26 July 2006

The Joy of Indian Cooking

While there are many foods I can't cook, the cuisine that holds the biggest mystery to me is Indian food. I eat it in restaurants—and love it—but I never cook it myself and wouldn't even know where to begin if I were to try. So when a friend invited me over for dinner and a home cooked Indian meal prepared by her mother who was visiting, I barged through her door with pen and paper in hand eager to learn anything about the wonderful world of Indian cooking.

The evening was a master class in the slow blending of spices to create the essential taste to an authentic Gujarati dish. With utter charm and endless patience, my friend’s mother explained the mixing of masala to build the flavors of a seemly simple vegetable stew that had an ingredient list 2 pages long. As she talked and cooked, I could sense a veil being lifted on the secrets of Indian cuisine—centuries of a country’s food history were being distilled in practice before my eyes.

First, oil coated the pot. Then the spices were add one at a time—a pinch of black mustard seed, a smidgen of cinnamon, a dash of turmeric, a little paprika, some black pepper, garm masala, pav bhaji masala—and allowed to heat and cook. Next came the veggies—tomatoes, cauliflower, potatoes, peas, corn, and carrots. Everything simmered until it happened—magic, food alchemy—the elements fused and a pot of vegetables transformed in to a warm stew that was the essence of comfort food, Indian-style.

But to simply describe it as normal fare eaten by a traditional Indian family wouldn’t do justice to the tastes I experienced in a single bite and the contradiction the flavors embodied as they moved in my mouth. The stew’s texture was soft and soothing, but its spices were bright and simulating. And while the heat in the dish started mellow, it matured into chili hot the more the food was savored.

My friend refers to what I had for dinner as “Indian Sloppy Joe’s”, but it is officially called Pav Bhajipav is bread and bhaji, a vegetable mixture. Whether or not I make it myself remains to be seen, but I have the recipe and the memory of seeing it made by a master.

(Note: In the other picture are samosas, also made by my friend's mother, and in the jar is her apple chutney to go with them.)


Blogger s. said...

ooh, i'm so jealous. sounds like you had an amazing evening!

7/28/2006 1:30 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home