Monday, April 26, 2010

A Sizzling Hot Dinner with an Indian Friend

Last Saturday, Anu, my friend who is from India and currently in my country to go sightseeing, has visited me. She has become my friend through her sister-in-law, who was my former classmate and a friend. Her brother has been living here in the Philippines since he got married with my friend, Hilda. It is Anu’s third time to visit my country. And last night, she treated me to the authentic Indian cuisine.

Indian food is known for having rich spices which are not common here. She introduced me to fenugreek, coriander, jeera, turmeric, mustard seeds (I know sauce, but not the seeds), asafetida, cumin, cardamom, clove, and a lot more which are quite difficult to memorize. Here, foods are normally cooked with basic spices like onion, garlic, black pepper, chili, salt, ginger and sometimes lemon grass and anise seeds.

In her second visit, I cooked for her our famous pork sinigang, Bicol express, pinakbet, ginisang bagoong with pork, and bought a kilo of lechon. She liked the lechon specially the cripy skin but not the flesh. She thought that it was quite bland. Aside from lechon, Bicol express and pinakbet were also her favorite. She quipped that Pork sinigang was too sour and ginisang bagoong was too smelly. I cannot blame her for her comment with the sinigang and the bagoong as she did not have the palate that us, Pinoys, have.

Well, in her third visit, she promised to return the favor, so she brought those spices direct from India. She gave some for me and taught me how to use them. Aside from the basic spices that we already use, she said that cumin, coriander, turmeric, cinnamon, clove, and cardamom are the spices that are must-haves in the kitchen, and of course, do not forget chili powder and dried whole chili. She said that those spices can be used in meat, fish, and vegetables.

After the spices lecture, I helped her prepare the ingredients. She had five courses in mind but ended cooking six since the last one was quite simple. I found Indian food interesting, though they seem complicated to cook but actually, not that difficult as one may think.

The first one she cooked, as I watched and gave little help too, was pork vindaloo. It was of course made of pork! There was nothing in it but pork and spices only. One thing I have noticed in Indian food is that they do not mix everything in one dish unlike Filipino food. When we were preparing the ingredients for this, I thought that it was hard to cook as there were so many spices in it but actually, it was quite easy. There were three steps in cooking this dish. The first one was to marinate, then sauté, and lastly simmer. It is a slow cook process.

The second dish was fish curry. We bought tilapia in the market and she thought that it was perfect for the curry. I found the Pinoy curry and Indian curry so different, it was like north and south difference. As usual, the fish was cleaned and marinated in some spices and calamansi. In India, they use lime or lemon but we used calamansi since lemon is not available, she said they do not have calamansi in India. After 15 minutes or so, the fish was fried, then she made curry with spices again and put the fried fish in it and simmer for several minutes, then it was ready.

The third dish was a curry again. This time it was potato curry. The dish was so simple but it was with spices again. It was sort of sautéing but with the spices then in with the potato, and then water till the potato is soft. That’s it!

The fourth dish was a barbecue, yeah, a spicy grilled chicken. Well, there was a little difference with our barbecue with this one since Indian version does not require brushing. It was just marinated for several hours, and then grilled. No dipping too.

The fifth one was bread. This one was my favorite. I mean it was my favorite to cook as it was my dream to eat and make flat bread. The bread was not made of regular white flour. It was made of wheat flour. She told me that in India, flat bread (roti or chapati) is normally made of wheat. I told her that it would be very expensive then. She said that in her place, wheat is quite cheap and healthy that regular white flour. I have been dying to know how to make this since every time I eat shawarma, I always thought how to they make those delicious circle wraps which are shaped like plate. I was surprised with the ingredients of this bread. It was like basically nothing, just flour, little salt, very less butter, and water. It was easy to cook too. The only challenge was the rolling and flattening of the dough. This also must be prepared just few minutes before serving time.

The last one was actually a last minute addition. My son brought okra or ladyfinger from the neighbor’s farm. She said that it would be a great appetizer, and she was right. It was a hit among the kids and adults alike.

It was quite tiring to prepare and cook but it was worth it. Though not all were the favorites, the chapatti, chicken vindaloo, fried okra were the ones that were gone just after few minutes. The kids loved dipping the chapatti in the gravy of the vindaloo. The okra was the first one to disappear from the table. It was like a French fries. I think it is one of the dishes that I will cook again and again. The grilled chicken was good too but it was quite dry since there was no dipping, though the spices’ flavors sank inside the meat. The fish curry was too spicy. M husband and oldest son liked it. I think my friend got carried away while mixing the chili powder in the curry or maybe not. I guess it was just the way it supposed to be.

It was quite a meal. I really burped aloud after that, well, she liked it :-P . I thanked her for sharing the Indian cuisine with us. It was the first time I used so many spices in cooking. I am still learning how to mix them up. I will share the recipes of the dishes we cooked in my next posts, and also some tips on using Indian spices. You never know, they may be available soon in Philippine market.

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