What a joy it is to live, and eat, in a country which is the 'melting pot' of the cultures and customs found all around the world. We can experience the best of places, and plates, we may not ever have the luxury of visiting, without even leaving the comfort of our own home.
Today, Our Passage to India will be found through the exotic colors and flavors of a full-on 'Meatless Monday' meal:
- Spicy Red Lentil Daal
- Basmati Rice Pilaf with almonds and currants, and
- Spiced Indian Cabbage
And it's all really very simple. A visit to your favorite market's spice section, or maybe a field trip to a local Indian grocer, if you're feeling adventurous, and perhaps an E.M. Forester novel, is all you need to be transported to far-off lands.
Spicy Red Lentil Daal
- 1/2 Tablespoon, each, crushed red chile, cumin seed, brown mustard seed, fenugreek, and coriander
- 1 Tablespoon mustard oil (or peanut oil, alternatively)
- 1 teaspoon, each, ground cardamom and turmeric
- 1 cup dried red lentils, rinsed
- 1 can coconut milk
- 1 Tablespoon tomato paste
- 1 medium yellow onion, chopped, and browned in 2 Tablespoons ghee, (or peanut oil, alternatively)
- Juice of 1/2 lime
- Kosher salt, to taste
Basmati Rice Pilaf
with almonds and currants
- 1 cup basmati rice, rinsed
- 1 and 3/4 cup water
- 1 Tablespoon ghee, or peanut oil, alternatively
- 2 teaspoons, each, whole cumin seed, coriander seed, melegueta pepper (optional, but worth the effort to procure if you have a source for bulk spices)
- 1 teaspoon ground cardamom
- 1/4 cup whole, raw almonds
- 1/2 cup dried currants
- Zest of 1 whole lime
Spiced Indian Cabbage
- 1 large or two small onions, sliced
- 1 Tablespoon mustard oil, or ghee or peanut oil, alternatively
- 1/2 tablespoon, each, garam masala, brown mustard seed, crushed red chile,
- 1 small head red cabbage, sliced, divided
- 1 can coconut milk, divided
- 1 bunch cilantro, stems chopped finely, leaves reserved
- Kosher salt, to taste
More, on Indian cuisine:
Our Passage to India
Just as India is a vast and exotic land, full of mysteries around each corner, each region a unique culture in and of itself, so it is with Indian food.
A cuisine with so many regional differences that one finds it difficult to put a finger on its commonalities, one thing you will find in all Indian food is spice. Countless spices. Visit an Indian food market and find the spice aisle redolent with the fragrances of cumin, mustard seeds, fenugreek, clove, chiles, peppers, coriander, turmeric, saffron, cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, bay leaves, garam masala, and more. The names, colors, scents, textures, boxes, bottles, packets, glassine envelopes, even barrels-full, combined with common ingredients of ginger, garlic, onions, and tomatoes. Commonly used oils are peanut, mustard oil, and ghee. Most Indian kitchen pantries are filled with as many as 25 different spices and seasonings in their pantry.
Dishes are largely vegetarian. If meat is eaten, it will be found on special occasions. Spicy, or not, daals, or lentils, and curries (which is the name the British used to describe the common use of some meats, but primarily vegetables, cooked in flavorful spices and seasoning in stewed sauces and gravies) are the building blocks of every meal, complemented with relishes, raita, chutney, fruit pickles, and pickled onions. Coconut meat, oil, and milk are commonly used, in curries and daals, and rice, grains, nuts, fresh and dried fruits, teas, and the delicious naan, the most common bread of India, round out the pantry.
Historically, a robust spice trade along with colonization by Aryans, Persians, Arabs, the British, and Portuguese have had strong influences on Indian cuisine, and culture, in which very literally, variety is the spice of life.