Thursday, March 28, 2013

Masala Yanks

Jessie and myself have been experimenting with indian food for a couple of weeks. One morning I was in the shower and thinking about making some of my killer hash browns when it hits me, Why don't I make Indian hash browns! Thus was born my first fusion dish... god that phrase even makes me shudder!

Why is it that great inspiration comes while in the bathro
om? Sometimes I think the only time I'm truly creative is when I'm in there. 

Aloo - Potato
Masala - cooked heavily with spices
Yanks - an american variety of hash browned potatoes.
Aloo Masala - This is a classic indian dish often used as stuffing for Dosas or Samosas.

So Jessie and myself have a very different idea of the right amount of oil to make hash browns with. Thus hers are a bitter cracked desert of wasted potato (This may not be an accurate description of her hash browns) while mine are a fluffy on the inside crunchy on the outside little plate of heaven.

This recipe is somewhere in between our two oilynesses, In fact Jessie would never use anywhere near this amount of oil to make regular hash browns, however, like in most Indian foods, large amounts of oil are absolutely necessary to properly distribute flavors from the spices and infuse them into the ingredients.

This is the minimum amount of oil you could use and still get good results (IMHO).

1 lb. New potatoes
1 t Ginger paste
½ a medium onion, grated
3 T Vegetable oil
½ T Garam Masala mix (see below)
Garnish with Riata (optional)

Cut the small potatoes in halves or quarters to make 2 inch chunks of potato. Put into a pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil and simmer covered until a knife as very little resistance poking into the middle of the potatoes. Drain the potatoes.

Add the oil to a frying pan, add the onions and ginger paste. Cook on medium high heat for 2-3 minutes until the onions start to brown. Reduce the heat to medium and add the Garam Masala mix. Stir the spices into the oil and allow them to infuse the oil for a couple of minutes.

Add the drained potatoes to the onion spice mixture and smash the potatoes once with a cup or jar, this will give them a nice fractured texture. salt well at this point. Mix the pan well to coat all of the potatoes in spicy oil. Staying on medium heat, allow the potatoes to brown on the bottom without stirring for 3-4 minutes, then turn them and allow the other side to brown. Pour onto a plate and serve. You could garnish with riata or eat plain.

- NOM!

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Masala Crusted Tilapia

This is delicious! Very easy and quick. I am going to be keeping this spice mixture on hand to sprinkle on fish on a whim! We often make quick meals of fish fillets and rice. I have found a new twist. Nom Nom Nom. Tilapia is a very versatile fish, it has very little flavor of its own but takes on other flavors very well. Kind of like chicken.

4 tilapia fillets
2 T oil
wedge of lime

Indian Blackening Seasoning
1 T cayenne
2 t garlic salt
2 t toasted and ground cumin seed
2 t toasted and gound fennel seed
2 t garam masala
1 t salt

Coat tilapia fillets in blackening seasoning, we let them rest for 30 minutes for the flavors to seep in. Fry fish on medium heat in the oil. Flip gingerly. When it's done all the way through, carefully plate the fish and squeeze some lime juice over it. Enjoy! Serve with steamed rice.

For a healthier option you can bake it in the over at 375 for 10 minutes, flip half way through.


Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Notes on technique: Baghar and Bhunao

 Baghar AKA Tadka or Chonk (instant flavoring or Tempering) 

This is one technique that is fairly unique to Indian cooking, whole spices are dropped into oil to infuse. this technique is called Baghar, Tadka or Chonk.

1. Heat oil quite hot but not so hot that it starts to smoke and then drop in whole spices which then release their flavors into the oil.
2. Larger harder spices like stick cinnamon, and star anise can be added first. (stir constantly)
3. Once the larger spices have started to swell and and change color. (stir constantly)
4. cardamom can be added, and shortly thereafter (stir constantly)
5. Smaller spices like fennel seed, cumin or coriander seed can be added last and will only cook for 30 seconds depending on the heat of the oil. (stir constantly)
6. Stir constantly until the smallest spices are fragrant and have darkened in color.
7. Remove from heat.

The purpose of this technique is twofold, to infuse the oil with as much of the flavor from the spices as possible, and to toast and brown the spices themselves which will further develop new flavors in the spices which will infuse the oil.

When baghar (translated as instant flavorings or tempering) is performed correctly there is a physical change in the spices, they will become toasted and more brown, dry spices will uncurl and expand slightly, and the smell will change from a raw spice flavor to a more intense toasted flavor.

Remember to heat your oil before adding your spices, add from the most hardy to the smallest spices, wait for the color change and smell change before moving on in the recipe.

This technique can be used in two different ways, either use the oil in the pan to cook other ingredients or to pour the oil over a completed dish to add another kick of flavor at the end.

Bhunao (sautee)
This is not a French sautee, although it is similar up to a point. Almost all curries and thick sauce dishes use this method of cooking at one point or another. To develop a great Indian sauce this technique is paramount!

1. Oil or ghee is heated in a frying pan (sometimes Baghar(see above) is performed to flavor the oil first). Then wet ingredients are added, it could be vegetables or marinated meat.

2. These ingredients are then cooked over a hot flame to reduce to a thick paste. stir occasionally to keep the ingredients mixed and heating evenly.

3. Once its lost almost all of it's liquid, you can reduce the heat to medium or medium high. Stirring every so often and allowing the paste to lightly stick to the bottom of the pan, then scraping it off with a spatula.

4. Once it begins to stick so much that you can't lightly scrape it off you drop a few tablespoons of liquid into the pot until the stuck parts will dissolve while you mix and scrape them (deglazing the stuck on foods)

5. This is then mixed into the rest of the paste and you then let the excess liquid evaporate.

6. Repeat the sticking and deglazing 3-4 times.

The real key is to let it stick a little bit and actually brown, just like you let meat brown to get that delicious brown outer crust. The more times you repeat this process and the deeper the browning the more deep and flavorful your paste will become. Just don't let it burn!

This can be done with any liquid that is being added to be pot such as tomato puree, broth or water.

Notes for food nerds

While Bhunao sautéing breaks the rules for a true french sauté it's actually a process that is intrinsic to Cajun and Creole cooking. This cooking tradition uses the exact same process for cooking sauces and bases for stews and thick dishes like gumbo, jambalaya, etc.

The browning and maturing of the spices in the Baghar process as well as the browning of the vegetables and marinades are both a result of a Maillard reaction, named after the chemist Louis-Camille Maillard. This process is  a very complicated synthesis of organic flavor compounds created by the reaction of sugars with amino acids. They form a vast array of flavor compounds that as of yet haven't been adequately studied. However, they taste... awesome. These are behind some of your favorite cooking flavors, browned meats, toasted bread, toasted marshmellows, maple syrup, roasted coffee, French fries, etc.

Notes on Equipment

There are a few essential pieces of equipment that I think are absolutely necessary to cook traditional Indian food.

Blender/food processor/emulsion blender
A lot of the sauces and gravies use onions as a base and they need to be pureed to get the textures right.

Spice grinder
I bought a cheap coffee blender at big box store X 20 bucks will get you a nice model. I would not suggest doing double duty with a coffee grinder. you'll just end up with funny tasting coffee and funny tasting indian food.

Good Sharp Knives
Really this is essential for any sort of cooking, but Indian food usually has a large number of ingredients and a lot of prep work. You're going to be doing a lot of chop chop chopping. I would suggest getting a nice set of knives or sharpening up your current knifes. 

Pictures of these neat pieces of Equipment
Less essential for cooking Indian food but more essential for me writing about cooking Indian food. I'm going through a break-up and don't have access currently to these lovely pieces of equipment to take pictures of them. This will be remedied some day. I will just have to trust everyone out there to know what these things are. 


This blog actually started almost 9 months ago. My sister mentioned that she wanted to learn how to cook Indian food. Being the kind awesome brother that I am I figured, I can learn how to cook Indian food and create in Indian cookbook that is aimed at creating flavorful, traditional Indian food which is laid out and explained for the American laymen home cook. The original recipes ended up being a cookbook I made her for Christmas.

Most likely you know how to cook and enjoy doing it if you are looking at this site. Think of this as a primer on Indian cooking. I had many pitfalls and learning opportunities in the making of these recipes. I sourced original recipes on line, in books, from friends, and blended them together through repetition to make a master recipe.

I try to focus heavily on a few unique techniques which are not common amongst western European/American cooking. This more then anything else is the key to making flavorful Indian food.

One of the most important steps to making good Indian food is to find a good indian specialty store in your area. You are going to need them. Most cities have them, little hidden gems filled with exotic spices and ingredients you are not going to be able to find anywhere else. Get to know your grocer, they are going to be invaluable to your progress. Stock up on spices. Explore some new flavors, try new ingredients, ask questions about ingredients you've never heard of or seen before.

I'll try to keep this blog updating every Wednesday. Please enjoy and