Indian (Desi) Food!

Oh yeah and "desi" doesn't just mean someone from the Indian subcontinent. It means someone who has emigrated. Some SE Asians find the term offensive. Then there is ABCD - American Born Confused Desi. This is also often considered a derogatory term, but some younger Americans of SE Asian descent have adopted the term for their own use, much as some African Americans have co-opted the "n-word".

My son would be categorized as an ABCD. Not by me, obviously, LOL!
Ah! Your detailed answer about Indian food gave me the impression that you are from the sub-continent as well. Good to see the confirmation 😂 Yup, my kids are ABCD as well. I don't find desi offensive, just refers to folks from the desh (country)
 
I've been cooking Indian food since 1978. IMNSHO, dried curry leaves might as well be dust. I almost never used to be able to get fresh curry leaves but lately I can pretty much always get them. Only at Indian groceries, mind. When you can get them, get a bunch - and FREEZE THEM. To use, zip the frozen leaves directly into the hot oil last of all your spices before adding your main ingredients. If you let them thaw, they will be mush, but if you do it this way they will be fine. I used to be able to get them from IshopIndian but I've not used them in awhile since I've been able to get most things from local Indian groceries.

The first step in any Indian dish is to make the tadka or poppu - this is "tempering" your spices. You heat some oil up and throw in some black mustard seeds (or brown, just not the yellow ones used to make the condiment). As soon as they start popping turn the heat down slightly and then you add your whole spices. The ones I use are cumin seed and/or ajwain (use ajwain sparingly, it can be overpowering). Then crumbled dried chilis and then your fresh curry leaves if you have them, and IMMEDIATELY add turmeric powder or the chilies and curry leaves will start to burn. I then add my dried spices, most commonly some ground coriander or a masala (spice) mix such as chaat masala, garam masala, or whatever I happen to be using. Some folks only add garam masala at the end of cooking right before serving. I do either or. Add your ginger paste and/or garlic paste. Personally I never use the garlic/ginger paste. Usually I only use one or the other but if I want to use both I want to be able to adjust the relative amounts. You would also add chopped onions now if you are using them.

Stir quickly and add your main ingredients. You have to be quick or spices will start to burn. I always put my spices out in little bowls so I can just dump things in quickly as things move along. There are lots of slight variations on the actual spices used, just google tadka or poppu. Most use some urad and chana dal in the beginning but I eventually quit doing that as I don't see that it adds any flavor (though it does add some crunch to some things).

My most frequently used spices are:

  • Coriander seed - I NEVER buy preground coriander. Instead I toast whole coriander and then grind it in a coffee grinder. Fresh ground coriander is amazing. I never use whole coriander without grinding it first. I grind, sift, regrind the sifted out stuff, and repeat that up to 3 times. Anything left in the sifter after you've decided its ground enough should be discarded. The outer hull of coriander seed is quite sharp (as in knife type of sharp) and unpleasant.
  • Cumin seed - aka zeera or jeera - as with coriander seed, if I need ground cumin, I toast and grind it myself, but I rarely need the ground. This spice is fine in most dishes used whole as part of the poppu. Not to be confused with black jeera/zeera (see below).
  • Ajwain - commonly used in chaat masala. Use sparingly on its own. Its powerful stuff.
  • Ground turmeric
  • Black/brown mustard seed
  • Fenugreek seed, ground. I only use whole for making a hair rinse.
  • Methi - dried fenugreek leaves
  • Amchur, ground. This is dried green mango that is ground up. It is astringent.
  • Hing aka asafoetida - this used to only come in chunks of dried gum. Nowadays they grind it up and cut it with flour. I used to know how much of it to use when it was the pure stuff, but now that its adulterated to make it more "convenient", I just haven't adjusted. A tiny pinch of the pure stuff was enough. I basically have to wing it with the new form. Whatever, you might want to put the container inside another, airtight container as it can be very strong smelling. I wouldn't store it in plastic unless you want to use that same container for hing from now until eternity. It is indispensable in the dishes that call for it, such as sambar.
  • Dried chilis
  • ground cinnamon
  • Fresh curry leaves. I don't bother with the dried. Back in the day, dried curry leaves available here in the US were completely tasteless. Possibly in more recent times they're better than nothing, but since I CAN get fresh curry leaves (and can freeze and use them as above) I haven't bothered with the dried. Fresh curry leaves are awesome.
  • Cardamom. I never buy the pods. I buy the powdered if I'm using it in a curry or for baking, or I buy the "decorticated" version which is basically the little black seeds removed from the pod. I use the latter only for making masala tea. I don't use the pods for any cooking because there is no way to be sure they're not contaminated with pesticides or other substances, and also the little black seeds can escape the pods and end up hidden in the dish. I use the whole seed only in tea because you can put it in a tea ball and pull it all out. There is NOTHING worse than biting into something and getting a whole cardamom seed between your teeth. In any dish other than tea I always use ground so this never happens.
  • Anardana (ground) - Ground pomegranate seed. This is used the same as amchur and either can be substituted for the other. I usually just use the amchur. You can get it whole but I've never used the whole.
  • Ground chili powder - not the stuff we put in chile con carne, just ground dried red pepper. I don't buy this much anymore since I grow my own hot chilis and dry them whole. I usually just crumble some dried chili peppers into my poppu.
I think that's the list of my most frequently used spices. There are others - Black jeera/zeera (niger seed), Kalonji (onion seed), holy basil seed aka sabji, "black" cardamom which is a pod harvested from a different orchid than the "regular" cardamom. Star anise. Black salt, which I only ever use if I'm making chaat masala. A few things like that that I usually have on hand but don't often use.

Fresh herbs include cilantro (coriander leaves), Indian holy basil which is different than the thai but you can sub it in, methi (fenugreek) leaves but when I can get the fresh methi I invariably use it to make methi malai paneer (used as a leafy green rather than an herb).

If a recipe calls for a bay leaf that is not an actual bay leaf - its what they stick in there because you can't get cinnamon leaves here. So many older recipes were written with this poor substitute for the actual ingredient that its sort of spilled over into general use. If I see "bay leaf" in a recipe I sub in some cinnamon instead. Its not equivalent either but its closer.

Thing is bay leaves look a little similar to cinnamon leaves:

Bay leaves:
View attachment 168869


Cinnamon leaves:
View attachment 168870

So back in the day when cooks couldn't find cinnamon leaves, this was the closest LOOKING thing they COULD find so it kind of crept into general use, even though the flavors aren't even close. You might be able to find the real stuff on amazon or something like Mountain Rose Herbs but I haven't checked lately, I've just gotten used to adding some cinnamon instead (just as many cooks got used to tossing in a bay leaf instead).

I have never seen a recipe for anything Indian that called for Italian basil. If it says basil, it means holy basil - or else its fusion. Nothing wrong with fusion. A lot of "fusion" came into being by necessity because it was so hard to get the right spices here, especially if they needed to be fresh, like curry leaves.
Thanks for this. It will be a great reference. Now to find cinnamon leaves and...
 
@ploverwing

No its fine. Its mostly more insulting when its coming from Indians still living in India when referring to emigrants when they come home for a visit. Like they're not REALLY Indian anymore. The ABCD thing seems to be mostly taken with a wry grin by the younger generation - the thing that bothers those who are bothered by it is the assumption that despite being born in America, raised here, educated here, employed here, they are somehow not REALLY American and are failing at being "Indian" too (not sure how much this gets applied to folks with roots in Pakistan, but definitely a thing with people of Indian descent). Again, the term is not used by Americans not of Indian descent, but mostly by people who were born in India (or thereabouts) to refer in a deprecating manner to the children of emigrants, who they feel are Not Properly Reverent towards the "motherland".

My son does happen to be one of those who get miffed by the term, and because he identifies 100% as American (as he should being born, raised, educated, etc etc entirely here just like any other native born American citizen). He has NO interest in Indian culture or politics or ever going there for a visit. He does like the food I fed him growing up though, LOL!
 
Ah! Your detailed answer about Indian food gave me the impression that you are from the sub-continent as well. Good to see the confirmation 😂 Yup, my kids are ABCD as well. I don't find desi offensive, just refers to folks from the desh (country)
OH NO! I am sorry to have given that impression. I MARRIED IN to the whole Indian thing, LOL! My ex was from Vijayawada and I took to Indian food like a fish to water. I did try to raise my son with some awareness of where his dad came from but it rolled off like water off a duck.

Two good things came of that marriage. My son - and the food! :love:
 
First time making Chai from this Masala Chai recipe. Tastes so good, I don't want to drink plain tea any more. I guess this will accompany my indian meals from now on instead of black tea with honey. I learned not to call it Chai Tea. Chai means tea, so it's repetitive and unnecessary.
 
First time making Chai from this Masala Chai recipe. Tastes so good, I don't want to drink plain tea any more. I guess this will accompany my indian meals from now on instead of black tea with honey. I learned not to call it Chai Tea. Chai means tea, so it's repetitive and unnecessary.
Yup! Chai Tea is a bit infuriating.
Do check out https://www.teabox.com/search?q=masala&type=product
I have bought high-quality tea many times from them. They sell loose tea as well as pre-packaged spices + tea. Masala == combination of spices in this context. Alternatively, one can buy the tea of choice and source + add the spices as per taste. Also for tea enthusiasts there is an excellent book about the history of the tea trade "For all the tea in China" by Sarah Rose.
 
IMO masala chai just doesn't taste right unless it is made with mamri style tea - basically the cheap stuff, sometines called "gunpowder" because it is tiny little black balls of rolled up tea bits.

Most good tea just doesn't have the chops to stand up to the spice mixtures.
 
I had a can of coconut milk sitting around that I bought to make some jamaican rice, but I started making Indian food instead, so I forgot about it. It's been staring at me lately so I decided to make Paneer Korma for the first time last night from this recipe: Paneer Korma. Another recipe from Swasthi Shreekanth, usually the most popular (as far as star ratings go) of all the recipes shown on a google search. I ate it with Jeera rice, some Naan and Lentil curry. Delicious.
 
We have an inordinate number of people from India here where we live, so lots of good (to us) Indian restaurants.

When we went to the UK recently I asked what is good too eat in London... the answers were most frequently fish and chips and Indian food. 😄 Of course my old boss, in the UK, is Indian, so I should have known. 🫤
 
I wasn't expecting it to be so delicious, but was pleasantly surprised when I cooked and tasted the recipe for Rajma Masala or Kidney Bean Curry. Swasthi does it again.
 
OK. I'm stupid. Is this true?

"[c]curry is a blend of spices and herbs that can include 12–30 ingredients. The spices used in curry can vary by region and family, but common ingredients are: Turmeric, Coriander, Cumin, Fenugreek, Chili pepper, Cinnamon, Lemongrass, and Cardamom.

(BTW, I love Basmati, Saffron, and Jasmine rice.)
 
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OK. I'm stupid. Is this true?

"[c]curry is a blend of spices and herbs that can include 12–30 ingredients. The spices used in curry can vary by region and family, but common ingredients are: Turmeric, Coriander, Cumin, Fenugreek, Chili pepper, Cinnamon, Lemongrass, and Cardamom.

(BTW, I love Basmati, Saffron, and Jasmine rice.)
I'm not an expert on the definition, but I do regularly use all those ingredients when I make Indian food, except lemongrass. I haven't come upon a recipe that uses it yet. There's also Kashmiri chili powder, star anise and Kasuri Methi that are in just about all my recipes.
 
This page describes the difference between "masala" and "curry", which is what I'd understood (and may not be correct!):

 
I thought I had some pakoras sitting in the fridge, but I was mistaken. I wanted to try a new recipe just to taste something different. I used this Onion Pakora recipe. That recipe suggested serving with a chutney. Well, I never cooked one, so decided to make a foray into the world of Chutney making. I used this Amchoor Chutney recipe, which is mango chutney. I added a teaspoon of Garam Masala, since I saw it in other recipes for this chutney. Also, since I don't have an instant-pot, I cooked it on the stove until it got thick and it turned out fine. Was very delicious in fact. I'm feeling bloated.
 
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