Next time you have a hankering for Indian food, don’t think take-out. Think ahead.
That’s the message from Anupy Singla, author of “The Indian Slow Cooker” (Surrey Books, 2010), who is on a mission to correct misperceptions about Indian food – that it’s heavy; that you have to buy “100 spices” to make anything; that it’s “hot”; that it’s labor intensive.
And to help her get out the message of ease, she enlisted that most ubiquitous of American kitchen tools, the slow cooker.
“It’s a very traditional way of Indian cooking, where things are breaking down over hours and hours,” says Singla, who came to the U.S. from India’s Punjab region when she was 3. She says slow cookers actually have much in common with the old clay ovens found in Indian villages. “You get that taste and that feeling with the slow cooker.”
And with Nov. 5 marking the start of Diwali – the Indian festival of lights – it’s a great time to test her theory. Because with a focus on presents, visiting friends and family, giving thanks for good fortune and eating (a lot) it’s easy to see the appeal of Diwali for anyone.
Here are some tips from Singla to get you started.
• Spice it up
Just seven basic spices will get you started: red chili powder, ground coriander, black mustard seeds, turmeric powder, black salt (kala namak), garam masala and cumin seeds. These form the foundation of North Indian cooking, and can be found in most well-stocked grocers.
• Fear not the hot
Made at home, Indian food is only as spicy as you want it to be. “There’s a misconception that Indian food has to be hot, but it’s more flavorful than anything else,” Singla says.
• Dump and go
Which means dust off that slow cooker you got as a wedding gift. The slow cooker brings out the flavor in lentils, curries and other Indian dishes, and does it while you’re at work. “Once you do the preparation by purchasing the spices, it’s dump and go,” Singla says.
For Diwali, which is a meatless holiday for many Indians, Singla suggests starting with rajmah (curried kidney beans), rase wale aloo (spicy potatoes in broth) or spiced cauliflower and potatoes. “There’s no standard menu for Diwali, but those hit upon the most popular recipes from the north,” Singla says. “And you have to have a dessert because Diwali is all about the sweets.”
For that, she suggests kheer, a cardamom-scented rice pudding studded with raisins.
And remember that in a country where many people cook over a single gas burner, home style food was designed to be simple. “Indian food is supposed to be very easy,” she says. “There doesn’t have to be that intimidation factor that you’re going to be in the kitchen slaving.”
Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes
Recipe adapted from Anupy Singla’s “The Indian Slow Cooker,” Surrey Books, 2010. Serve this with roti or naan and a side of onion and cucumber salad.
2 large cauliflowers, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 8 cups)
2 large potatoes (russet or yellow), peeled and diced
1 medium yellow or red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
1 medium tomato, diced (optional)
2-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and grated
3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, minced or grated
3 to 4 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chilies, cored and chopped
1 tablespoon whole cumin seeds
1 tablespoon red chili powder
1 tablespoon garam masala
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
3 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
1 heaping tablespoon chopped fresh cilantro
In a 4- to 5-quart slow cooker, combine all ingredients except the cilantro. Mix well.
Cook on low for 3 hours. Mix once or twice during cooking, especially in the beginning. Eventually the cauliflower will release enough liquid to prevent anything from sticking to the sides of the cooker.
Add the cilantro. Mix well but gently so as not to break up the cauliflower.
Yield: 6 servings
Approximate nutrition per serving: 216 calories, 7 grams fat (1 grams saturated, 31 percent fat calories), 6 grams protein, 35 grams carbohydrate, no cholesterol, 6 grams dietary fiber, 1,010 milligrams sodium.