Friday, February 24, 2006
The first thing I think of when I think of Indian food is color. I see green, I see red, I see yellow; I see shades that are even more beautiful, like fried-dough brown, ginger gold, and tomato-cream orange. Then I think of the aroma of cumin, the smell of garlic and curry leaves frying in a pan. And I think of textures from crackling to creamy. I think of a lot of things.
It's the sheer sensory bombardment that seems to be the hallmark of many things Indian -- the food, the music, and, so I'm told, the country itself (which Margy and I have vowed to visit). It's the right kind of sensory bombardment.
When you make Indian food at home, you get to enjoy all of the above sensations when you eat the food, but you also get to enjoy them when you cook the food. Just make a green chutney and you'll see what I mean. Throw a whole lot of fresh cilantro and mint leaves in a blender, add as many chilies as you can safely endure, plus a squirt of lemon juice and a drizzle of yogurt, and turn that blender on. Get a snootful of what's happening in your kitchen and I defy you not to find yourself humming a happy tune along with the whirring blade.
Of course, then you need to make a bunch of things to eat with that chutney. Nurse, cancel my one o'clock...
Besides an occasional streamlined curry and our official household dish, the quick-to-prepare turkey keema, I cook Indian food when I have some time to spend on it. The kinds of dishes I choose tend to keep me busy -- chopping, grinding, pureeing, then finally cooking -- for so long that I get a very real sense of accomplishment just putting them on the table.
This was my first vegetable curry, based on a Bombay curry in Suvir Saran's Indian Home Cooking and thickened with coconut milk (left over from Wednesday's surprisingly successful white-food experiment) and a puree of onion, garlic, and ginger. Could anything be bad about that? I used every vegetable in the house: peas, carrots, mushrooms, spinach, broccoli, and string beans. Margy and I were pleased with the texture of the sauce, though there was a hint of separation on the plate, which I'd like to eliminate. And the flavor was gorgeous, bright on the surface from the spices and deep down below from the well-browned puree of aromatics.
We ate the vegetable stew with basmati rice and a piece of pan-roasted steelhead trout -- and, of course, green chutney.