On Cooking Indian Food

I LOVE every Asian cuisine I have ever tried. Korean is my least favorite so far, but I still love it. Right now I am obsessed with Indian food.

I recently discovered (through a food diary and observation) that I have a sensitivity to wheat. I don’t have celiac and I am not gluten intolerant, but when I overdo it on wheat…let’s just say I am not fit for company. To that end I have been reading up on substitutions (most of the bread SUCKS BTW and so do most of the pastas) and I have found that Indian food, other than naan, uses almost no wheat at all!  They use chickpea flour (gram or besan flour in the store) for their coatings, thickeners and batters.  Whoop!

Many of the techniques are familiar, but the seasonings and spices are confounding to me. It’s not just that I have never used them before, because big fucking deal about that part. It’s that I don’t know how they taste TOGETHER. I know when I put oregano and basil into a dish what it is going to taste like, but I have no idea what anardana or amchoor or fenugreek are going to do to a dish. Some of the seasonings are familiar like cilantro, coriander, fennel and cumin, but still not knowing the properties of the unfamiliar seasonings and spices, I am afraid of screwing the dish up. At this point I am following the recipes found online to the letter. No substitutions, no omissions and I measure everything. So far so good.

I would love to get to the point where using these unfamiliar spices is as easy to me as cooking Italian. Each time I find a new recipe or cuisine that intrigues me, I end up adding to my already impressive spice cabinet (pictured above), and I end up cleaning and refreshing my spice cabinet. A few words on spices while I have your attention: buy WHOLE spices when you can. Grinding spices releases oils that can go rancid. Whole spices stay fresh much longer. Ground spices should be replaced every 6 months or so. Shopping Tip: go to your local ethnic market for the best prices and freshest ingredients. They have a much higher turnover and you’ll get a better product. I can promise you star anise at the Asian market will be less than half the price you’d pay at Whole Foods. I just paid $2.99 for a handful of whole nutmeg seeds at Gopal’s India Market and I KNOW I paid $5.99 for 4 nutmeg seeds in a jar at Whole Foods.

So tonight, in keeping with my current Indian obsession, because it’s St. Patrick’s Day, I made this because it’s green. None of us liked it. No one in my family enjoys corned beef and cabbage so I was looking for a green alternative. It’s green. I should have made a spinach soufflé.  Of course I made Irish Soda Bread, complete with caraway (Moment of Truth – I am not a fan of caraway. In fact I won’t even eat seeded rye bread, but I require it in Irish Soda Bread) and I can’t wait to slather on some butter and dig in.

I make my Irish Soda Bread in a cast iron skillet to get the crispy edges that my family loves.
I make my Irish Soda Bread in a cast iron skillet to get the crispy edges that my family loves.

And before you ask me, one day when the family who gave me the recipe okays it, I will share Mrs. Gartland’s Irish Soda Bread recipe – it really is the best one.

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