I’m a big fan of Indian food, but I have to admit that I haven’t spent much time cooking it. This is a situation that I am planning on remedying in the near future. But I don’t let this lack of actual experience hinder me from experimenting with the flavors of India. I have read enough and dabbled enough that I feel pretty confident that I can create a dish, that if not authentically Indian, is, at least, a well inspired creation that evokes the tastes and aromas of the subcontinent.
Probably the biggest hindrance to some one new to Indian cuisine is the large array of spices found in this cuisine that aren’t usually found in the standard American spice shelf. While coriander, cumin, ginger, cinnamon, and black pepper are quite common here, less common, and integral to Indian cooking, are spices such as green cardamon, ajwain, turmeric, fenugreek, among many others. While one could break the bank trying to hunt down and buy all these spices at once, my suggestion is to pick up a few and use those as the basis for your explorations into the cuisine. As you grow more confident, and prepare Indian dishes more regularly, you can then slowly add more spices to your kitchen. My suggestion would be to start with cumin (whole seeds), coriander (whole), ajwain (whole), green cardamon, turmeric, and garam masala (the standard spice blend of India- like BBQ spice here,each family seems to have their own special recipe for it). These spices, along with what you already have on your spice shelf should get you quite far. While far from being inexpensive I rely on Penzey's Spices for most of my spices, especially those that are less common.
This vegetable curry came about last night from my desire to cook a vegetarian dish (something I am trying to do more regularly to keep my doctor happy), a need to use what was in the house (as bill paying had wiped out the check book until later in the week), and because of a craving for Indian food and flavors. While easy to prepare, it does take a few of those more difficult to find spices, but it is well worth it. Even my wife, who is not nearly as big of a fan of Indian food as I am, absolutely loved it.
Garbanzo and Green Bean Curry
1/2 tsp. cumin seed, whole
1/2 tsp. coriander, whole
1/4 tsp. ajwain,whole
3 pods green cardamon, crushed, seeds removed and pods discarded
1/2 tsp. turmeric, ground
1/4 tsp. cinnamon, ground
1 medium onion, peeled, halved and sliced
3 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced
2 cups carrots, cut into a thick julienne
1 15oz can garbanzo beans
1 15oz can green beans
1 15oz can tomato sauce
3-8 dried red chiles (depending on how spicy you like your food)
Combine the cumin, coriander, cardamon seeds, and ajwain in a spice grinder (or mortar) and roughly grind. Add the turmeric and cinnamon and set aside. In a saute pan melt 3 Tbsp. butter over high heat. Add the onions and cook until starting to brown. Add the garlic and carrots and cook for 3 minutes. Add the spices and cook for 3 minutes longer. Add the garbanzos an green beans along with half a can of water. Season with salt and pepper. Stir to combine. Lower heat to medium-low. Add chiles and cover. Allow to simmer for 1 hour. Remove lid and allow to continue to cook until sauce thickens and coats all the vegetables. Serve over rice.
Serves 3-4 as a main course or 6-8 as a side dish.