I blew a tire on Friday and then found a garter snake living in my garage on Sunday. I've had enough drama to last me a lifetime. I want boring days. I'll even take hot days. Right now, I'm just too much of a wimp to step into my garage. Mow the lawn? Forget it! It took me a while to step out to the yard after the last close encounter of the snake kind. This one is freaking me out even more.

But that's just the tip of everything that's driving me nuts lately. I've come across a fair amount of FUD that Indian food is hard (to cook). No, it's not! If I can cook Indian food, anyone can. I'll tell you what is hard (for me): baking is hard and turning out perfect desserts like they do, is hard.

Those who tell you Indian food is hard are either trying to position themselves as experts on Indian food or trying to recreate restaurant food at home with miserable results. Indian food served in restaurants around here is mostly made up and given fancy names. It is far too greasy and heavy cream is used indiscriminately. Korma? Makhani? Saag? Hello, heavy cream. Even in dal. And quite honestly, do you really want to mix mango purée with Cool Whip and feel happy that you made Indian mango ice-cream? Just like in the restaurants? Or that you made gulab jamun with Bisquick? Puh-lease! People tell me they love vindaloo and that they always order it when they go to an Indian restaurant. Should I tell them that the vindaloo they are eating is just a spicy meat dish in an onion-tomato sauce, nowhere close to the real vindaloo? That the aloo in vindaloo is not potato? That the heat shouldn't come from spoonfuls of red chilli powder but a fiery mixture of spices?

Indian chefs, who know their food history, whip up delights that were served to Kings and Emperors. If we ate like that everyday - forget about your waist - your coronaries would be so clogged that you would be looking at a visit to the ER in your near future. Maybe there was a reason why the Kings died so young!

Regular down-to-earth Indian food is not difficult nor is it very time consuming. I've heard over and over that there is too much prep time and cooking time is also very high. Let's face it: if you are going to eat a homecooked meal made with fresh ingredients, there will always be prep time. And, there will be cooking time unless you eat mostly raw food. The problem lies in the fact that the very Indian food that it gets its fame from is not what we eat on a daily basis. Shaheen's Express Cooking Event led to an overwhelming number of 30 minute meals. Daily Indian fare is simple, nutritious and healthy.

Tossing garam masala into something and then calling it Indian is yet another of my pet peeves. Do it by all means but call it Indian-inspired. I may sound like a purist but I am not. I think that cooking evolves, just as culture does. Chillies were not a part of the Indian cuisine but they are now an integral part of Indian food. And, believe it or not, toasting spices before grinding them into a fine masala is a given. Goda masala? Toasted. An everyday masala? Toasted. Punjabi Chhole masala? Toasted. So if someone tells you that their spice mix is unique because they had a eureka moment and tried toasting their spices before grinding them, hide your smirk and chalk it up to inexperience. Don't understand why toasted spices have such a different flavor? Let's just say there is a basic lack of understanding that there is a chemical change when heat is applied.

What I can understand and relate to is that the ingredients may seem foreign, therefore daunting. It's how I feel when I go to South East Asian stores. Overwhelmed, too. The list of Indian spices can seem endless, although a homecook will tell you that there are just about 5-6 basic spices that she uses on a daily basis. Mustard seeds, cumin, coriander seeds, asafetida, turmeric and red chilli powder are those spices for me. Kadipatta whenever available and green chillies, too. We also use a battery of legumes and grains that many non-Indians may not be familiar with. But let's not confuse lack of familiarity with difficulty, OK? Enough with the FUD and more of Indian cooking as it really is: not just for special occasions but daily food with a variety of flavors and textures.

If you aren't familiar with Nupur's One Hot Stove or Shilpa's Aayi's Recipes, add these to your feeds as they present Indian food the way it is cooked every day. Visit Sailu's Food, too. There are many more blogs like these and what they have in common are the regional recipes I yearn for, that taste of home with flavor-filled memories. That's what I like to put on the table for my family and for my friends.

On that note, I want to share a simple recipe for aubergines or eggplant or brinjals. Eggplant was a much hated vegetable and I sought refuge under "too spicy" or "my tongue itches" whenever possible. It's a different story today and I am glad that I have an 11 year old with mature taste-buds, something I obviously lacked as a child!

This is quick to put together and can be had with rotis or rice and dal. It's often called eggplant stir-fry but the vegetable is covered and cooked well so I am not entirely sure it qualifies to be a stir-fry. Some folks call it spicy fried eggplant - that's probably the closest you could get when it comes to translating its name but it's not really fried either. It doesn't look great nor do I have the patience to style it to look pretty which is why this post needed the picture below but I'll have you know that it's an easy, quick and nutritious veggie dish with the complex flavor of eggplant.

(Idea stolen from a friend of a friend who greeted me this way when we were introduced at the local Indian Store.)

Eggplant Talasani

  • 8-10 small aubergines or eggplants
  • 1 tsp red chilli powder
  • 1 tsp brown sugar
  • 1 tbsp vegetable oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seeds
  • 1/2 tsp urad dal
  • salt to taste
  1. Half-fill a medium saucepan with water.
  2. Dice the aubergines into 1 inch chunks and drop them into the water as you chop them to stop them from turning brown.
  3. Drain and sprinkle red chilli powder and salt.
  4. Heat oil in a saucepan and when hot, add mustard seeds.
  5. When the mustard seeds start popping, add urad dal.
  6. Add the diced aubergines.
  7. Sprinkle brown sugar and mix so that the tempered oil coats every piece of the vegetable.
  8. Cook on medum heat for about 5 minutes.
  9. If you feel that the aubergines are sticking to the bottom of your pan or getting scorched, add a little water - just a tablespoon or so. This dish is not supposed to have any sauce.
  10. Cover and cook until the aubergines are tender and cooked.
  11. Serve with rotis and yogurt or as a side with dal and rice.

  • Typically, jaggery is used instead of brown sugar. Since I do not have access to organic jaggery (is there such a thing?) and I am not impressed with the chemicals used to commercially process jaggery, I buy very little of the stuff. I have also had the misfortune to find a metal staple, jute fibers and other impurities in jaggery that I prefer to substitute it with organic brown sugar instead. The flavor is not quite the same but that's fine with me.
  • use more red chilli powder if you want to up the heat or if your chilli powder is not potent enough.
  • Variations of this talasani include adding a large clove of julienned garlic to the oil. I also like to add asafetida after I add mustard seeds.
  • You could also switch out the aubergines for other vegetables: zucchini does very well when cooked this way. As does ivy gourd.
Hard? You tell me!

In other news, Flower Fest has been born again and this time, we're doing flowers by color. Purple is our first color and the last date for sending in your entries is August 25. So find your flower and sketch, paint, doodle or take a photo. Do what you do best or try your hand with another medium but do it! You don't have to be a blogger to participate; loving flowers is enough!


Nirmala said...

hmm...I have eaten in an Indian restaurant in downtown Canada and all your words ae true! I love everyday simple cooking and Nupur and Shilpa are my favs too. This sti fry looks simple enough and delicious. I sed to make this way but would add the chilli powder after the brinjal is cooked. This saves thm from scorching to the bottom of the pan. Few sliced garlic cloves add moe fragrance! Love Medha's pic with brinjal earrings :)

Aparna Balasubramanian said...

Yes, yes and yes. Everyday Indian cooking is a breeze, and definitely nutritious. The stuff they dish out at Indian restaurants is nowhere near the "asli" thing.
When a few of my "blog followers" told me that we must be lucky to eat all I post, I told them if we rally ate like that, I wouldn't be around to blog!!!

We love "baingan" but this is one thing my daughter refuses to touch. :(

sra said...

Ah! what a ranty rant! Nice pic too!

TKW said...

Oh, that is so gross when they slather Indian food in cream! Do you know ANY good Indian places around here? I do not, but if you know of one, share!

I love that the name of the dish is so close to my last name of Talusani!

Shammi said...

Oooh Manisha, I love me a really good rant, and this ranks as a REALLY REALLY GOOD one... if only because I totally agree with everything you've said (bar eating eggplant - sorry) :)

And yes, young miss M looks adorable as always. Those eggplants make pretty earrings! :)

Shilpa said...

Last week we went to an Indian restaurant and one of my colleague was saying butter chicken is his favorite. I told him that this is not how it is supposed to taste. He said he likes it that way. Wonder what he would say if he eats real deal.

Did I say I loved to read this post? and Medha's picture is lovely...

Mints! said...

YESSSSSSSSSSS! Finally someone said what I wanted to tell my non-desi coworkers. All the restaurants serve 'restaurant food' Its nowhere close to what we eat at home. One of my bhabhi was telling someone that 'Naan' is totally a restaurant concept and total desi junta freaked out :)

I love Medha's earrings might try to but a pair for myself.
And will try this recipe soon.

Sanghi said...

Mmm i love brinjal too.. earings looks cute..! Do visit my blog..Try participating in my FIL-Milk event!

Nupur said...

Oh dear :( blown tires and snake sightings do not sound like a lot of fun. By the law of averages, I think you're about to have a terrific week from today! :)

I simply share my home-cooked Indian food with everyone I can, and that's enough to convince them to try making some at home. I'm converting one person at a time ;) so this might take a while.

A_and_N said...

I love the rant :D On twitter and here.

I so agree with everything. Aparna was saying on twitter that the new craze for baked goods is brown butter icing :) And she did clarify it was ghee!

What goes round, comes round eh? :)

Poornima said...

Your rant made my day!I agree wholeheartedly to all you said.My Australian friends think I am some mega- capable-domestic goddess when they see me whip up simple Indian dishes.And they cannot believe when I say my kids eat brinjal and love it too and stare wonder-eyed when I tell them there are umpteen ways to cook it too!Well lucky us!
Am trying yours today and serving it with dhal and rotis.Now what can be so hard about that huh?

Ashwini said...

Hi Manisha,

I have been a silent visitor to your blog since last 3 months. I love your sense of expression and your fascination with food and the trivia's associated with it.

Talasani is my favrouet too. Its been ages since I made Talasaani. I will be participating in Flower Fest. Sounds unique and creative.

Your kid's picture tickled my funny bone. Very cute!


Anonymous said...

Ignorance and naivete. It is naive to think that women (default cooks in most of the world) and men (should they believe in themselves enough to cook) in India have nothing better to do than people elsewhere, and like to stew in the kitchen, when they could be working, or watching mind-numbing tv serials! Jiggs Kalra may cook like that, but he serves 5-star food! (why do they like to turn Indian gravies into thrice-seived smooth sauces, anyway?)

BBC's Madhur Jaffery's Flavours of India, and even the stunning Anjum Anand in the new BBC series, have demonstrated how easy everyday Indian cooking really is! Only people who think boiling pasta is a culinary feat will say that Indian cooking is hard and time consuming. They, and people who believe them, are the losers.

You are right about baking. Many baking recipes have to be followed exactly, including which step follows which, dry-into-wet or not; much easier to mess up. Didn't we demonstrate how easy it was to fry even poori, even on your first attempt!!

What fab earings; and nailpolish to match! :D

Anonymous said...

awesome post...superb recipe....

Indian Food Rocks said...

Nirmala, that's a great idea! However, when I add chilli powder with salt right in the beginning, there is a subtle difference in taste. The eggplant seems to 'absorb' the chilli powder as it firms up while losing moisture (because of the salt).

Aparna, I'm glad you agree and I hope you will join the Mad Celebrations over at Anita's.

Sra, been a while since I ranted so I figured might as well!

TKW, I thought of you and almost wrote: "Dana, you are missing in this one!"

Consistency in quality and taste is one thing to look for. Taj on S. Boulder Rd is the most consistent, despite the heavy use of cream. Masala in Denver has authentic idli-dosa-sambar. Just don't touch their North Indian fare, please!

Shyam, isn't that a cute picture? She is such a good model! Except when I take too long, like this time, then her smile becomes very expensive. I refused to pay so no smile for me.

I knew eggplant would turn off a lot of folks but really, it is a vegetable we should all learn to love. OK! How about like? No? Just eat, then?

Shilpa, some taste buds are just not as discerning. Finally Medha is learning to discern between bad makhani and good makhani. I love Jigs Kalra's Butter Chicken. But as Anita said, daily Indian fare is not his specialty. ;-)

Mints!, it's unfortunate that Indian restaurants in the US get away with such terrible stuff on their menus. And even more unfortunate that this personifies Indian food for the general populace.

Baking bread in coal-fired pits goes back to old civilisations like Harappa and Mohenjodaro. Amir Khusrau is supposed to have recorded the first notes about naan in 1300AD. I don't have my Indian food history book (Achaya) handy right now but I'll look it up to see if it can be verified.

Sanghi, glad to find another brinjal-lover! Unfortunately, I can't participate in your FIL-Milk event - we're all lactose intolerant here and recovering from the last batch of delicious gulkand kulfi I made.

Nupur, so far, so good! I see a wire or a cord and I jump. You keep doing what you do cos you make a big difference!

A_and_N, brown butter? Clarify that it was ghee! Oh, you slay me!

Poornima, don't let anyone tell you otherwise!

Your kids have very mature taste buds! I think it has to do with introducing them to different tastes right from childhood. Taste it, it's OK if you don't like it but you have to taste it. At least that's my motto. Third time lucky is what I have found with Medha.

Ashwini, so glad you delurked! Talasani is so easy: chop chop, phodni, add veggies, cook and you're done! Looking forward to your purple flower!

Madteaparty, thank you for weighing in. I hope your nickname does not deter anyone from taking you seriously; it does have the word 'mad' in it and I did not put it there! I kinda like Anita much better. Please switch back to it?

As for thrice sieved sauces: fiber is for the poor. They need it to fill their stomachs and clean it out as well. Madhur Jaffrey demystifies Indian food. Julie Sahni also does a good job. I haven't seen any Anjum Anand shows - I don't get BBC and I hate the 300+ channels we get on DirecTV and yet there's nothing to watch.

I knew you'd notice the nail polish! That was a happy accident!

forkbootsandapalettethank you! How was your day?

Linda said...

Hi Manisha, long time no see! Hope you're having a great summer with far fewer snakes :)

Oh, how I loved reading this rant! I am not even Indian, yet I love the cuisine so much that I have been annoyed with a cookbook -- Laxmi's Vegetarian Kitchen. Her recipes aren't so bad, but why dumb them down? Why not call a spade a spade -- or in this case, call "classic Madras lentil stew" by its real name -- sambhar! Or "Hot Yogurt Soup", kadhi! ;)

Sorry, but your post seemed a perfect place to voice my indignation.

Sometimes when I do order out Indian, I ask for sambhar. It's fun to see the waiter nearly fall over from that shock ;)

I suppose it's all marketing and whatever they think will sell, but for me -- give me the real thing any day.

Brinjals -- I am growing ichiban variety for the 3rd year straight. They are easy to grow in a container, prolific, and almost as tasty as the earrings in your post ;)

And for simple, try making Shn's Kanji and boil up some of those garden-fresh brinjals in the water. Purely delicious. Perhaps Indian perhaps not, but certainly easy and no butter/cream need apply ;)

Ramki said...

Hi Manisha,
Totally agree that Indian food can be as simple or as complex as you want it to be. No wonder, as this mature cuisine has taken a few thousand years to evolve. Not many cuisines can boast of such a rich set of techniques.

Eggplant is my favorite too ! Here's a One page cookbook celebrating Eggplant curries : http://ramkicooks.blogspot.com/2009/05/1001-eggplant-dry-curries-south-indian.html

Mints! said...

of course Manisha tandoori roti was around for ages. What she meant by naan not being around is, the that uses yeast and maida. She prepares these awesome tandoori rotis just using yogurt and whole wheat flour.

Varsha Vipins said...

That was a nice rant Manisha..:) Its my first time here..I love brinjal,but my hubby is just opposite..so I just make it once in a while or drop it in Sambar..that sweet tinge to it is new to me..Do comeover to my space sometimes..:)

Soma said...

Manisha, this is my first time leaving comment at "indian food rocks" yes it does! enjoyed reading this;-)

the inexperienced relate to the trash we get in the restaurants, complicated, heavy & inedible.

Love eggplants & this is simple stir fry.. I have never added sugar/jaggery to the baingan, does it taste a teensy sweet?or is it just like a balance of taste?

cute earrings!!, but the snake does not sound like a happy thing to happen.

Unknown said...

Pretty earings! Liked reading your post!

Shaheen said...

I love this post! So many times I read attempts that people have made to cook something "Indian". It's funny how anything with a hint of garam masala or a touch of turmeric gets tagged Indian. SO annoying!

Vijitha said...

Hi ya
This is my first time here. U have a lovely blog and really loved reading this post.

Yummy curry!

Rita said...

Thank you for continuing my education about cooking and eating Indian food.

Quite a while ago you posted about the reaction of other children at school to your daughter's lunch which was Indian food. I commented about it and how sad that was to me.

Now I am working in Denver Public Schools and have one student who is Pakistani. Most of my children bring cold lunch. I remembered your daughter's experience and wanted to be sensitive to that possibility for this student.I asked her if she ever brings Indian food for lunch. "Yes." "What do the other children say when you have Indian food in your lunch?" "They say that I am lucky and may they taste my lunch."
I am relieved that there is some sensitivity about cultural differences and that at a young age there are children who are being raised in a cosmopolitan way. We are all different and we need to respect and honor the differences. (black, white, brown, yellow, red, and shades of all of them)

Springer Kneeblood said...

I was telling someone over dinner (at an Indian restaurant, where I had lamb vindaloo...was it real?) the other night about your blog. This post is PERFECT! I'm forwarding a link right now.

Anonymous said...

I love the way this dish looks. I'm funny about eggplant, it's a unique vegetable and many times it's prepared with much oil, which I dislike. This sounds like it would be so tasty, I would gobble up the entire bowl!

GaramMasala said...

I loved reading your rant... many among us have been frustrated that restaurant malai koftas taste the same as the paneer makhanwalas.

Who is to blame here though -- the restaurants?? They are just here to stay in business -- it won't kill them however to add a homely meal to their menu. How about seeing jeera aloo, jeera rice, daal palak on a menu once in a while :-)

The most unpretentious homely Indian restaurant meal I have had (outside of NJ)is at a restaurant called Kabab and Tandoor hourse in Waltham, MA (if you ever travel to MA, you should consider eating there). They have the most amazing tadka dal and veg biriyani.

Ofcourse -- their mirchi ka salan and bagare baingan taste the same, but I give them points for trying.

So for the sake of discussion I would argue a few points

Most Indian restaurants are actually Punjabi or Mughlai (royal as you mentioned) restaurants who serve Punjabi meals. Punjabi home cooks (traditional ones - from our parents generation) do use a lot of butter in their food and rightly so -- their ancestors lived in bitter winters and did lots of physical labor type farming work. And they do make Saag and makhani at home.
Making that really good flavorful gravy (flavor without cream) is tedious and time consuming. Chop this, saute till a pulp, grind to a paste then cook again with spices, simmer till pulp separates from fat. This is time consuming -- some people I know make batches of these (like pasta sauces among italians) and use for an extended period of time. That kind of Indian food (which the restaurants try to serve) is difficult (takes up effort, patience) to make. I did not grow up in a Punjabi household, so I can not tell you what everyday Punjabi meals are but from experiences at Punjabi homes - parathas are laden with yummy butter; most tomato onion sauces are swimming in oil. So -- this is home cooked meal for some people.

Ofcourse the premise of your rant is that the food served at Indian restaurant does NOT even begin to represent food from all over India. Punjabi food and Punjabi music has come to represent India all over the world. They put us on the map, now it is up to the rest of the Indians to reinforce among our peers that that is just the cream of Indian culture :-) You have the rest of your dessert course to explore.

FYI -- just to provide full disclosure so that you can get back to me if you disagree with my comment you can find me @nomaidrix on twitter or spiceisright.blogspot.com

Anonymous said...

As someone who has moved to India from Scotland, I'm seeing first hand the vast variety of Indian cuisine. I'm an all out food obsessive - I spend most of my time writing or thinking about Indian food these days but it often seems the more I find out, the less I know!
One thing that's been bothering me is I often see Indian recipes, like your aubergine dish, which call for small amounts of urad dal. What is the purpose of the dal here? The cooking time of the dish isn't long enough to cook the dal is it? Does the dal stay crunchy?

Soma said...

Manisha, we are having this eggplant for dinner today! super easy & super tasty. Thanks.

Soma (www.ecurry.com)

Anonymous said...

Garden snake? Yikes!
The kitchen is so much safer and ... filling :-)
Love Taḻāsaṉ! My favorite.

and love those earrings!
heh! making jaggery does not involve addition of any chemicals. see this old post
at most they add a bit of salt to precipitate the melted jaggery!

Any indian grocery store carries the Kolhapuri variety of jaggery - as organic as you can get!


Indian Food Rocks said...

Linda, you are a trip! To ask for sambar as take-out! Rant away!

Ramki, thanks for that link!

Mints!, haven't done more research on the history of nan but given its roots, it is not surprising that yeast is used in the current form. I haven't made nan at home as yet - too lazy!

Varsha, try my talasani and see if it appeals to you!

Soma, it's more a balanced taste rather than an overpowering sweet flavor. Of course, you are free to add more if you like it sweet. I am so glad you tried it and liked it!

Divya, my model thanks you!

Purple Foodie, true that!

Vijitha, glad to see you here!

Rita, I am so happy to hear that kids aren't being singled out for bringing ethnic foods for lunch! I amhoping things improve for my daughter in middle school - yes! she's already a middle schooler! - as there is more diversity in this school.

Springer Kneeblood, I doubt that vindaloo was anything but a spicy version of a lamb curry. The recipe I have is a home-cooked version made in the interiors of Goa. However, when I shared the recipe on a food forum, many felt that there was a 'raw taste' of onions as the onions are not cooked down before the marinade is added.

tastyeatsathome, eggplant loves oil! Which is why salting it prior to cooking helps. You can reduce the oil further in this recipe and add more water so that the eggplant cooks.

GaramMasala, welcome back! I can tell you that home-cooked for my extended family includes a good dollop of ghee, veggies swimming in oil, red meat curries despite high cholesterol levels. It's home cooked and unhealthy because those are the choices they have made. It doesn't have to be that way. But that is not what this post is about: it's about the great variety of regional Indian food which the world is largely ignorant about and which is easy to cook. I am reminded of a Kutchi restaurant in north Chicago called Jhopdi that served a great family meal, complete with chaas! Meals there were always amazing.

eatanddust, you will find urad dal, chana dal and other dals being added to the tadka the further south you venture in regional Indian cuisine. It adds a certain nuttiness - for lack of a better word - to the tadka. The dal is fried and becomes crunchy in the hot oil. When the tadka is added to an already cooked dish, the dal does add a crunch until it absorbs juices from the dish. My daughter calls them crunchies and seeks them out, especially in raitas. Otherwise, it adds to the texure of the dish. I wish I had a more definitive answer as I have wondered about it myself.

Arun, nothing like simple talasani! The jaggery you speak of is almost like a cottage industry. Commercially prepared jaggery has a lot of additives and unfortunately, that is the jaggery sold in the stores. I haven't seen Kolhapuri gur in any of our local stores. :-(

Pelicano said...

Can you believe it wasn't until I was 21-22 that I had my first meal at an Indian restaurant? I didn't recognize any dishes on the menu matching what I knew from cookbooks and, when the food arrived, I was sorely disappointed. Except for the pakoras. I've never had a vindaloo at a restaurant, but I make it at home now and then. Did you know that it doesn't spoil if you let it sit our on the counter-top for a week? :-D
I'll let you know if the eggplant dish works out, but I must say I love the ear-ring photo- the black nail-polish is a great final touch- nice concept/design!