Much like the bread–baking question, one might wonder why, living within walking distance of Paris’ most Indian-centric neighborhood, I would feel compelled to cook up an Indian feast of my own. Well, one reason is that the more esoteric ingredients are much easier to come by. Another is that you can’t go out every night, and besides, isn’t it nice to have a fridge full of amazing, somehow still-improving leftovers?
The internet seems to be full of little synchronicities. In this case, my friend Ann also got the craving for home-cooked Indian food, and wrote up her adventures in spice hunting. Fueling the fire, she also happened to have a giveaway for a new book called Miss Masala: Real Indian Cooking for Busy Living by Mallika Basu.
Basu also writes a blog, called Quick Indian Cooking, which I am looking forward to exploring in depth. The book is thoroughly enjoyable, and after I won Ann’s giveaway, I felt even more inspired to go on my own spice-shopping spree and get cooking.
Nick’s favorite Indian dish has always been saag paneer (also known as palak paneer) – gently spiced spinach purée with chewy cubes of fried Indian cheese. I had planned on waiting until the CSA decided to grace me with spinach to try my hand at it, but then I found the recipe for baingan bharta. Baingan bharta is one of my favorites – a smoky, spicy mashed eggplant dish. And what do you know? Eggplant just happened to be in our share this week. To round out the meal I thought some channa masala would be good, considering Nick’s recent realization that he really likes chickpeas. And of course basmati rice.
So I dutifully wrote down the ingredients for the unfamiliar (cooking-wise, anyway) dishes and headed towards the Gare du Nord and La Chappelle. I marveled at the number of shops boasting silks, as though this were the 1500’s and I was some kind of Old World explorer. I passed a few smaller food shops before arriving at the V.S. Cash & Carry. (I was also amused at how many of the stores bore the name “Cash & Carry” – the English influence on India appears to be going strong.) Wandering through its narrow aisles, trying not to get too distracted by exotic, unknown-to-me ingredients, I picked up green finger chilis, fresh cilantro, garlic, and ginger, nigella seeds, basmati rice, amchoor (dried mango powder), and a jar of mixed pickle. Pickle seems to be a constant in Indian meals, the spicy, sour condiment serving as a compliment to milder dishes. But they didn’t have paneer.
Further up the street, I found an Indian supermarket. After much searching (and picking up a bag of green cardamom pods, a package of pappads, and a couple of Kingfisher beers) I found the cheese sold in 500 gram bags, pre-cubed. Laden with my purchases, I walked nearly the entire length of the rue Faubourg St. Denis, stopping at a primeur for tomatoes, and at Monoprix for frozen spinach. When I got home, I started soaking chickpeas so they would be ready to cook the next day.
I arrived home from work on Wednesday with my CSA bag and got straight to work. I set the chickpeas simmering and roasted the eggplants. And surprise! There was a cucumber in the bag, too! Guess I’ll just have to make raita. I took a short break to watch the World Cup – Go USA! – and got a tub of Greek yogurt on my way back home. So first thing, I peeled, seeded, and chopped the cucumber and stirred it into the yogurt, along with some salt and fresh mint. ThenI cooked the baingan bhurta. It tasted so good, I was fired up to see how the rest of the recipes would come out. And they did, one after the other – channa masala and saag paneer – tasting as good as any I’ve ever had before.
Upon arrival, Nick announced that it smelled like “Indian cookery.” I gave him a taste of the spinach, and he loved how fresh it tasted, compared to so many Indian restaurants. The rice was quickly steamed, and I heaped spoonfuls of each dish onto our plates.
It may not be the most photogenic of meals, but man, did it taste good. Nick took some to work for lunch the next day, and he gave a bit to one of his Indian colleagues. She said it was wonderful, which pleased me to no end. And on the health side of things, I feel really good every time I eat a meal so full of vegetables.
And now I’m going to attack those leftovers.
On this day in 2008: It was my second day of work, and I was too tired to blog.
Originally published on Croque-Camille.