Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Yes, You Can Cook Indian

Indian food can be intimidating.  Mysterious sauces, unidentifiable seasonings, potent odors.  But oh is it delicious.  Yet I’m afraid the intimidation factor keeps a lot of people from cooking it and more inclined to eat out. 

Long before Padma Lakshmi was making Indian look sexy on Top Chef, Madhur Jaffrey was helping a generation of home cooks realize that cooking Indian at home for non-Indians can be as sensuous and maybe even more satisfying than having someone cook it for you. 

Madhur Jaffrey’sIndian Cooking is my go-to resource when thinking up a lamb curry with a side of saag (spinach) for a weeknight dinner or a spread of yogurt marinated chicken and green beans when having company over, like I did last weekend.

If the combinations of lentils, rice, flat breads, and meats confuse you, rest assured Jaffrey has that covered.  Each recipe comes with suggestions of what to serve it with.  For instance, a recipe for “Lamb with Spinach” suggests serving it with a side of fried eggplant and a yogurt dish- it is a godsend for menu planning. 

As you become more proficient in the sauces and curries, a few things may become apparent.  1. In some ways, Indian sauces require less work.  For the most part, the sauces go in the blender so less time is required for the precise dicing of vegetables as you may do with more European dishes.  2. Many dishes can be prepared in advance, a boon for the host or hostess.  For instance, in “Chicken in a Butter Sauce” both the chicken in its marinade and the sauce (minus the butter) can be made a day in advance then assembled for cooking just as guests arrive.  3. If you are catering to a mixed group of veggies and meat eaters, this is the cuisine for you.  Side dishes alone can make a complete meal for a vegetarian leaving more Tandoori chicken for everyone else.  That’s what I believe is called a win-win. 

There’s a reason Jaffrey’s books remain some of the top selling books on Indian cooking almost four decades since her first book was published.  For the cost of one take out order, or 3-4 bottles of pre-made sauce, you could hold in your hands a simple step-by-step guide to creating a world of Indian cuisine at home.  Having friends over for a delicious Indian food feast that is simple and crowd pleasing, that’s not just sexy, it's timeless.

Amy Powell is a food and travel writer based in New York City. She is a graduate of Cornell University's School of Hotel Administration and the French Culinary Institute. Follow her on Twitter @amymariepowell

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