in the fridge for up to 3 days. If you make a big blob of it you can tear off chunks and cook it up as you need it. I’ll tell you how we cooked the roti at the end of this post.
Next we started on the tofu curry. It turns out that curry is just a generic word for many Indian dishes. Curry can be saucy or a little bit dry, and it can have a variety of different spices in it. The tofu curry was a drier recipe, and you could mix and match veggies with it – you could add potatoes or cauliflower instead of the peas, for example. In hot oil (don’t use EVOO – use something that can handle high temperatures), add approximately 1/2 tsp of cumin seeds and mustard seeds. Let them sizzle for a minute to flavour the hot oil then add chopped onions, minced garlic and grated ginger. You could add green or red chilis at this point if you’d like a hotter curry. Add salt to taste and a bit of turmeric for color (turmeric doesn’t add much flavour – just color) and it has anti-biotic properties. Add chopped firm or extra firm tofu and a splash of white vinegar. The tofu will pick up that little hint of tang really well. Add frozen peas then turn down the heat and let simmer on low so the peas can heat up and the flavours can meld together. Add chopped tomatoes and let simmer a bit longer until the tomatoes are cooked. Sprinkle with dried fenugreek, a bit of garam masala, and cilantro before serving. If you’d like a more saucy curry, go ahead and add more spices and water throughout the process.
Next we made the chickpea curry, aka chana masala. Aditi had pre-cooked the chickpeas in a pressure cooker (canned chickpeas would work fine). She had made a large batch so she’d have extra to make homemade hummus – yum! In a pot with hot oil, add some coriander seeds crushed using a mortar and pestle, along with some cumin. Once the flavour starts coming out, add lots of chopped onions, crushed garlic and a whole dried red chili (you can break it up a bit – the more broken up it is, the hotter the dish will be!). Throw in some salt and turmeric – you could even add a bay leaf if you wish. Add the chickpeas along with some chickpea water if you have it (or just plain water if you don’t). Cook low and slow so the flavours can meld together. Add chopped fresh tomatoes and simmer some more. You can add tomato paste and water to add more volume to the sauce if you wish. Season with chana masala seasoning blend and fennel seeds crushed in a mortar and pestle to add another kick of flavour. Serve garnished with sliced ginger, green onions, and/or cilantro.
The last main dish we made was chicken curry. To keep the costs down, you could use chicken drumsticks or thighs, which would add extra flavour and fat to the dish, or you can keep it a bit healthier and use chicken breasts cut into pieces. In a large pan with hot oil, add a stick of cinnamon, a bay leaf, cumin, corriander seeds crushed with a mortar and pestle. Let sizzle a bit to release the flavours into the oil, then add chopped onions, crushed garlic and minced ginger, a bit of salt, and turmeric and paprika for color. You’ll want to seal the chicken, so we added it to the flavoured oil and cooked it until it got some color on the outside – sealing it so it wouldn’t dry out when slow cooking. Add chopped fresh tomatoes, 1 Tbsp curry powder (note that madras curry powder is really hot!), water, and let simmer with a lid on until the chicken is cooked. After the chicken is cooked you can add a bit of butter to add some extra richness to the dish if you want, but it’s not required.
Other options for the chicken curry include:
- Add greek yogurt before serving to make a creamier sauce
- Blend the onions and tomatoes to make a smoother sauce
- Add small chopped potatoes with the chicken – as long as they’re small enough they will cook while the chicken cooks
- Mushrooms would also be a good addition
And finally we fried up the roti – aka parantha (Indian flat bread). Wow – I could eat this stuff every day. In fact, Aditi gave me three pieces and I ate them all! Pull the dough into golf ball sized pieces, dip in whole wheat flour, and roll them out, one at a time, as thin as you can (I was not good at this!). Fry the thin dough in a hot (med-high) oil-free pan and dot with butter as the dough cooks. Aditi had the end cut off a pound of butter for this purpose! And, if you push down on the dough as it cooks, it actually causes it to puff up just a little bit (an odd phenomenon, I thought, but it worked well!). You can make special parantha stuffed with caraway seeds called ajwain. Aditi rolled out a parantha, sprinkled it with salt, pepper, a bit of oil and some caraway seeds then folded it over from each side. She rolled it out thin again and all the flavours were combined into the dough. You could do this with any ingredients, and you could even make the dough sweet with a touch of sugar, chopped almonds or pistachios. To reheat the parantha, just wipe it with a little bit of water and microwave for 10-20 seconds and it will come out warm and pliable again.
Here are some fun tidbits I learned from Aditi:
- To make awesome basmati rice, add a bit of oil to a hot pan, throw in a black cardamom seed pod, a small stick of cinnamon and 2-3 whole cloves. If you want that hint of yellow, add a bit of turmeric to the oil before adding the water and rice (2 to 1 as per usual). Add a pinch of salt and cook as usual (don’t stir the rice until it’s cooked!). The seed pod, cinnamon and cloves will all float to the top and will be easily removable before serving.
- Dried fenugreek leaves are sold in a box and called Kasoori Methi. You can sprinkle the fenugreek over any curry or vegetable dish just before serving.
- Chana masala mixed spice blend is sold in a box and can be used for many recipes – not just chickpea curry. It would be good on lentils as well.
- Dried whole red chili peppers are relatively mild when added to a dish whole, but they can be crumbled to add a lot more heat to a dish.
- You can pre-grind/grate a bunch of garlic and ginger (to whatever ratio you’d prefer), add a bit of vinegar and turmeric as a preservative, and put a container of this blend in the fridge. It’s ready whenever you are!
- A ‘kadhai’ is a wok shaped pan for cooking curries. When cooking a traditional kadhai dish you’d cut the meat and veggies small so they’d cook faster. When adding bell peppers to a kadhai dish you’d grill them to get char marks and excellent flavour.
- All these new spices are now easily found at Superstore, Sobeys and Save-On Foods, and of course specialty stores.
Thank you so much to Aditi for sharing her knowledge and passion for Indian cooking with me! I look forward to cooking more Indian dishes at home once I pick up a couple more of these spices 🙂