January 12, 2010
Please allow me to begin with the requisite disclaimers: I am but one Indian girl. I do not represent all Indian people everywhere and I am by NO MEANS an expert on Indian food or cooking. India is home to twenty-eight states, twice as many languages, and innumerable incarnations of what “Indian food” can look like. Not to mention the fact that we Indians have disseminated ourselves all across the globe, mish-mashing our food cultures with the British, American, South African, Malaysian, etc.
Still…when I put out the call the other day to see what folks wanted to see more of on the blog, Indian food was the definite winner. So I am giving in! “The Food of My People” series starts today and will run every Tuesday for the next few months. Don’t worry, for those of you utterly uninterested in making Indian food at home (no offense taken), “regular” fare will continue to show up every Friday.
The Indian recipes I’m going to post will be a total hodge-podge of regions and technique, utterly subjective and reflective of me. They will also be fantastically delicious and adhere to the BJG standard of unfussy food OR fussy food that’s worth it. I hope to expose you to more Indian “home cooking,” the kind of thing you can’t get in a restaurant and can pretty easily make at home (lots of those restaurant dishes aren’t very authentic or simple to make). If you have any requests, throw them out in the comments or send me an email. I’ll do my best to accommodate them!
One of the main things that can make cooking Indian seem intimidating are the seemingly exhaustive lists of unfamiliar ingredients; even I think it’s asking a lot for folks to go out and buy twenty spice bottles just to try one recipe. For the purposes of this series, I’m listing some essentials and extras, the latter of which will serve those of you who’d like to build your Indian food repertoire. If you’re uncertain about how frequently you’ll use these ingredients, I recommend you buy in small quantities (at a store which sells in bulk is a good choice.) For the extras, get yourself to an Indian or Asian grocery store! They can help you find what you’re looking for and the prices will be much cheaper.
• fresh garlic
• fresh ginger
• whole cumin seeds
• ground cumin
• ground coriander
• ground red mirchi (chili), for heat
• fresh cilantro
• cumin seeds
• fennel seeds
• fenugreek seeds
• garam masala
• mustard seeds
• sambar powder
You’ll find that this recipe, like most of the rest I’ll be posting, makes a pretty good quantity of food. That’s because I DON’T KNOW HOW TO MAKE SMALL AMOUNTS OF INDIAN FOOD. It’s like, contrary to what I believe in. You know? Ethnic mothers who stuff you full at the table, then send you out the door with a plastic grocery bag full of old sour cream and Cool Whip containers, stuffed with leftovers? I’m totally turning into one.
GREEN BEAN & SWEET POTATO SABJI
Serves 4 as a side, with leftovers
“Sabji” just means vegetable dish and this one is a favorite. Simple and satisfying, this dish is a riff off of my mom’s original, which she made with white potatoes. I personally like the way the flavor of the sweet potatoes plays off of the rich spices in this dish; serve it as an accompaniment to a meat entrée or as the main course itself, with store-bought naan or pita bread.
This recipe calls for just a few tablespoons of tomato paste, so opening a whole can of it is a pain. I am in love with these tubes of paste from Amore. Use what you need, then store the rest neatly in your fridge.
• 4 medium-to-large sweet potatoes
• 1 pound green beans
• 1/4 cup fresh ginger, peeled & minced
• 1 T black mustard seeds
• 1 T sambar powder
• 2 T tomato paste
• ¼ teaspoon asfoetida (optional)
• ½ cup water
• 3 T canola oil
Prep the vegetables: peel & dice the sweet potatoes into roughly 1-inch chunks, then wash & remove the ends from the green beans, chopping them into inch-long pieces.
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan (with a fitted lid), heat the oil over medium-high heat. After 3-4 minutes, the oil should be quite hot but not smoking. Throw in the mustard seeds & sprinkle in the asfoetida. It’s essential to heat these two ingredients at the outset and let them get very hot or they will make the whole dish taste bitter.
Turn down the heat to medium; remove the pan from the heat, then add ginger. Return to the burner and cook until the ginger begins to soften, adding the sweet potatoes, sambar powder, water, & 1 T salt. Toss to ensure that the potatoes are well-coated with the spices.
Cover the dish, turn the heat down to medium-low, and allow the sweet potatoes to cook until tender, about 15 minutes. Once you can “smush” a sweet potato with the back of your cooking spoon, add the green beans and cook for another 8-10 minutes, tossing in more water if necessary.
Once the green beans are bright and cooked to desired tenderness, fold in tomato paste to bind the dish. Taste the dish for salt & season accordingly.