Adventures in Indian Cooking
March 16, 2007 12:35am CST
A few tips We gleaned some lessons from our research on Indian food. Don't forget the dal. I typically pass over the lentil stews at the Indian buffet, but this only proves my ignorance of the cuisine. Ismail Merchant, who was a movie producer and a skilled Indian cook, waxed poetic about dal. "In India, if you are invited to lunch or dinner and you are not served dal, the meal is considered incomplete," he wrote. "Dal is to India what pasta is to Italy, and the variations of dal dishes are just as extensive." Spices are the stuff of Indian cooking. The meats and vegetables can be interchanged, but spices must remain the same. Curry is not a particular spice, but a way of preparing food in a stew-like sauce. If you ask someone if they like Indian food and they respond, "I don't like curry," it is the equivalent of someone asking you if you like American food and you respond, "I don't like soup." Not all Indian food will make you breathe fire. True, most Indian food is well-spiced, but not all is hot. And most recipes are flexible in this regard-wimps like me can just skip the cayenne. Potatoes are expected. "One can do without meat and fish and poultry, but the potato is as essential an element to an Indian meal as wine is to a French meal," Merchant wrote. Armed with recipes, ingredients and a pile of spices, we began cooking. Although we got off to a rough start, our casual and forgiving friends showed up and pitched in. As if by magic, we soon had six steaming dishes of Indian food ready for the table. Since then, we've moved Indian dishes into our regular dinner rotation. And it no longer sounds scary or absurd when we declare: "We'll cook Indian."