I have said it before, but I will say it again – there is more to Indian cooking than CURRY!
Somewhere along the way between Plymouth Rock and Slumdog Millionaire, Americans got the idea that Indian Food = Curry. Yes, if you go to a traditional Indian hotel or restaurant for the ubiquitous dinner buffet, there will be a ghee laden Curry. Case in point.
Yes, if you are invited to someones home, chances are there will be a Curry. It is as traditional as lasagna or fried chicken is here. Its Indian comfort food and its required material for the beginning Indian cook. It hardly means it should define Indian cooking.
While the Brits embrace the Curry to the point of making it their national dish, we here in the States have been known to use the spice as a derogatory word. I agree that a heavy Curry is the LAST thing I want to eat usually both here in the States and when I am in India (mostly due to the ghee factor, BUTT that is just my point. (hee hee, I am still jet lagged ok?) .
There are Soooo many other wonderful flavorful dishes from India that do not even include curry as an ingredient. So let’s put aside the myth that Curry is king of India and see what other dishes can delight. There are numerous recipes that are lighter fare but still rich and layered with a complexity of flavors.
I love Tandoori – anything. The clay ovens in India give everything cooked inside a smoky grilled flavor and a crunchy outer texture. Tandoori chicken is my is “go to” dish when travelling in India but I don’t have a tandoori oven at home (or the army of Indians that are usually cooking for me). So I consulted with Madhur Jaffrey, the Julia Child of Indian Cooking. By consulting, I mean that I took her cookbook off the shelf and had one of those scary talking to myself conversations. She has a great recipe for Tandoori Style chicken that has been adapted for any kitchen, anywhere.
From Curry Easy, page 85, Tandoori Style Chicken with Mint
4 Whole Chicken Legs (skinned and separated into drumsticks & thighs) 3 Inch Piece of Ginger, chopped
1 Tsp. Salt 1/2 Tsp. Cayenne Pepper
2 Tbsp. lemon juice 1 Tsp. Garam Masala (found in most grocery stores spice section)
1/2 Medium Yellow Onion, chopped 2 Tsp. Cumin
3 Cloves Garlic, Chopped 8 Oz. Natural Yoghurt (I use non fat Greek)
3 Tbsp. Olive Oil (rather than ghee) 4 Tbsp. Fresh Mint
Cut 2 deep slits diagonal into the fleshy part of the thighs and drumsticks. Put the chicken on a large plate in a single layer. Rub both sides with the salt and then the lemon juice. Set aside for 20 minutes.
Put the onion, garlic, ginger, cayenne pepper, garam masala, cumin and yoghurt into a blender and blend into a smooth past. Put the chicken and juices in a bowl. Add the paste and mix well. Cover and refrigerate overnight or for up to 24 hrs.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Layer the chicken in a single layer on a baking dish. Brush with the oil and sprinkle with 1/2 the mint. Bake for 15 minutes. Turn the pieces over and brush with oil and sprinkle remaining mint over the top. Bake for another 5 minutes until the chicken is cooked.
The yoghurt keeps the meat tender and the oil gives it a nice crunchy outer texture imitating the tandoori. If you have a grill follow the same directions but grill the chicken instead of baking it. Even more like a tandoori as it adds the flavor of the charcoal or wood. Substitute lamb, beef, fish or shrimp!
In India they might serve the Tandoori chicken with stewed dahl (lentils) & rice and a nice warm soft chapati bread. Perhaps some mango chutney or mint sauce is served on the side as an accompaniment . Sound familiar? Hmmm, grilled chicken with rice and beans in a soft tortilla with salsa? Add some scrambled eggs to either and we have an Indian breakfast buritto. Not so scary sounding at all right?
I will pass on a few other traditional Indian dishes this week that I prepare for friends or order when travelling. These dishes will feel familiar to you in reference to nearby cultures. Believe it or not there are some dishes that almost seem Italian, Irish, Spanish or even all American. Did you know that some regions have a long tradition of meat patties served on bread? It’s a brave new world of Indian cuisine when we step past Curry!
Time for Tandoori!
Share with me some of your favorite Indian dishes beyond Curry!