Spice up your meals with these yummy Indian dishes

BY: KIM HASTY

PHOTOGRAPHY BY: MATTHEW WONDERLY

The cauliflower was sizzling in a large pot in Liza Shah’s kitchen stove one recent afternoon. A tempting aroma wafted from the heap of florets. What exactly was comprising that aroma? Something nutty? Maybe.
Definitely something spicy … even exotic. And whatever that fragrant something was, it was certain to be delicious.

“Food is central to our culture,” said Shah, a longtime Fayetteville resident who was born in Bombay, India. “I know you’re supposed to eat to live, but I think we live to eat.

“If I tell my mom we’re coming to Atlanta to visit,” Shah said, “the first thing she’ll ask is, ‘What do you want to eat?’”

Comfort food, Indian style, was on the menu on this day. The cauliflower was sharing the spicy spotlight with dal, or lentil soup, along with basmati rice, which is studded with star of anise and other spices, and roti, a wheat-flour flatbread.

“When we come back from a vacation, this is the meal we want,” Shah said, putting friend and volunteer sous chef Serriah Ciccone to work chopping, stirring and adding spices.

It all started with a request for ideas from another friend, Megan Mannell, who claimed that, because her household includes one vegetarian, one carnivore and one gluten-free diet, dinner-planning is often tricky. She had already been through the usual list of go-tos – tacos, quesadillas, pasta, pizza. Those are all fine, but wouldn’t it be nice to try something different?

Shah had the answer, graciously offering to give everyone a demonstration of how her native Indian cuisine could fit most diets and satisfy even picky eaters. After all, she’s had years of practice cooking almost daily for husband Sanjay, a physician, son Rohun, 23, and daughter Preeya, 21. Many Indians are vegetarians, Shah said. And who needs meat when the lentils are so rich in protein and the combination of spices are so intriguing?

Ciccone was using one of Shah’s favorite finds – a handy and purely American Vidalia onion chopper – to become really adept at reducing the lovely heads of cauliflower into equally lovely florets. These went into a large pot lightly coated with olive oil. Eventually, Shah would direct Ciccone to add turmeric,cayenne, cumin and salt. And then Shah would add more of everything.

But in the meantime, Shah passed around a container of Indian-style snack mix. Her blend includes a few familiar elements, such as rice cereals, corn cereals and peanuts, but hers is made downright addictive with the addition of green raisins from India, cashew nuts, turmeric, cayenne, cumin seeds, fennel seeds, mustard seeds and sesame seeds.

In fact, those spices are the secret to all the fragrant and delicious Indian dishes, and they are also the reason cooks can get away with using less unhealthy fats and sugars. Shah learned to cook at her mother’s side, not with measuring spoons but with spices poured into her hand to learn the amounts that looked correct.

Like most Indian cooks, she owns a prized possession known as a masala box. The stainless-steel container holds small dishes of jewel-toned spices that are indispensable in Indian cooking, including cayenne powder, turmeric, garam masala, cumin seeds, cumin-coriander powder, asoefetida and mustard seeds. She orders many ingredients and special cookware from India, but also shops at Indian Food and Spices on Hope Mills Road.

When the cauliflower is sufficiently steamed, spiced and ready to serve, Shah finishes the meal by adding a “masala gravy” to the pot of simmering dal, or lentil soup. This gravy isn’t at all like the typical fare found atop many a Southern biscuit or next to the Thanksgiving turkey. This Indian staple consists of tomatoes, onions, garlic, ginger and spices sauteed together. It’s added to the dal after being sauteed with Ghee, cumin and asoefetida.

Shah serves it all on pretty china plates featuring painted peacocks, the official bird of India. She sprinkles a little cilantro over everything.

Cilantro? We thought that was an herb for Mexican food.

Nope.

“Nothing is complete in Indian cooking without a sprinkling of cilantro,” Shah said. 

 

Comfort food, Indian style, was on the menu on this day. The cauliflower was sharing the spicy spotlight with dal, or lentil soup, along with basmati rice, which is studded with star of anise and other spices, and roti, a wheat-flour flatbread.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Simple Cauliflower

Ingredients
2 tablespoons avocado oil
One head cauliflower (frozen
cauliflower may be used)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1/8 teaspoon asafoetida
1 teaspoon turmeric
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
4 teaspoons coriander-cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
salt
Fresh cilantro

Directions
Cut cauliflower into florets or small
pieces. In a large pan, on high heat,
add oil and brown the cumin seeds.
Add asafoetida, then quickly add
cauliflower.
Turn heat to medium. Add 1
teaspoon salt and cook uncovered
until cauliflower is soft. Add turmeric,
cayenne pepper, coriander-cumin
powder and garam masala. Mix well,
cook until cauliflower is soft.
Garnish with cut cilantro

 

Cumin Rice

Ingredients
1/2 cup rice
1 cup water
1 tablespoon oil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon asafoetida
salt
Optional additions
(Liza says use what you have)
2-3 cloves
1 stick of cinnamon
3-4 pods of black cardamom
3-4 star anise
3-4 bay leaves

Directions
Soak rice in water. On high, heat oil
and add cumin until brown and add
asafoetida.
Add rice and water and salt (to taste).
Bring to a rolling boil uncovered on
high, then turn to low and cover.
Cook until rice is soft, usually about 10 minutes. Add optional add-ins.

 

Yellow Mung Dal

Ingredients
1 cup dal
2 tablespoons of oil
1 teaspoon ghee, clarified butter
(optional)
1 tablespoon cumin seeds,
1/8 teaspoon asafoetida
1/4 teaspoon grated ginger
1/2 teaspoon grated garlic
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon coriander-cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
cilantro

Directions
Boil dal in 2 cups of water and salt
for about 20 minutes. Add water as
necessary to maintain a soup- like
consistency.
In a small pan on high heat, add oil
and ghee, clarified butter and brown
the cumin seeds. Add asafoetida,
ginger and garlic. When garlic is
browned, add cayenne, coriandercumin and garam masala.
Stir mixture and add to dal. Cook for
about 10 minutes.
Garnish with cut cilantro.