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by Sandra Lewis    Sun, Feb 26, 2006, 10:33 AM

People rarely sit on the fence when it comes to liking or disliking Indian food. They either really dig it or don’t want to go near it. And a small percentage of those who don’t want to go near it have never even tasted it.

My parents used to fit into that last category.

I figured the earth would stop spinning on its axis before they would be adventurous enough as to give Indian food a try, but thanks to a little goading on my uncle’s part recently they were - and they liked it.

Last time I checked the earth was still spinning.

But I can't poke too much fun at non-adventurous eaters simply because I’m a hold out when it comes to one particular cuisine – sushi. I know it’s a shock especially for someone like me who loves food to be a sushi holdout, but in my book raw fish = fish bait.

I hear such wonderful things about this puzzling foodstuff from friends and from Ariel whose boyfriend got her hooked on sushi that I’m inclined to give it a try one of these days. But that’s a story for another blogging day.

I love Indian food for its unique combination of spices like exotic fenugreek and kalonji seeds; cinnamon and clove, two spices that Americans rarely reach for outside the holiday run from November to December. And, then there’s cumin and cilantro, a spice and an herb most commonly used in dishes from south of the border.  That's just to name a few.

Rarely does the average American recipe call for the same quantity of individual spices for a single recipe, salt and pepper don’t count. 

The  beef curry and carrot sambal dishes posted below call for five different spices; if you make your own garam masala that would increase the count by an additional nine spices.

If you aren't an Indian food convert yet you soon will be. 

Go ahead.

Try it, you'll like it. 

Dry Beef Curry
4 tablespoons ghee or vegetable oi
2 fresh green chilis, seeded and chopped
2 onions, chopped
2 lb. 4 oz. stewing or braising steak, diced
7 oz. canned tomatoes, drained
2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 ½ teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon ground cumin
3 tablespoons curry paste (see recipe below)
1 ¼ cups coconut milk
1 tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro, to garnish

To make the curry, heat the ghee in a large heavy- bottom pan. Add the chilis and onions and cook over low heat, stirring occasionally, until the onions are light golden. Add the steak and cook, stirring frequently for 10 minutes, or until browned all over. Stir in the tomatoes and season with salt to taste.

Mix the ground coriander, 1 teaspoon of the garam masala, the cumin, the curry paste and coconut milk together in a bowl, then add to the pan. Stir well, half-cover, and let simmer over low heat for 1 ½ hours. Remove the lid from the pan and continue to simmer for an additional 30 minutes, or until the meat is tender and the sauce is very thick. If it dries out too much, add a little water. Transfer to a warmed dish, sprinkle with the remaining garam masala and chopped cilantro.

Carrot Sambal
1 tablespoon ghee or vegetable oil
1 ½ oz shredded coconut
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds
12 oz. carrots, grated
4 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup golden raisins
4 tablespoons chopped fresh mint

Heat the ghee in a small skillet. Add the coconut and mustard seeds and cook over low heat stirring constantly for 2 minutes or until the coconut is starting to brown. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and stir in the carrots, lemon juice, golden raisins, and mint. Mix well.

Curry Paste
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fenugreek seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 curry leaves
2 dried red chilies
2 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 teaspoon chili powder
5 tablespoons white wine vinegar
2 tablespoons water
½ cup vegetable oil, plus extra for sealing

Grind the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, fenugreek seeds, fennel seeds, curly leaves, and dried red chilies in a spice grinder or use a mortar and pestle. Transfer to a bowl and stir in the turmeric, chili powder, vinegar, and water to make a smooth paste.

Heat the vegetable oil in a large, heavy-bottom skillet, add the paste and cook over low heat, stirring constantly for 10 minutes, or until all the water has been absorbed and the oil rises to the surface.

Let cool, then spoon into a glass jar with a lid. To preserve the curry past, heat a little more vegetable oil in a clean pan, and pour it over the surface. Store in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

Sandra’s Kitchen Notes:

  • The recipes above can be found in “The Best Ever Indian” cookbook. The introduction section with its detailed explanations of Indianthebesteverindian.jpg spices, cooking techniques, and curry recipe is alone worth the price of the book (which won’t break your bank account to begin with).
  • If you have challenges locating the curry leaves for the curry paste, no worries. I bought curry leaves from my local Indian grocery then promptly forgot to include them. The curry was tasty enough without them.  Making your own curry paste is half the fun of Indian cooking so go for it.
  • Anytime I use whole spices in Indian cooking, I toast them for a few minutes to release their oils and heighten their flavor.  Be sure to let them cool before grinding.
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