I love Indian food, hands down the best and most flavorful cuisine I’ve ever had. A close second is Thai, which perhaps lighter than Indian food in some ways, carries over the same flavor notes. I wish I could remember the first time I had Indian food and I do think that the first time I tried it I didn’t like it. The more Indian people I met, the more I ate it and then a secret growing love triangle happened.
I’ve been cooking and baking for my entire life, one of the perks from that pesky immigrant family I talked about earlier. My Nanna taught me how to roll meatballs and cook pasta so early that I couldn’t even guess when I learned it. Nights we weren’t at Nanna’s for dinner, my parents cooked all the time. We had tons of different vegetables and meat some that even now, I savor.
But, cooking on your own is an entirely different beast than being around it all the time. My mother and father just know how to cook as if they sprung up in existence as good cooks, or at least that is how it seemed to me. I don’t even remember seeing my mother learn to cook, I think the most I saw her doing was refer to her hand written recipe book so she could emulate a great dish she made. However, it has dawned on me in recent days that I was watching her learn every day because cooking every day is how you learn.
While I think I progressed in my adventurous cooking experiments and study more quickly than say someone who hasn’t ever cooked in their life, I have begun to find (and revel in) a challenge; Indian food. Growing up, we did not cook with spices like cumin, coriander, or curry but they have come to be my favorite to cook with. Now, I’ll be the first to say that sometimes, my experiments go very wrong but as I tried to cook more Indian I realized that I was beginning to understand the spices more and more.
At first (and few times after that), I followed a recipe and not ‘Yeah, I chopped some ginger peel into some sort of chunks even though it said finely dice’ kind of following. Sorry to say it but size matters, especially with some of these ingredients. When I was comfortable enough to not follow the recipe to a tee, I found that not only does the size of the vegetables/spices involved matter but the preparation mattered just as much, if not more. Ginger for example is quite spicy when raw but when sauteed with garlic, the finer the dice, the sweeter it will be adding a whole new dimension to the dish. Lemongrass is also a great example of preparation although I’ll admin that lemongrass is more a Thai leaning.
Learning these flavors and unique combinations has not only been fun for me (and good for my partner’s belly), but also taught me a whole breadth of new recipes that I can trust to always be delicious on almost anything, when cooked correctly. Coriander and cumin always go together for example and when rubbed on meat then simmered in coconut milk with curry paste for a long time on low heat, it is divine. And I get it, there are tons of curry paste out there but this will literally go with anything (have to add in my except fish clause) In fact, I am convinced that combination of yum has a tenderizing effect on meat, especially game which is present in a lot of Indian dishes already.
All in all – discovering my Indian Kitchen it not only an outlet for my creativity but also a source of pride. Leftovers of lentils and curried lamb will fill any space with a scent belonging to centuries of an entire culture and continent.