One of the many beauties in life is friendship, we are able to learn so much from each other when we open our hearts and our homes. I would like to dedicate this meal to one of Collin and I's dearest friend, Bijeta Chakraborty! She along with Kumar, Aditya and Sanjay lived in Dallas for a year for an engingeering development program with Collin at Texas Instruments. Back then Collin and I were living out in Wylie,TX in our trailer (I will reserve that story for another day), and seeing that #1 I lived in a trailer, therefore many friends were hesitant to come over and "hang out" and #2 I lived all the way out in Wylie,TX which to many people who live in the city, is in the middle of no where. It was lonely out there, it literally was just me, Collin and the cows. (If only I had known you Alta back then!)
Then one day Collin told me a few of his coworkers had invited us over Saturday for dinner who recently moved here from India. My eyes instantly lit up, I have never had a home cooked Indian meal before -- my tummy could hardly wait. That week the days honestly seem to creep by, I almost felt weary with (Indian food) craving exhaustion but Saturday FINALLY arrived. I remembered specifically wearing loose fitting pants that night because I had my game face on and I was ready to CHOW DOWN. I love Indian food for several reasons: the COLORS -- the greens, yellows, reds, and the beautiful smells of the SPICES, it's as if I could just eat forever and ever. But the best reason that makes Indian food not only fun to eat, but simply an art, is the beauty of eating the various flavors on your plate using your hands. I don't know why Indian food tastes better when you use your hands but I highly recommend that everyone tries it.
Even before arriving at Bijeta's door, you could already smell the magic brewing half way down the hallway. And let me tell you what, the food that night was magical indeed -- the crispy potato samosas, curried cauliflower, fried fish curry, chicken curry, paneer (from scratch), chutneys, yogurt, perfectly cooked basmati rice, and ending with a deliciously fragrant kheer. By the time I was done I could hardly breathe, but boy was I one happy camper! It was nice to experience a part of their culture through food, it's definitely one of my favorite ways of learning from people of different backgrounds. Though our native languages may be different, and at times communication can be hard -- food will always be universal, a common ground that all cultures share and understand.
It was nice to learn (and taste) from Bijeta, Aditya and Sanjay, we exchanged stories of our families, our backgrounds, and even battled over a few games of Wii Sports. By the time we were leaving, I felt as if they've been my friends for many years -- and for the rest of the time they lived in Dallas we hung out with them often. We had more dinner get togethers, a music concert, and even grabbed some brewskies to check out to the "American bar scene". When it was time for them to leave both Collin and I were really sad to see them go, but happy that we've made lifelong friends. Since then, Bijeta and I keep in touch via e-mail and now Facebook and recently she sent me this amazing Fish Gravy recipe.
I told her I would have to dedicate a post to her featuring her amazing Fish Gravy (Hi Bijeta!!) and made an Indian feast in her honor as well as Aditya and Sanjay's as well. Though we are thousands of miles apart, while eating this meal both me and Collin decided you guys were there in spirit :) This was also my first attempt in cooking Indian food -- there were so many various spices that my head almost started to spin! But a fun adventure nonetheless and the end result was a glorious complexity of flavors.
Ingredients for Fried Tilapia with Tomato and Onion Gravy:
- 4 Tilapia fillets
- 1/2 white onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
- 3 tablespoons fresh ginger, coarsely chopped
- 4 green Serrano chiles, tops discarded
- 1 tablespoon lemon juice
- 1/2 tablespoon Tumeric powder
- 1/2 tablespoon Coriander powder
- 1/2 tablespoon Mustard Paste
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 1 tablespoon corn flour
- 1/2 tablespoon Cumin seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon Onion seeds
- 1/2 tablespoon Mustard seeds
- 1 Bay leaf
- 3/4 cup of water
Make a smooth paste of the onion, ginger, chiles, lemon juice, tumeric and coriander powder, mustard paste, salt and cornflour in a food processor. Place paste in a large bowl and marinate the fish pieces for 15-20 minutes. In a small or medium-sized saucepan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil at medium high heat. Sear the Tilapia on both sides, about 3 minutes on each and set aside on a plate. Remember, you do not want to overfry the fish because it will be cooked further in the gravy mixture. Next you will make the Tomato and Onion Gravy:
- 2 medium-sized Roma tomatoes
- 1/2 tablespoon Tumeric Powder
- 1 tablespoon Coriander powder
- 1/2 tablespoon red chili powder
- salt to taste
Place ingredients into food processor and blend together. Place in bowl and set aside.
- 2 medium-sized White onions
- 1 tablespoon garlic and ginger paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh Coriander leaves
- 1 green serrano chile, top removed
Place ingredients into food processor and blend together. Place in bowl and set aside.
In a large heavy bottomed pan, heat 2 tablespoons of oil along with the Bay leaf and Cumin, Onion and Mustard seeds. Add the onion gravy and fry until it becomes brownish in color. Add the tomato gravy to the mixture and fry until the two gravies become thick and paste like. If it becomes too dry add a little more oil. Add 3/4 cup of water and put the fried fish in the gravy and cook, covered for 10-15 minutes. Add salt to taste. Remove from heat and serve with Basmati rice.
For the Indian Feast I made the following items, I am not going to post all of them for the recipes are quite lenghthy, however if any of these sound interesting to you, shoot me an e mail and I will be more than happy to send them to you :).
- Mint Sambol (Srilankan)
- Fresh Coriander Peanut Chutney (Indian)
- Spiced Cabbage Salad (Srilankan)
- Cauliflower Dum (North Indian)
- Katchhi Village Potato Curry (North Indian)
I found all of these recipes above from Mangoes & Curry Leaves - Culinary Travels through the Great Subcontinent by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. A very wonderful book indeed, with captivating pictures of not only food but the regions from where they are from.
Ingredients for Spiced Cabbage Salad:
- 4 cups shredded green or Savoy cabbage
- 1/3 cup finely chopped shallots
- 2 to 3 green cayenne chiles, seeded and minced
- 6 fresh or frozen curry leaves
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 1/4 teaspoon turmeric
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 2 tablespoons fresh or frozen grated coconut
Wash the cabbage, then put it in a medium heavy pot with the shallots, chiles, curry leaves, salt, turmeric, and cumin. Place over medium-high heat, cover and cook for 2 to 3 minutes. Give the pot a quick stir, cover again, and lower the heat to medium. Simmer until the cabbage is cooked and tender, about another 10 minutes, depending on your cabbage and how finely it is shredded. Add the lime juice and coconut and stir to mix well. Let cook for a minute or two, uncovered, then turn out and serve, mounded on a plate.
Ingredients for Katchhi Village Potato Curry:
- 2 tablespoons raw sesame oil, vegetable oil, or ghee
- 2 teaspoons minced garlic or garlic mashed to a paste
- 1 pound potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/2 inch cubes
- 1 cup finely chopped shallots
- 1 cup chopped tomatoes
- 2 green cayenne chiles, seeded and chopped
- 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
- 1/2 teaspoon black mustard seeds
- 1 teaspoon round cumin
- 1 teaspoon ground coriander
- 1/4 cup water
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
Heat the oil or ghee in a wok or wide pot over medium heat. Add 1 teaspoon garlic and cook for a minute, then add the potatoes and shallots. Stir-fry for several minutes, until the shallots have softened, pressing the potato cubes against the surface of the hot pan, then add the chopped tomatoes and chiles and stir to blend.
Add the turmeric, mustard seeds, cumin, coriander, and the remianing 1 teaspoon garlic and stir. Add the water and salt and bring to a boil. Cover tightly and simmer vigorously until the potatoes are just tender, about 20 minutes. Check after 10 or 12 minutes to make sure there is enough liquid and that nothing is sticking; add a little more water if necessary.
I deem my first Indian cooking adventure a success! Next time I would like to cook with lentils and more vegetarian options, it's great to have so many delicious vegetarian options in Indian food. Indian food also seems to taste better the next day and even better the second -- the flavors of the spices are slowly drawn out by the oils creating a bolder flavor. Bijeta, I thank you for your wonderful recipe! It was Collin and I's favorite dish, you were-- right we loved it! Please send our love to Kumar, Aditya and Sanjay, we miss all of you dearly :).
Let's do some Food Art!