Saturday, January 19, 2008

Esperimenti di cucina Indiana!

The new year has come, and one of my resolutions was to try and finally learn how to cook Indian dishes! I love Indian cuisine, and I still didn't dive into trying it because I've always been scared by all the spices that are necessary. I love spices, too, but I don't usually keep them at home, and the most exotic one I have is turmeric.. But in the past year, I got to know so many great Indian food bloggers, so I decided I could just start trying to repeat some of the simpler recipes they show, and little by little, I would get a hand of cooking with spices! In this post, I'll summarize my first two attempts. Both of them are dal-centered: I prepared Sambar and Pumpkin Amti. The two dishes are typical of different parts of India, and it was really nice to taste them both.

Ulli (shallot) Sambar
This was my very first Indian cooking attempt! I used Jai and Bee's recipe, which you can find here, so I won't rewrite it. At the time, I still hadn't visited a true Indian store, and so I didn't have all the spices requested. I know I missed very important ingredients such as tamarind, and I used spicy serrano chillies instead of red and green Indian chillies, and I had no curry leaves. In fact, when I told my friend Vardha that I made Sambar without the Indian chillies, he told me I didn't really make Sambar.. but to be honest, the result was (at least to mine and Lucas's taste) absolutely amazing. I was so excited! I actually made something that tasted really good and at least resembled closely enough an Indian dish! This opened the doors of a big adventure.

The next day I asked a few Indian friends where they buy their spices. Berkeley Bowl is great for most things, but definitely not for spices. I went to 'Milan International', and I was fascinated and lost between the hundreds of boxes of loose and packaged spices. I bought as many as I could remember the names of, and came back home happy. I also bought a traditional spice box! So for my second attempt, I was ready and had almost all the ingredients!

Pumpkin Amti
This is a Maharashtrian dish, and I found the recipe on Nupur's blog, One hot stove - link for the recipe is here. I liked this dish also because it allowed me to experiment one more type of squash - I used 'delicata squash' for it, which has a really good taste. The taste of this dish was very rich - as Nupur says, there are so many flavors that mingle in it! We enjoyed it a lot, and I felt a little more comfortable while making it, and I was faster than when I made Sambar. If I must make a comparison, though, I think I enjoyed the taste of Sambar better. But the use of coconut and peanuts in the Pumpkin Amti was really inspiring, as you may see in a future post.

After these first attempts, I can give a few comments about the experience of Indian cooking. It's exciting, and I feel a little bit like a wizard. It's more complex than Italian cooking, as many things need to be cooked separated, and it's also somewhat more dangerous.. I was really coughing a lot while cooking the hot peppers on the stove :) Also, while I'm perfectly confident about not having a recipe when I cook an Italian (or European, or American) dish, I noticed that I really need precise doses to cook Indian food, for now.. but this will hopefully improve with practice! Thanks Nupur, Jai and Bee for the recipes, I'm looking forward to a year of new adventures in the kitchen..


Nupur said...

Wow, Marta, both dishes look incredible! Kudos to you for trying out Indian food and coming up with such great results. My personal philosophy is that it is perfectly OK to make your own versions of a cuisine and get comfortable with it slowly. And you seem to be making big strides!
I have some butternut squash in the fridge and it will be cooked into something for your lovely event :)

Simona Carini said...

I have also been teetering for some time on the verge of trying to make some Indian dish. Like you, I am a bit worried about the number of spices that are usually needed. We Italians are not really into spices. I am glad you were successful and your experience heartens me: we'll see if/when I finally make the jump.

bee said...

wow, marta, sambar is something only expereinced cooks attempt, even in india. yours looks authentic. glad you liked it.

will post something for your event early next week.

chemcookit said...

Nupur and Bee, thanks! Well, I guess my naivety got me to try the Sambar just because it looked so good, without knowing the difficulty of it. :)

Simona, well, you should definitely try! When you come in Berkeley, I'd recommend visiting Milan International - and buying a samosa, while you're there.. :)

Namratha said...

Good going Marta, nice to see you've tried Indian dishes :) Glad you liked them too.

Rosa's Yummy Yums said...

Wonderful! Your dishes look very tasty! I am particularly interested in that Pumpkin Amti...



Vanamala Hebbar said...

Hello marta

Nice to see your indian dishes looks good :)