Being British I am genetically disposed to Indian food. I am also ridiculously snooty about Indian food. Outside of India, I reckon that England could quite possibly be the best place to pick up some fantastic authentic Indian nosh.
Being this snooty about it doesn’t make eating out in Seattle for Indian food fun. Not that much. Not for my incredibly patient wife, who has to listen to my food rants, and not for my taste buds either. The first time I went to an Indian restaurant here in Seattle, I got the worst food poisoning I have ever had, and spent three days in the smallest room in the house, kneeling, cursing the seafood mixed grill.
I will be honest I never really cooked Indian food that much when I lived in the UK, I mean, why bother? But after the experience above, I started to cook my own in Seattle. My darling brother (twin you know..) who loves all things curry recommended a cookbook, and I got going. I started with a lot of meat curries, and then moved on to vegetable dishes.
I reckon it is pretty safe to say that India has some of the best vegetable dishes in the world. Seriously. It wouldn’t be crazy hard to be vegetarian if you stuck to Indian food (and some Mediterranean.. you know, to round things out). Heck, even the biggest meat lover of them all, Anthony Bourdain pretty much agrees.
When I want vegetables to be incredibly simple, clean and pure I normally turn to dishes from Spain, Italy and France (Greece too). When I want complex tones, exotic flavors, layered spice notes then it is Indian I always seem to end up cooking.
My lovely wife has decided to go vegetarian for a bit. I was originally hoping that “for a bit” meant “less than two days”, but it seems to have stuck, for the time being. Everything I can do to fix this obvious brain malfunction has failed completely – I have yet to unleash my secret weapons of steamed mussels and roast chicken however (her two favorite dishes..). A slight slip up a week ago, when she chowed down on some grilled mackerel, gave me a glimmer of hope, but she just mumbled something about Omega-3’s with her mouth full of oily fish. That was it, the last slip up.
So instead of chastising any further, I decided to embrace. Being totally honest here it is hardly much of a change to how we eat anyhow. I have always cooked a lot with vegetables, and consider myself pretty creative with the little buggers. A lot of our meals through the week seem to end up vegetarian (thank Christ for eggs) anyhow, so the change hasn’t been that great. I still eat meat. Fish too.
This change led me to try out some new Indian recipes, and with great success I must add. This dish is a mild adaption of a recipe from the book “Food of India”
Dried chickpeas are simmered till soft. This can be done a day or two ahead of time. Then a simple sauce is made using onion, ginger, fresh tomatoes, tamarind paste, garam masala (an Indian spice blend), some sugar and a little love from a hot stove. The chickpeas get heated through with this.
The recipe calls for this to be served with Spinach Roti’s. These are unleavened Indian flat breads that are dead easy to make, even for the baking-retarded like myself. Because this family of mine doesn’t like gluten that much, I modified the recipe to make these bad boys gluten free. Me, being obsessed with anything “taco” right now decided to use these as the aforementioned shell to hold a great lovely helping on the chickpeas.
All it took to finish things off was a good dollop of yogurt (if you are in Seattle, you cannot do better than the yogurt of Grace Harbor Farms, IMHO), some fresh herbs and a final squeeze of lime juice. Make sure not to skip on these extra’s, the yogurt smooths things out, adds a little richness. The herbs and lime give much needed pop and acidity.
Sweet and sour Chickpeas recipe
NOTE: Garam Masala is a blend of a few dried spices that is dead easy to make at home. The success of this dish depends on the use of fresh dried spices, preferably ones that you grind yourself. I make a batch of garam masala big enough for a few curries. Stored in an airtight container it is best used within a month.
(adapted from “Food of India: A Journey for Food Lovers”)
(the chickpeas can be soaked and cooked a day or two ahead of time)
2 1/4 cups of chickpeas
2 tablespoons of oil
1 large red onion, sliced
1″ piece of ginger, peeled and grated
2 teaspoons of honey
2 teaspoons of ground coriander
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
2 teaspoons of garam masala (recipe follows)
3 tablespoons of tamarind puree
4 ripe tomatoes, chopped
4 tablespoons of fresh cilantro, chopped
Soak the chickpeas overnight in enough water to cover them by 4″. Either that or “quick soak” them by bringing them up to the boil in a lot of water, turning off the heat, and letting them sit for 1 hour.
Drain the chickpeas, put them in to a large saucepan, and cover by 2″ with water. Bring to the boil, and simmer for 1.5 hours, until tender. Drain.
Heat the oil in a heavy pan (dutch oven works fine here). Fry the onion until soft. Add all the other ingredients, except the cilantro, and two cups of water. Bring to the boil and simmer until the sauce thickens and coats the chickpeas nicely.
8 cardamon pods
2 Indian bay leaves
1 teaspoon of black peppercorns
2 teaspoons of cumin seeds
2 teaspoons of coriander seeds
2″ cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon of cloves
Toast the spices briefly, then grind to a fine powder in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar.
Gluten Free Spinach Roti:
NOTE: you can make the dough for this the day before, and keep it well wrapped in the fridge.
handful of spinach leaves
1/4 cup oat flour
1/4 cup millet flour
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/4 cup white rice flour
1/4 cup tapioca flour
1 teaspoon xanthan gum
pinch of salt
1 teaspoon of olive oil or ghee
1/2 cup of tepid water
Cook the spinach briefly in a little water until it wilts. Squeeze the water out, chop finely.
Mix the flour, xanthan gum and salt in a bowl. Make a small well in the center and add in the spinach and oil. Add in half of the water and mix with your hands. Add in as much water as needed to make a smooth dough. Wrap in plastic wrap and bung in the fridge for 30 minutes or so.
Divide the dough in to about 10 equal balls. Roll each ball out on a floured surface until pretty thin.
Heat a small cast iron skillet over a high heat (big enough for one roti). Add a little oil to the pan and let that get hot. Drop in one roti, and cover the pan. Let this cook for a minute or two, flip it, then cook again covered for another minute.
Cover the cooked roti with a warm towel, and cook the others in the same fashion.
Serve the chickpeas alongside the roti. Have some great yogurt on hand, along with some fresh herbs (cilantro, mint, basil) and a few slices lime. The smart kids spoon some of the chickpea mix into the middle of a roti, top with the condiments, and eat like a taco. An Indian taco.