There is a whole section of Indian cuisine that very few people outside India are familiar with nor have they tasted it. Majority of the Indian restaurants in the US do not carry the food known as street food. There is an amazing and fantastic variety of dishes that come under that umbrella. They are lip smackingly tasty. If you ever been to Bombay (or Mumbai as it is called now), you will notice an array of food places on the streets. They range from Pani Puri (puffed puri with a spicy tamarind broth), Bhel Puri (crushed puris with garbanzo beans, yoghurt, chick pea flour noodles, tamarind and mint chutneys), Samosa (spicy potato and peas wrapped in a wonton wrapper and deep fried), Pav Bhaji, Pakoda and many others.
This weekend I felt homesick. It has been more than three years since I have been to India to see my family – my parents, sister and relatives. The weather is starting to cool down with rains already on the way in Seattle. It brought back memories of the monsoons in India. When it rains there, it pours, literally. The streets would be flooded with water to the point where everything would close down. We would watch the rains from our classroom windows hoping they would close the school early and let us go home. As kids, we loved the rain. There was just a different feel to the environment around us. We would run around in the rain and make paper boats and let them float in the water puddles on the ground.
Once the school was over, my sister and I would take the rickshaw home. Even though we had a raincoat and umbrella, we would still get wet since the rickshaw would be shared by 5 other kids. When we got home, I could smell the aroma of the food my mom was making for us. She would make us spicy dal (lentil) with dhokli (dumplings) in it. We would devour the food and would instantly warm us. Nothing like eating this recipe on a cold, rainy and bleak day.
In order to make the dough, use white wheat flour (chappati or roti flour is preferable). You should be able to get the chappati or roti flour in any Indian grocery store or you can buy it online
Spicy vegetable pakoda (or vegetable fritter) is one of my favorite appetizer. The are made with chickpea flour (known by the name of besan). They are spicy and are made with various herbs and spices. Depending on the region of India it is from, different spices are substituted or added. Coriander powder, black onion seeds, carom, fennel seeds etc are added depending on the region of the country it is made in.
When I used to live in Minnesota, three of my co-workers and I used to cook a ethnic meal every quarter in the company we used to work for. We used to cook Indian, Vietnamese and Indonesian appetizers and entrees and finish off with an American dessert at the end. It became so popular, that even people who had never tried ethnic food enjoyed the food. We used to make the appetizer in the company’s kitchen using fryers and the entrees were made the previous night at home. The event became so popular that we were featured in the Star Tribune, the local newspaper.
Garam means hot in Hindi, so garam masala means hot masala. Masala basically means a mixture of spices. A masala can either be a combination of dry roasted spices or a paste (such as tandoori masala) made from a mixture of spices and other ingredients like ginger, garlic, onions etc. It is used to add spice and flavor. Garam masala is mostly used in Northern Indian cooking. The name is misleading since the recipe does not contain any chillies. The heat in the name refers to spices that generate internal heat in your body – namely black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves. The theory of heating and cooling food is ascribed to Ayurveda, an ancient form of Indian medicine.
I was under the assumption that garam masala was only used in Indian Cooking. Searching on the internet, I found that garam masala is also used in Iranian cooking. It is linked to a Persian spice blend known as advieh, which means “medicine” in Arabic and presumably originated as a mixture intended to improve the medicinal qualities of food, as well as the flavor, according to Margaret Shaida, author of The Legendary Cuisine of Persia.
When I used to live in Southern part of India, I use to enjoy eating the various dishes prepared with Coconut. The various dishes are prepared using rice in various forms – rice with lentils used to make various dishes, rice with coconut, rice with tomatoes etc. Today, I have taken a dish from an excellent cookbook called The Turmeric Trail: Recipes and Memories from an Indian Childhood. It is by Raghavan Iyer, whom I had the pleasure of meeting when I was living in Minneapolis.
You can usually buy either frozen shredded coconut or buy a coconut and shred it yourself. I prefer the first approach as it is a tedious process shredding it yourself.
This dish also uses different varieties of lentils which adds a crunchy texture to the dish. The one on the left is called Urad Dal (split and hulled black lentils) and the one on the right is Chana Dal (yellow split peas).