This is not a restaurant review post, although you wouldn’t know it for the number of eating establishments I will be referencing. No, this is a chronicle of culinary expeditions that ultimately lands me into my own kitchen, far from gleaming stainless workstations and soup cauldrons deep enough to swim in.
The journey started innocently enough around ten years ago, while I was living in the vast suburban sprawl known as Pharmaceutical Alley in
After spending most of one Friday afternoon dickering with colleagues over where we would land that evening, sharing massive platters of greasy chicken fingers with mustard sauce or facing yet another round of pretty country club plates fussily arranged by the kitchen staff’s fussy fingers, someone piped up with the suggestion of Indian. My glazed eyes lit up like a Christmas tree out from under eleven months of mothballs. I didn’t even know there was an Indian restaurant in the area.
“Yes, it’s spicy, but that’s the point…” said the woman who made the suggestion.
“But it’s not all spicy, not if you define spicy as hot," I weighed in. Back then, my knowledge of Indian cuisine was based on my ravenous appetite for reading cooking magazines and articles from the Wednesday food sections of the newspapers. I certainly knew that the curry powder the average American cook flavored their Country Captain Chicken with was certainly not the sort of curries commonly used by the average Indian cook.
“Some of it can be quite mild, yet complex,” I added. “ You can handle it. And the ‘spicy’ isn’t like dousing a Buffalo wing in Tabasco Sauce, but much more nuanced and interesting. Again, spicy doesn’t have to mean ‘hot,’ although it could.” I hadn’t even eaten it, yet already I was campaigning for it.
It wound up that only two of us, Jennifer, the woman who suggested it, and I, went out for Indian that night to Neelam, a small brick storefront in a tiny strip mall in Berkeley Heights, New Jersey.
And there began the start of a standing Friday night “date” with Jennifer, where we would commiserate about the men in our lives, as we feasted on simple yet elegant oval dishes of vegetable jalfrezi and chicken vindaloo; plates of crusty samosas; stacks of pappadum and kulchas; and piles of green, tomato and coconut chutneys, all countered by soothing, creamy bowls of raita.
Alas, it would only be a matter of time before I began cheating on Jennifer, seeking out new frontiers of Indian dining, my dear and culinary-daring mother, Carol, in tow. Jennifer and I didn’t stop dining at Neelam, but given the packet of cash left behind from dining à la carte, my mother and I scoured many neighborhoods for the “cheap” thrill of lavish, insatiable buffet spreads at all-inclusive prices. Here is where I got to sample and savor a far wider range of Indian dishes from many regions, both swooning and sometimes sweating over the spice quotient. There was Pooja, Baadshah,
I was hooked; it was a habit I knew I would never break. Even when I was working all over
When I became a food blogger eight months ago, bliss took an ever higher road. It has been many years since my first eye-opening encounters with Indian eats, and though I pride myself on my kitchen confidence, I still felt a certain intimidation, not based on an inability to execute a meal, but one of lack of actual, tactical experience; a difficult time finding elusive, albeit enchanting ingredients; and the head-banging sorting out of dialectic, glossary terms that may be altogether different, depending on where an Indian cook hails from in the home country.
So I am starting easy and easing into it, knowing full well that what is offered in restaurants is not necessarily the best that any cuisine from any culture can offer. Home cooking is where it's at. First there was rasam from an Indian grocery guidebook; then paneer mahkmali; now adrak ka shorba, a beautifully creamy and warming ginger-charged soup. (I won't even count the no-brainer minute-microwaving of pappadum.) These are admittedly baby steps, but I believe confidence is born of the small successes interspersed with the resounding failures that slap you to the floor and challenge you further.
Is adrak ka shorba rocket science? I think not. But I have my eye set on a far away destination, and the only way for me to get there is to get those boosters blasting. To the moon, that’s where I want to go. To the moon.
Adrak Ka Shorba – (Tangy Ginger Soup) From The Everything Indian Cookbook by Monica Bhide
2-inch piece fresh gingerroot, peeled and grated
2 tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon vegetable oil
1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds (I like to toast seeds and spices in a dry cast iron skillet)
½ teaspoon powdered turmeric
1 small chopped tomato or ½ cup chopped canned peeled tomato
2 dried red chili peppers, crushed but not finely broken
1 minced serrano chili, seeds and membranes removed
2 cups milk
1 cup plain whipped yoghurt (I used strained Greek yoghurt)
Salt to taste (optional)
Dried mint for garnish
In a large sauce pan, brown the gingerroot in the butter and oil over medium heat. Add cumin seeds and turmeric, cooking another 20 seconds. Add chopped tomato. If using fresh, cook them until soft; if using canned, crush them with a potato masher and heat through. Add the red and serrano chilies, then add the milk. Bring to a boil. Reduce heat to simmer. Add yoghurt and simmer for 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove from heat, adding optional salt. Soup can be served strained or as is. Since the yoghurt separated while heating, I whipped the unstrained soup briefly in a blender to bring it back together. Garnish with dried mint. Serves 2 generously. [I served this with naan (store bought). Someday I will make my own.]
This post is being submitted to Sunita of Sunita's World, creator of the lovely monthly event "Think Spice." This month's featured spice is ginger.
Been There, Done That ~
Extreme Gingerbread Muffin Makeover