Food processor for Indian food?

Discussion in 'Food & Cooking' started by marcoleavitt, Jan 29, 2014.

  1. marcoleavitt

    marcoleavitt

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    I've been making recipes from Julie Sahni's book, and I seem to be running into the same problem with a lot of them. She often has you adding whole spices to a browned onions, letting them cook for only five minutes or so, then adding moisture in the form of yogurt, tomatoes, or both. Then she says to add the mixture to a food processor or a blender and puree until smooth. That's where I'm running into a problem. No matter how long I try to puree it, the whole spices (cardamom and whole coriander seeds mostly) just won't break down. I end up with sawdust-like grit throughout my puree. Granted, I have a cheap food processor and blender (both measly 500 watt motors), but I'm skeptical anything short of Vitamix is going to do it, if even that.

    So my question is, if I had a better food processor would I be able to get the puree I want? What do Indian families use? I've seen these cool Indian blenders like the Preethi:



    But notice it only has a 550 watt motor as well. And what's with the enormous base? All of the Indian blenders I've looked at have a bulging base like that. Does it provide better torque or something? It's curious that Sahni doesn't really talk much about blenders, and you'd think she would have if it was critical.

    What about a wet grinder? I've never heard of anyone using a wet grinder to make any Indian dish but dosa though.

    So if anyone can help, thanks much. I'm really frustrated about this. I suppose I could just toast and grind the spices before adding them, but I'd really like to make her recipes work as written.
     
  2. kylew

    kylew

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    You may want to try grinding your spices first, and then adding them to the onions etc. They will toast in a similar fashion to whole spices, but may require a little less time. I use an inexpensive coffee grinder to grind spices.



    Kyle
     
  3. marcoleavitt

    marcoleavitt

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    Yeah, I'm already doing that for most dishes. I'm still very curious why I can't get the recipes to work as written. Sahni is considered one of the definitive authorities on Indian cooking to a lot of people.
     
    Last edited: Jan 29, 2014
  4. kylew

    kylew

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    I can understand your frustration. For me it's not worth the expense or storage space to buy a hi-torque blender/ processor. Have you tried an immersion blender?

    Kyle
     
  5. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    Are you familiar with the way she expects the dish to turn out?
     
  6. eastshores

    eastshores

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    I think actually that you may find in authentic Indian cooking that you do end up with some degree of what you are calling "sawdust". Even when I toast my spices and grind them for over a minute, there are fibrous parts of the spices that will not refine. You can use a fine mesh strainer to take those out if you have an aversion to them. Otherwise, they are good fiber for you!
     
  7. kylew

    kylew

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    I'm not. I'm a Madhur Jaffrey guy :)
     
  8. marcoleavitt

    marcoleavitt

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    "Are you familiar with the way she expects the dish to turn out?"

    That's a fair question. Here's a sample description (step 4 from Royal Chicken in Silky White Almond Sauce): Put the entire mixture, along with 1 cup of water, into the container of an electric blender or food processor, and run the machine until the mixture is reduced to a fine smooth puree.

    I've wondered if the grit I'm talking about is just supposed to be there, but there's an awful lot, for me really inedible. I ended up pushing the mixture through a metal strainer and was left with a small handful of material that wouldn't go through the strainer. This was after running the food processor for about 15 minutes, which was as long as I dared without worrying about burning it out. I've also tried using a blender and the result was the same.
     
  9. marcoleavitt

    marcoleavitt

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    I would try an immersion blender if I had one. It's not real high on my list of stuff to get. I would be surprised if it would be more high-powered than a standalone unit though.
     
  10. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    My experience with immersion blenders is that you get a smoother result with a quality countertop blender.
     
  11. petemccracken

    petemccracken

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    Blenders utilize the bowl as well as the blades, food processors and immersion blenders do not.
     
  12. eastshores

    eastshores

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    In any event NO blender is going to cut the husk of coriander, black cardamon, and the like to the point of it being undetectable. I don't care how long you run it, at a certain point there simply isn't enough mass there for the blade to cut rather than deflect the extremely tough particles. Personally I think her phrase "fine smooth puree" cannot mean so fine as to not detect small fragments of the whole spices. I'd encourage you to reach out to her with the question.
     
  13. chicagoterry

    chicagoterry

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    A lot of times Indian dishes contain whole or mostly-whole spices, although I can't say I've eaten dishes with whole coriander seeds floating around in them. Those are rather large. I've often seen--and eaten- dishes with whole nigella, mustard or cumin seeds in them. The bigger spices, like cloves, cinnamon stick, and whole cardamom pods are meant to be picked out or eaten around unless they've been preground as components of a garam masala.

    I cook a lot of Indian food and usually roast and grind seeds before adding them to the dish. The exception is when I'm making a tadka or chaunk, where whole seeds and sometimes curry leaves are added to hot oil and then poured into the dish right before serving. Those seeds are usually left whole. I have a mini-cuisinart food processor that holds about as much as a coffee grinder, which also works very well.

    I don't think I've ever made an Indian dish that I put in the blender or food processor after cooking.

    I've never cooked from Julie Sahni's books. Madhur Jaffrey, Sanjeev Kapoor and Yamuna Devi, quite a bit. Keep meaning to pick up one of Julie Sahni's books but have never gotten around to it.
     
  14. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    I would imagine it would be the fairly common technique that is used in the following dish, where onions, spices, etc are ground together to create a paste used in cooking the finished dish http://www.foodnetwork.co.uk/recipes/chicken-cashew-nut-sauce.html
     
  15. chicagoterry

    chicagoterry

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    I think you misunderstood me, cheflayne, and I misunderstood the OP.

    I have often roasted then ground spices and nuts or aromatics--and sometimes tomatoes or spinach-- at the beginning stages of making an Indian dish and then sometimes adding water and then the meat or paneer or vegetables.

    For some reason I was imagining the OP trying to blend a finished dish into a smooth puree after it was cooked. I always think of Indian dishes as inherently full of the textures of vegetables, dals or chunks of meat or poultry, usually still on the bone.
     
  16. cheflayne

    cheflayne

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    That was what I imagined that you were thinking.
     
  17. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    I can understand your frustration.  Personally I like to grind large spices like fennel and corriander and cumin before I add them to a dish.  Toast them and then you can use a mortar pestle, or a small coffee grinder.  I have 2 coffee grinders - one for coffee beans and one that I use only for spices.  For small amounts of crushing spices I also use a flavor shaker    which works really well.  I wouldn't expect a food processor to be able to break down those spices, you have to do it before you add them to the food.
     
  18. marcoleavitt

    marcoleavitt

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    I do understand that Indian food often has whole spices that you eat around like cloves and cardamom, as well as cumin seeds that you just eat. The recipes I'm talking about do clearly say that you cook the ingredients for the sauce, or gravy as Sahni puts it, and then puree. It may be that I just misunderstand what the final texture is supposed to be like. I certainly never expected the woody material to disappear into the gravy, but I can't imagine my result is what Sahni intended. It's really a lot to chew on. Literal mouthfuls.

    Before just giving up and toasting and grinding before adding them to the sauce I'm going to try getting them to cook more before the puree, maybe adding them before the onions. Hopefully they'll soften up. I'm finding that getting the heat right is kind of tricky with Indian food, as I suppose it is for all cooking, but when Sahni says medium heat I think she means what most people would think of as medium high, or even high heat. High heat seems to mean "try not to let it catch on fire."
     
  19. koukouvagia

    koukouvagia

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    What does it matter what Sahni intended?  Maybe Sahni intended that they be whole, or that they be ground.  What matters is that you don't like the final texture.  

    I don't see how it is considered "giving up" by grinding them before they go in.  You're looking at the recipe like it's scripture from the Bible.  Even the bible gets to be interpreted.  Do it the way that suits you, the way that you want to eat it.  You shouldn't have to buy expensive products if you don't want to, use what you have.  A mortar and pestle is really all that you need.
     
  20. marcoleavitt

    marcoleavitt

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    Maybe giving up is the wrong way to put it, but with recipes as tested as these if I'm not getting the right result I like to know why. As a home cook I look at it as a barometer of whether or not I'm getting the techniques right. In this case, I think I might not be using enough heat. Just guessing. My purpose of posting in here was to find out if other people were struggling with this, and the answer would seem to be no.