• The Zen of Making Indian Food

    by Jon on April 9, 2007 · 15 comments

    I am excited beyond words . About three things. I know that every one of you reading this post will totally understand my excitement.

    Last night, I made an Indian feast, after visiting one of our local Indian grocery stores earlier in the afternoon. I returned home and spent two glorious hours, zen-like, breathing slowly, enjoying each moment, preparing an Indian feast. Don’t let the amount of time I took to prepare the meal scare you – I deliberately took my time, there are Indian recipes that are far less labor-intensive.

    Why was I excited? Once I grilled the last roti (flatbread), Peter and my daughter each served themselves and went into the family room. I made a plate for myself and then joined them. As I settled into my place on the couch, the two of them moaned. “Oh my God, this is so good.” Seven little words and then nothing but chew and swallow, chew and swallow. A little more moaning. Chew and swallow, chew and swallow. You get the idea……..

    As I reread the last paragraph, I realize it might appear that I am bragging. I’m not. It’s just that I’d just spent two hours (happily) cooking and to have it be so thoroughly enjoyed, well, I know you understand. You’re a foodie, after all. Otherwise, you wouldn’t be reading this.

    The first thing I’m excited about: the results of my efforts were well-appreciated. The moaning assured me of that.

    The second thing I’m excited about: curry leaves. In the past, whenever I encountered a recipe that called for curry leaves, I would avoid making that recipe. That will never, ever happen again. Not since I’ve discovered our local Indian grocer who carries curry leaves. They lay flat, close together, in a clear, cellophane envelope. You open the package and stick your nose close to the leaves. You breathe deep the gathering gloom – watchlights fade from every room (a nod to the Moody Blues). Wait, I digress. What I meant to say is that you smell every Indian restaurant you’ve ever been to. You swoon.

    The third thing I’m excited about: Akki Rotti. An Indian flatbread made from rice flour that is gluten-free and delicious. There are probably as many recipes for akki rotti as there are Indian cooks. From the research I’ve done, it looks like the type of recipe that is passed down from one generation to the next. Young cooks from India are taught to make roti from their parents or grandparents. Each has their own method – some use hot water, some use cold water, some add chopped vegetables, some don’t, some use plastic wrap, some use a tortilla maker.

    I made a dismal attempt to make roti several weeks ago, after finding a recipe for it online. While it tasted good, it didn’t look like anything recognizable. But I didn’t give up. I was doggedly determined to figure out how to succeed at making it. One young woman at the Indian grocery store told me that she makes them every day. She even agreed to come to my house and teach me how to make them. My kids used to yell at me for talking to strangers. That never stopped me though! I’m glad I struck up a conversation with her. She told me that she makes them every day and that they’re easy to make. Her confidence spurred me on.

    In my pursuit, my online research led me to a blog on which I was fortunate enough to find another recipe for Akki Roti with detailed directions. Sounded like a winner. And it was. I’m happy to report that my efforts yielded perfectly delicious and lovely Akki Roti. Thank you Supriyakrishna!!!!

    Go here to access her recipe.

    The rest of the meal:

    Bund Gobhi/Patta Gobhi Ki Subji (stir fried cabbage, potatoes, peas)

    2 tbsp. canola oil
    ½ tsp. mustard seeds
    2 green chilies, chopped finely
    6 curry leaves, chopped
    2” piece freshly grated ginger
    1 cup chopped tomatoes (I used canned)
    3 small russet potatoes, thinly sliced
    1 cup frozen peas
    10 oz. cabbage, thinly sliced
    ½ tsp. ground turmeric
    1 tsp. ground coriander
    1 tsp. ground cumin
    1 tsp. red chili powder
    Salt to taste
    Freshly chopped cilantro

    Heat the oil on medium flame in a large non-stick pan. I used a cast-iron pot. Add the mustard seeds, green chilies, curry leaves and fry until the seeds stop sputtering.

    Add the ginger and tomatoes and cook for 2 minutes. Add potatoes and peas. Cover and cook for 5 minutes on low flame.

    Add the cabbage, turmeric, coriander, cumin, red chili powder and salt. Mix well. Cover and simmer for 10 minutes.

    Garnish with cilantro and serve with hot Akki Roti.

    Spiced Basmati Rice from Madhur Jaffrey’s Indian Cooking

    2 cups basmati rice
    3 tbsp. canola oil
    1 small onion, finely chopped
    ½ fresh, hot green chili, finely chopped
    ½ tsp. very finely minced garlic
    ½ tsp. garam masala
    1 tsp. salt
    2 2/3 cups water (or chicken stock)
    Chopped cilantro

    Pick over the rice to remove any small pebbles. Put in a bowl, cover with water and drain. Repeat 5 times. You want the water to run clear, though I find it never really runs completely clear. End by soaking the rice in 5 cups of water and soaking for 30 minutes. Drain in a sieve for 20 minutes. I patted it dry with a paper towel to remove extra moisture.

    Heat the oil in a heavy-bottomed saucepan over a medium flame. When hot, add the onion and sauté until it has browned lightly. Add the rice, green chili, garlic, garam masala and salt. Stir gently for 3 – 4 minutes until all the grains are coated with oil. If the rice begins to stick to the bottom of the pan, turn the heat down slightly. Pour in the water and bring to a boil. Cover with a very tight-fitting lid, turn the heat to very low and cook for 25 minutes. Alternatively, you could put the pan in a preheated 325° oven for 25 minutes.

    Garnish with chopped cilantro.

    Tip of the day: Fear not what might seem to be exotic ingredients. Explore unchartered culinary territory. It is a boon for all things gluten-free. Google “Indian grocery store ________ (name of your town and state)”. Get in the car and go buy curry leaves.

    { 15 comments… read them below or add one }

    Sia's Corner April 11, 2007 at 5:39 am

    hi ellen,
    i am thrilled to know about how u and ur family enjoyed akki rotties. they r really simple to make but many people have second thoughts when cooking them:) the aroma of sauted onion and curry leaves itself is enough to fill ur senses. thank u for ur lovely words. ~blushing~
    just checked those wonderful vegetarian books u got from thrift shops. i too love to visit book shops as i love reading. till now i haven’t found any good vegetarian cook book but my serach is on:) will come back again and check ur blog in detail as u have wonderful array of dishes and interesting information. with ur permission i would like to add u to my blogroll:)
    happy cooking and blogging:)


    Ellen April 11, 2007 at 7:41 am

    Dear Sia,

    Absolutely, you have my permission to add me to your blogroll. I’ve added you to my link list AND to my feedreader, as I want to be notified whenever you post to your blog. Thank you so much for your wonderful blog! If we lived near each other, I would ask you for personal cooking lessons, as I have much to learn about Indian cooking. I am a willing and eager student, as I simply love the cuisine. Last night, I made Chana Dal and had that with a green salad – a simple, lovely, and filling dinner. Yum……..


    Sia's Corner April 11, 2007 at 8:22 am

    u r one keen learner ellen:) i dont think i am still ready to teach someone about indian cooking as i started cooking a year ago:) but i will be more than happy to answer to ur any doubts or questions. there is so much to learn and each and everyday its a wonderful learning trip to me.
    i will look forward to learning from u:)


    Ellen April 11, 2007 at 8:29 am

    Goodness, your blog posts certainly make you look like a pro! Two quick questions, unrelated to cooking, believe it or not:

    1. My daughter is returning to London in a week and will be there for another month. Any suggestions for Indian restaurants? I know there are many, but perhaps you have one you like and recommend.

    2. What is the music that plays on your Spice Corner blog? My husband and I both love it and would love to purchase a CD if it is available.

    Feel free to reply via my email at birdwoman5151@yahoo.com, rather than posting a comment.

    Thanks! Have a great day!


    Lisa April 11, 2007 at 11:55 am

    Ellen, thanks for introducing me to a new food! I have always been apprehensive of Indian food and I have friends who are and have sent me cook books! Now I will step out of my fear and try some new things! Just hearing your family “ooh and ahh” over food they are eating is enough to encourage me!!!


    Gluten Free Suzi April 13, 2007 at 4:25 pm

    I just love indian food, second only to Thai, and have often wondered what that missing ingredient is? Now I know it’s – Curry Leaves!!! I don’t think I will find them in whistler, but I will be on the hunt for them next time I am in the city. Thanks Ellen and Supriyakrishna


    Nina April 14, 2007 at 10:30 pm

    The rotties look delicious. But I need some help translating the recipe. What are channa dal and urad dal? Did you use all white rice flour or a blend? I loved going to Indian restaurants prior to C.D.


    Ellen April 15, 2007 at 3:06 am


    Channa dal and urad dal are types of beans which you can find at any Indian grocery store as well as some multi-ethnic grocery stores. Channa dal looks sort of like a yellow split pea and urad dal looks kind of like a black bean. Hope that helps!


    Ellen April 15, 2007 at 3:07 am

    Oops……..Nina, I forgot to answer your question about the flour. For the roti, I used all white rice flour. But there are other Indian flours (like chickpea flour) that are used for other flatbreads. I haven’t tried them yet, but plan on doing so. There is a recipe you can find online for socca, which is an Indian chickpea flatbread.


    Nupur April 18, 2007 at 11:33 am

    I’m so delighted to read this post! Curry leaves are divine, and I’m so glad you found a source for them 🙂 Good luck with your Indian cooking, and wishing you many many fabulous Indian meals!


    js January 26, 2008 at 5:11 am

    I was looking for some Indian food recipes, and I’m glad that I’ve found your blog. Thanks.


    Anonymous December 17, 2008 at 6:13 pm

    Where do you get your spices? All the ones I’ve found at the local Indian store are processed in plants that also do wheat, dairy and the like, so I don’t trust them as safe.


    I Am Gluten Free December 17, 2008 at 7:46 pm

    I get my spices either at the regular grocery store (McCormick’s) or lately I’ve been buying from Penzey’s which has a website and also has some local stores. Their spices are fabulous – really fresh.



    Vee May 24, 2011 at 10:13 pm

    what abt the roti recipe?


    Gluten Free Diva January 20, 2012 at 9:20 pm

    Were you able to find it?


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