Monday, August 16, 2010

A passage to India--by way of Astoria

A week or so ago, I decided I needed to get a little more experimental foodwise. I haven't been cooking that much (a hazard of living in the dreamily restaurant-laden Astoria, I fear), and I wanted to shake things up a little. This, and the fact that I work only about 10 blocks from a seriously intense Indian grocery store was just the incentive I needed to decide to learn to make decently delicious Indian food. Now, I've made a curry or two in my day, but hardly anything that couldn't be considered amateurish. Pre-packaged curry paste and store bought naan just aren't going to cut it anymore.

Of course, my efforts are complicated by the fact that I happen to live across the street from a delicious Indian restaurant with a perfectly reasonably priced dinner special. It's hard to make one's own food when, for a fraction of the effort, better food can be obtained at a small markup. But should I ever (god forbid) move from Astoria, and find myself not living across the street from such a convenient enabler of my curry habit, I need my own savvy to fall back on. To this end, I've decided to cut myself off from this place until I can achieve some sort of approximation myself. Once that happens, I'll be free to move anywhere I want without fear that I won't be able to access good chicken korma. In short, I will become my own reasonably-priced Indian restaurant.

Anyway, the first thing I attempted was a gobi paratha, which is essentially unleavened bread stuffed with cauliflower and other deliciousness. The place where I got the recipe said these make a tasty brunch food. But as someone who routinely eats omelets for dinner, I saw no problem with it being an excellent evening meal. I took pictures of the whole saga. At this point, I may as well admit that beyond expanding my culinary ability and exploring Indian grocery stores, my main interest in this experiment was to mess around with the food setting on my camera. Yep, I'm one of those people who takes lots of pictures of their food now.

Here's the first of my parathas rolled out and ready. The dough is a mixture of chapati flour (you can use a mix of white and wheat flours if you don't have an Indian grocery store as your displosal), oil, salt, a little water, and ajowain seeds.

Here's step 2 (I promise this is the only one I photographed quite this much). On our paratha dough, we now have some chopped cauliflower with grated ginger and green peppers. Notice that the tone is slightly redder in this one. There's a sub-setting on my camera for that.

After filling the paratha, you simply cover her, pinch the sides together, roll it down a little into a nice flat cauliflower pancake, and fry her up.

I took this one not so much to showcase the delectable inside of our little paratha friend (I promise to stop personifying the food after this one...I'll admit it's getting creepy), but as both a point-of-view shot and a photography study. I call this "Still Life with Paratha."

With the success of my gobi paratha experience, I decided to move north in my culinary tour of the subcontinent and try my hand at chicken korma. It is after all what I usually order at Indian restaurants. Yes, I know, I'm painfully white and can't handle spicy foods. You may or may not be happy to hear that I got a little more involved with the cooking on this one and thus neglected the photography side of things. Here are the steps I didn't photograph: cutting the chicken; marinating it in yogurt, ginger, garlic, onions, pepper, salt, and paprika; leaving it to marinate for two hours while I watched In the Line of Fire; and cooking it up in a pan with all this:
I swear this one was much more artsy when I took it. I really don't know what happened. Those of you playing along at home can try to guess the spices by color and (slightly blurry) texture!

Here's the finished product. And what's that on the edge of the bowl...why it's a piece of homemade naan! Actually, that was probably the most dissappointing part of the meal. It had a bricklike quality that good naan really shouldn't have. That probably has to do with the fact that I didn't re-knead it after letting it rest for 15 minutes. I blame John Malkovich for that one.

Moving on, tonight I decided to try my hand at making palak paneer. This meant I got a chance to make my own Indian cheese. Turns out it's very easy. You just boil an entire gallon of milk with a little citric acid (I opted for lemon juice) and then wrap it in cheesecloth and squeeze as much whey out as you can. The only picture I have of my cheese making is this one of my lovely little batch of paneer still cocooned in its cheesecloth. Not a great photo, but this is about posterity.

Now I went off the books on the actual making of the spinach curry. I found several recipes that people posted online from their Punjabi grandmother/landlord/bookie, but they were all very different. Ultimately I decided to be a renegade and just throw in whatever I liked. Mine involved spinach, curry, tumeric, salt, and cumin. I also added some almond milk and butter to get the consistency. It doesn't look like much, but it's the best thing I've made in quite a while.

For some reason it didn't occur to me to take a picture until I'd eaten most of it. That's a mark of how good it was. Or how hungry I was. At any rate, here's a blurry picture of my half eaten portion. See those unappetizing, goopy white blobs? Those are my paneer! Better than it looks, is all I can say about this one.

So there you have it. As you can see, my ability to work with the complex spices and depth of flavor of Indian food has improved marginally, while my ability to photograph even inanimate objects without them coming out blurry has degenerated substantially.


  1. Very impressive! It looks like a lot of trouble. Probably less trouble than the cupcakes, though.

  2. Definitely more trouble than ordering takeout. But not any more trouble than cooking anything else.

  3. Wow! That looks delish! Now I am going to have to go fix up some dinner!

  4. I LOVE Indian food. It's seriously my favorite. You must have a fancier camera than I do...I don't have a food setting. :p I love your bright yellow table, by the way!