September 08, 2009
There's some things that stay with you forever - logically or illogically.
One of the things that's clung to me all these years is something I read about esteemed Indian cook and food icon Madhur Jaffrey more than a decade ago. She was interviewed in a magazine article and told the reporter that whenever she traveled with her family for extended vacations, she always brought her spices along to be able to concoct her family's favorite dishes on the go.
I don't think I realized how strongly I held onto that thought until I had the opportunity to interview Jaffrey earlier this year for a piece on Indian spice boxes for the Chicago Tribune (you can click on the link to the right). She kind of laughed when I brought the article up - I was just dying to know if it was indeed the truth. She said it was.
I suddenly realized what had amazed me all these years was the fact that someone would travel with their Indian spices. That they would be so devoted to Indian food and cooking that they would be willing to and would be able to whip up an entree at a moments notice in a kitchen that wasn't even their own - working with unfamiliar pots and unknown utensils. Cooking just never seemed that intuitive to me.
This past Labor Day weekend I became Madhur Jaffrey - well, at least in my own mind -for a nano second.
My husband and I agreed to rent a house with another couple and their daughter in Lakeside, Michigan. There was a kitchen so we planned to do at least some of the meals. As I wondered what I could contribute I found cauliflower in the fridge and added it to the big Costco shopping bag that housed all the kitchen supplies that I was taking along. On the bottom was my own masala daba - or spice box. As I packed it I thought of the great Madhur Jaffrey. I knew she'd be proud of me - this frenzied chef had come a long way. Whether the aspirations would manifest into reality was another issue.
On Saturday the plan was to meet a bunch of families from Oscar Mayer school on the beach. It was corn roast complete with rides on the hosts' private boat...swimming for the kids and an elaborate potluck. There must have been at least two dozen families there - including the friends we were staying with who are also Oscar Mayer parents.
My family was tagging along so I figured I needed to make something good.
"So...um, should I make the cauliflower?" I asked the friend we were staying with hesitantly.
I've never really cooked Indian on the go and never for a crowd I didn't know. Believe it or not folks, I grew up in King of Prussia, Pennsylvania in the 1970s and 80s when I was literally only one of maybe three Indian-American kids in the entire public school I attended. The ratio has drastically changed since, but when we moved into our neighborhood kids would tease us unmercifully about the curry smell coming from our house...about the funny outfits my mom wore and the accents my parents sported. It became easier and less painful to hide the Indian side of everything we did rather than display it.
So, it took a lot on my part to introduce myself to the group and announce..."I brought some Indian food. I'm not sure if you'll like it, but maybe you'll try it?"
I'm still reeling from the response. Probably every person there came up to me to thank me personally for the dish. They said they loved it and wanted to learn how to make it.
So...to all the moms and dads there that day, here's a huge thank you from someone who was really touched by your hospitality and openess. It really meant a lot - especially coming from someone who has been teased her whole life for everything from her name to her Indian background. I'm still getting used to the fact that now it's actually hip to be a little different!
To all of you and all the blog readers out there, here's my Aloo Gobi (Potato/Cauliflower) recipe. Here I'm making it on the stovetop but...I've also figured out how to make it in a crockpot. I'll have the slow cooker recipe for you in my upcoming book - which will be released in Fall 2010.
Aloo Gobi (Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes)
1 head of cauliflower, stem and greens removed with florets cut into bite-sized
2 medium potatoes (use any kind), peeled and chopped
1 medium yellow or red onion, chopped roughly
1 tablespoon grated ginger
3 garlic cloves, chopped or minced
3 green Thai, Serrano or cayenne chilies
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 tablespoon cumin seed
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons garam masala
2 teaspoons red chili powder
2 teaspoons - 1 tablespoon salt (depends on your taste)
1 handful fresh cilantro, chopped
Heat wide, flat pan on the stovetop on medium-high heat.
Add oil and allow to heat up. Add cumin and cook about a minute until it sizzles.
Add ginger and garlic. Add onion and mix for about two minutes.
Add potatoes. Cook for another two minutes.
Add cauliflower and remainder of the ingredients (except cilantro). Mix well. Cook another 2-3 minutes.
Put lid on pan but leave an opening for the steam to be released. Turn burner on low. Let cook until it softens - about another 15 minutes. The amount you cook it is up to you. If you want it on the softer side let it go a few minutes extra. If you want the cauliflower to be crunchier, take it off the stovetop and serve.
Garnish with cilantro and serve with roti/naan or rice or bring to a potluck!!!:)