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zenwriter
09-29-2008, 11:50 PM
My boyfriend and I love Indian food, and we sometimes go to restaurants to eat it. When we try to make the dishes at home, though, they’re nowhere near as good. I can’t figure out what I’m doing wrong – I can create French, Chinese, Japanese and Italian dishes that we enjoy as much as restaurant food.

I bought Simply Indian: Sweet and Spicy Recipes from India, Pakistan and East Africa by Tahera Rawji and Hamida Suleman but haven’t gotten many “hits” from the cookbook – the recipes are nice but don’t taste at all similar to what we find at our local restaurants. I’ve tried the recipes on recipezaar with the same results. I can make tandoori chicken and channa masala really well, but anything beyond that is just not as tasty. What am I doing wrong? Are the foods we eat in restaurants “Westernized” or is there some secret I am missing? Has anyone figured out a cookbook or a secret that can help me approximate the recipes we enjoy restaurants? I’ve asked the restaurant owners whether they have cookbooks to recommend or whether they offer classes and the answer was no.

Bubastes
09-29-2008, 11:54 PM
I've been having similar challenges with Indian cooking. I've been told that Madhur Jaffrey's cookbooks are very good.

I'm taking the more reliable route on learning this challenging cuisine, though: my friend's Mom is Indian and offered to spend several weekends teaching me. YAY!

Sarita
10-01-2008, 05:31 AM
I really love making Indian food and it tends to taste pretty good. But I have a local organic grocer that makes spice mixes for dishes and I buy them fresh: Masala, Pav Bhadji, Paneer. They're great and it takes my guess work out of it.

From there, I eyeball the veggies and go from there. I have a couple really good recipes that I can post, though.

I'll be back tomorrow. :)

Jersey Chick
10-01-2008, 05:37 AM
I don't cook much Indian food, but I use a lot of Indian seasonings - there's an outfit called Penzey's that has a whole line of Indian blends. I haven't tried their hot spices yet, but I have had the others and they are pretty good.

You might want to check 'em out - www.penzeys.com. I don't know if it'll help, but you never know. :)

zenwriter
10-02-2008, 05:51 PM
Thank you for all your suggestions. Maybe it's just a matter of trying and trying again. I am on the hunt for another cookbook and maybe for someone who can give me cooking lessons.

Ol' Fashioned Girl
10-02-2008, 06:08 PM
I've been a Penzey's customer for years. They're excellent! They usually tuck in a little 'something' extra, too, for you to try. Last time, they gave me a bottle of 'Sandwich Sprinkles' that was to die for... excellent on sandwiches, but good on a variety of other things, too. I highly recommend them (their Vietnamese Cinnamon is top rate!) and I'll bet their Indian seasonings would be wonderful.

Shadow_Ferret
10-02-2008, 06:12 PM
I've been a Penzey's customer for years. They're excellent!
They're factory outlet is right down the road from us. :) My favorite store. They have big jars of the spices sitting out so you can sniff them. Just don't shake the jar, then open it and take a deep breathe. I was sneezing for hours.

I can honestly say I've never had Indian food. Don't even know what it is. Am I missing out?

Thump
10-02-2008, 06:20 PM
Apparently, it's very important to properly temper the spices. I have three Indian flat mates who cook very well and one of them explained to me there is a sequence in which you add the spices and that you have to cook them just the right amount of time so they don't taste either burnt or raw.

I just let them cook ;)

Jersey Chick
10-02-2008, 08:47 PM
Penzey's is teh bomb!

In their Indian spices I've tried Sweet Curry, Garam Masala, Tandoori, Sate, and the Rogan Josh. They're all great - Penzey's has yet to let me down on anything. I love their shallot salt and the Tsardust Memories as well... :)

L M Ashton
10-05-2008, 06:27 AM
Apparently, it's very important to properly temper the spices. I have three Indian flat mates who cook very well and one of them explained to me there is a sequence in which you add the spices and that you have to cook them just the right amount of time so they don't taste either burnt or raw.
*nods* This is very true.

I'm more conversant with Sri Lankan cooking, personally. Similar, but not the same at all.

One major consideration that you may or may not be aware of, though, is that how the food is cooked - the ingredients, the quantities, the methods - vary hugely from region to region, from one caste to another, from one religion to another. This is true in India, in Sri Lanka, and elsewhere in the Indian subcontinent.

My mother in law (Muslim from Kurunegala), for example, has taught me a fair bit of her recipes, but the exact same dishes made by a Tamil from Jaffna will be so different as to be not even very recognizable as being the same. But this also has to do with not very creative names for dishes - ie bean curry, chicken curry, and so on. There are quite literally hundreds of ways, if not thousands, to curry a chicken.

Heck, take Mulligatawny soup, which came from here. At restaurants, I've had more than a half dozen different types of mulligatawny (translated as "pepper water") that were not even close to being the same at all. Some make it with chicken, others with mutton, some with lamb, and that's just the one ingredient. Some make it with a clear brother, others make it creamy... There's a huge amount of variation here with just that one dish.

Added to that that the spice mixtures you can buy also vary hugely from region to region. Curry powder, for example, is a mixture of anywhere between five and fifteen different spices and can be roasted or unroasted. Many households make their own curry mixtures, frequently the morning it's used. Garam masala is another spice mixture that varies widely.

Added to that that the individual spices added can vary in flavour as well, depending on the region (growing conditions, for example)...


If I were you, I would definitely see about getting cooking lessons from someone who is well versed in Indian cooking. You might not get exactly the recipes you've grown to love at your favourite restaurants, but it should give you the basics well enough that you have a better handle on what to experiment with. Plus it's fun. :)

jennifer75
10-07-2008, 03:19 AM
Thank you for all your suggestions. Maybe it's just a matter of trying and trying again. I am on the hunt for another cookbook and maybe for someone who can give me cooking lessons.

Have you tried online recipes with reviews and ratings??? May help....?

shawkins
10-07-2008, 09:29 PM
I've always had a problem with cooking Indian. It usually ends up tasting OK, but the color is always off.

Does that sound like I'm doing the spices in the wrong order or at the wrong time?

Also, what's good for getting curry stains off the counter?


I'm taking the more reliable route on learning this challenging cuisine, though: my friend's Mom is Indian and offered to spend several weekends teaching me. YAY!

Post any tips you get, 'kay?

zenwriter
10-08-2008, 07:18 AM
One major consideration that you may or may not be aware of, though, is that how the food is cooked - the ingredients, the quantities, the methods - vary hugely from region to region, from one caste to another, from one religion to another.

I had wondered about this -- I guess this explains why the premixed curries (Patak brand, for example) taste different from each other, too?


Also, what's good for getting curry stains off the counter?

I use the Magic Eraser (by Mr Clean) but we have very old counter tops -- I wouldn't use it on new, shiny counters.

Jersey Chick
10-08-2008, 07:30 AM
I use the Magic Eraser as well - but you might want to try something like SoftScrub - (check to make sure it won't ruin the countertop) - I put a blob on the stain, let it sit for a few minutes, and then scrub with a sponge.

L M Ashton
10-08-2008, 02:43 PM
I had wondered about this -- I guess this explains why the premixed curries (Patak brand, for example) taste different from each other, too?
You got it. :)

MissKris
10-15-2008, 10:38 PM
Mmmm, Indian food is my favorite. I was lucky enough to have a friend from India who taught me how to make naan, samosas and paneer. But I, too, struggle with the spices sometimes. My friend told me to always gently toast the spices whole before grinding and to bruise herbs with the flat of a knife before chopping. Good luck with your cooking!

CatSlave
10-30-2008, 03:10 AM
Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni is a good beginning book for the newcomer to Indian cuisine.
The author spells out detailed steps and provides clear explanations of ingredients.
She offers menu suggestions for each dish.
The recipes are not complicated to follow.

And yes, in most instances you heat the spices in oil before commencing to cook, in order to sufficiently release their flavors and aromas.

Now I'm hungry.

Woof
10-31-2008, 05:35 PM
I frequently cook Indian food and one thing I discovered awhile ago is that the oil you use in Indian cooking can radically alter the taste, even if you use fresh, authentic ingredients. Traditional Indian cooking almost always requires ghee or clarified butter. As a rule, I try to avoid animal fat and saturated oils and mostly use extra virgin olive oil for stir-frying. I attempted to make a chicken curry biryani using olive oil and the result was quite disappointing. I changed to ghee, repeated the recipe and the difference was remarkable - it tasted the way a curry should taste. So now whenever I cook Indian, I only use ghee, and to assuage my health guilt, I use a smaller amount of oil - 1 teaspoon. vs. 1 tablespoon.

CatSlave
10-31-2008, 05:39 PM
...So now whenever I cook Indian, I only use ghee, and to assuage my health guilt, I use a smaller amount of oil - 1 teaspoon. vs. 1 tablespoon.
You might try neutral-tasting canola or safflower oil rather than olive oil, which has a flavor that is peculiar with Indian spices.

L M Ashton
10-31-2008, 05:40 PM
Except that in southern states, coconut oil is also quite commonly used and adds a very nice flavour. :)

Woof
11-01-2008, 04:20 PM
You might try neutral-tasting canola or safflower oil rather than olive oil, which has a flavor that is peculiar with Indian spices.

I have tried them, as well as sunflower oil and still found the result was not the same as with ghee.


Except that in southern states, coconut oil is also quite commonly used and adds a very nice flavour. :)

I thought that coconut oil is used for flavoring but not as a main cooking oil. I love the taste of coconut oil, but still only use it in very small amounts, for the same reasons that I use butter sparingly.

L M Ashton
11-01-2008, 04:46 PM
In Sri Lanka, specifically, coconut oil is used in many households as the main cooking oil. It certainly is in our household and in every Sri Lankan household that I've been in. It's used for all the curries, deep frying food, whatever. I even add it to my bread when oil is called for. Virgin coconut oil is a very healthy oil, after all.

I use other oils only for salad dressings and mayo and for cooking non-curries - basically, wherever that coconut taste would interfere. :)

Some people are getting away from using coconut oil, probably in an attempt to be "more Western" or something. I've had a problem with a house helper lady who insisted on using other-than-coconut-oil for cooking, and I was equally insistent that, no, coconut oil! Since I'm paying her, I won, but she tried arguing!

Woof
11-01-2008, 05:38 PM
Thanks for that info about virgin coconut oil. I'm going to search for it. If it tastes good and is also healthy, I'm sold.

L M Ashton
11-01-2008, 05:45 PM
Virgin coconut oil smells and tastes like coconuts. If you hate coconut, you'll hate it. If you love coconut, you'll likely love it.

If you get some that smells horrid, then it's gone rancid. My sister had that problem once in the Maldives, and that turned her off coconut oil completely until she visited me and smelled mine. :)

Woof
11-02-2008, 12:15 AM
I love coconuts. Shredded in stews. Shredded inside milk chocolate. Pulped. Coconut Milk. Coconut Cream. So yeah, it makes perfect sense to cook certain dishes, using coconut oil. Am also crazy about Indonesian food, which uses a fair amount of coconut. I have cooked it and didn't even think to use coconut oil to sautée the spices, herbs and vegetables. I will definitely try coconut oil the next time I prepare Nasi Goreng or do a rijstafel! Thanks.

*struck on the head by a coconut which lands on head, producing yes, a concussion but also a new cooking idea*

L M Ashton
11-02-2008, 04:54 AM
:D Glad I could help. :D


With Sri Lankan cooking, especially, it doesn't taste right if it's cooked with other-than-coconut-oil. It just doesn't. It's not authentic and it doesn't have the right flavour. It's just something you get used to.

In the beginning of using coconut oil, I noticed the coconut flavour more so than I do now. Now it just blends in with all the other flavours. Okay, so that took, what, three or four days to get used to it? ;)

Have fun and enjoy!