My Indian cooking (aka microwaving frozen meals) cred is well established, but as a pretend Indian chef, I’ve always wanted to step up my game, and learn how to make the magic happen without taking a package out of the freezer. Luckily for me, a friend who hails from the land of India promised that she and her husband could teach me how to whip up curries from scratch in no time.
We started our Indian cooking lesson the only way I know how – with copious amounts of alcohol. My contribution to the night was a six pack of Kingfisher Beer. I drank it like water (literally) on my three week honeymoon in India, because it seemed safer and tastier than my other options. So, in an effort to authentically replicate my Indian experience, I drank my way through the night. For my teetotaler husband, our host whipped up some limeade with muddled mint, sugar, freshly squeezed lime and water. It was refreshing and tasty, but I couldn’t help myself from thinking it was missing something.
After our thirst was quenched, or delightful hosts decided to take on teaching us the basics of dal. I was convinced that I would know it all; I mean, after being vegan for a decade, what could you possibly teach me about beans that I didn’t already know? It turns out, quite a lot. My first lesson was that the word dal is used for all kinds of pulses, not just lentils. It covers chana dal (chickpeas), mung dal (mung beans), masoor dal (red lentils), and so much more. Dal is commonly stripped of its outer hulls and split. I had a vague notion of beans being hulled and split (split peas must come from somewhere, right?), but our hosts lined up their extensive collection for us to see the difference, and I had to admit I was shocked at how many I’d never seen before. There were beige lentils that came from black lentils, red lentils that came from brown lentils, yellow lentils that came from green lentils. There were tiny little black chickpeas that looked like your standard chickpeas had been left out to dry in the sun and were forgotten. While I’ve certainly eaten my fair share of beans (what vegan hasn’t?), I realized that there were so many more that I needed to get my hands on.
After taking Dal 101, I was super excited to see what our hosts would throw at us next. I was asked if I enjoyed chili pepper flakes, and suddenly a mortar and pestle and these things that looked like shriveled red berries appeared. I was confused, as I was fairly sure that I knew what chili pepper flakes were, and that they came from a little package with my pizza. I watched in awe as chili peppers got crushed into little flakes, pulverized with a pestle. I don’t know if they ended up tasting any better, but freshly smashed chilis will certainly impress the pants off of your guests.
Our next lesson was in patience, as our hosts told us we’d be caramelizing onions. I knew that this is an important step in cooking, but as I generally want my food ready 10 minutes ago, I don’t think I’ve ever legitimately caramelized an onion. I’ve accidentally burned one before, and I like to pretend that’s the same thing.
This is where the cooking lesson details begin to get a little fuzzy, as the beers started to work on my empty stomach. I’m an eternal optimist, and the expert on all things I know nothing about, so this is my half remembered recipe that will totally work and be awesome if you try it:
- Step one: put some canola oil in a pan
- Step two: add a sprinkling of cumin seeds, some mustard seeds and probably something else that I forgot
- Step three: wait until those start to pop out of the pan and then add a chopped onion
- Step four: definitely don’t start to play with the dog at this point – watch those onions like a hawk
- Step five: once the onions are nice and golden, add a smallish amount of garlic, ginger, jalapeños and turmeric
- Step six: add potatoes and chopped tomatoes…how many? a lot I guess, because you’re probably really hungry at this point
- Step seven: cook until the tomatoes are reduced and the edge of the potatoes are crinkly
All this work turns into a crazy delicious curry, that I am totally doing justice with this bang up recipe and this dimly lit photo. This recipe was also served with a chickpea dish that was equally good, and had similar ingredients, with the addition of tamarind paste. The chickpea dish was created simultaneously, in the background of the potato dish, so my details on that are even fuzzier, but I do remember that there was a pressure cooker involved. A magical modern device that can cook dried chipeas from rock hard to buttery soft in under an hour (I saw it with my very own eyes)! I’d purchased a pressure cooker a while back, but it had been relegated to the back of the pantry, as I was slightly terrified of it exploding, and I had so far only been able to successfully make soggy rice and undercooked quinoa. Now I know that it has a much higher purpose in life, and that is to get me off my dependency of canned beans.
All in all, it was a stellar night, full of good food and company. While you can’t steal my awesome Indian friend who cooks delicious meals, I highly recommend you go out and find one of your very own. Bon appétit!