January 19, 2011
Thank you to everyone who has purchased a copy of my first book, The Indian Slow Cooker. It's you who have helped it sell out consistently. And, it's partially because of you that we are now heading into our fifth printing in about four months in the midst of fantastic press. While I continue to recipe test and write, I am also shooting a cooking show with a team of former co-workers in the news business who believe as much as I do that there needs to be an Indian cooking show out there that's for the everyday person --- just like us -- struggling to get good food on the table quickly and effectively. I'm not exotic. I'm not gourmet. I'm certainly no goddess. I grew up in a blue-collar community outside of Philadelphia and just happened to have a foot in the States - with another foot in my country of birth, India. I want you to all realize that learning how to make wonderfully nutritious Indian food is incredibly simple. Adding simple Indian spices to your everyday foods will make them pop with flavor without too much fuss. If I can do it - you can do it. This video clip is part of a 30-minute show that we are editing in the hopes it will be picked up by a station one of these days. In the meantime - enjoy. This is my gift to all of you!
Recently, my book has gotten some great press. The February issue of Clean Eating magazine features The Indian Slow Cooker as part of their Book Club on page 26. Thank you to the editorial team there for recognizing that Indian cuisine is - at its core - incredibly healthy AND delicious. Many non-Indians are just realizing this, while many Indians and Indian-Americans, I argue, have actually forgotten as we've deviated from the cuisine we grew up on. It's comfort food at its best, explained beautifully by New York-based journalist Lavina Melwani on her really fun blog lassiwithlavina.com, where she graciously reviewed my book. The Indian Slow Cooker continues to rank #1 Indian cookbook on Amazon and is listed in the triple digits in terms of ranking. In the Quick and Easy and Healthy categories it's also one of the top. Amazing. Sure that might change, but I'm going to take a second to savor the moment with you.
Ahhh, with the moment of savoring out of the way, let's head to questions:
Salt: Before cooking up my recipes, check out page 31 and my paragraph on white salt. In all of my recipes I used Kosher or sea salt, which has crystals that are larger than the more-commonly found table salt. If you are using table salt, reduce the amount of salt in my recipes. So, if it calls for 2 tablespoons of salt, use 1 tablespoon or 1 1/2. Also remember that all of my measurements are LEVEL measurements except where I call for heaping. My recipes were written so that you can dole them over rice, sit down at the table and eat without sprinkling more spices or salt over them. This is how I eat at home..but that doesn't mean I presume to know how you eat in yours. To be safe..always start with a little less salt you can add more later and tweak your recipes as needed. Some garam masala blends, I'm hearing, also come with added salt. When purchasing this spice take an extra look at the ingredient list and if it does include salt, adjust the recipes so that it works for you. If a recipe ever feels like it is heavy on the salt...just balance it out by adding a little more water and allowing it to boil, cook a bit more or by adding some milk, cream, or yogurt to lighten up the taste.
Cooking Times: One of the most frequent questions I get is about cooking times. For some, their food cooks faster than what I've indicated. Neither of us is right or wrong. There just simply is no gold standard in slow cookers. You should use my times as general guidelines and know you might end up going a little longer or shorter depending on the type of slow cooker and how old it is. I did have one user say that her beans did not soften after the appropriate amount of time. After some emails back and forth, I realized that likely it was because she has a slow cooker with only an on and off switch. To successfully cook raw beans you should have a high setting in order to really get them to soften and break down.
Can I Shorten Cooking Times?: You absolutely can, especially with the lentils and bean recipes. One way is to immerse them in water and soak them overnight. If you do this, discard the water the next day and reduce the amount of water used in your recipes by 2 - 3 cups. You'll have to be the judge of how much you reduce the water. Just be sure to jot it down so you remember for the next time. Another little trick if you are short on time and don't have time to soak your beans or lentils, is to use boiling water in your slow cooker. You can reduce the cooking time by a few hours with this little trick. Again, you'll have to play with it to get it just right.
When I halve the recipe from a 5-quart to a 3 1/2-quart, what is the cooking time? The cooking time is the same. That's why it was not changed or indicated in the subtext.
Can I substitute other beans and lentils in your recipes?: Sure, why not? I had one friend make the Rajmah recipe on Page 74 out of large, white beans instead of kidney beans. These recipes are simply guidelines and once you become more comfortable working inside the box, you'll become a master at cooking outside the proverbial box.
Why are there so many damn chickpea recipes in this book? I want more meat! Yes, there are some of you who have been alarmed that indeed there are so so so many lentil and bean recipes in this book. There are a variety of reasons for this. First...that's what many South Asians on a regular day-to-day basis eat. Those dishes that are more familiar to some like chicken vindaloo...chicken tikka masala...butter chicken...are items that are found on most Indians menus outside of India. But, this book is familiarizing folks with homestyle Indian. It's giving you a true window into one aspect of the Indian world. Indian food is one of the few cuisines that truly takes legumes to a whole new level. They are incredibly tasty made this way, and why not try and fit them into your diet if you can. With this book you now have a reason to want to do so.
Man this book is hot - and I don't just mean how fast it's selling: Yep. The dishes are spicy. They are meant to be. That's how we eat this food in our homes. Now, my mother is from a home in India where food is less spicy. In my father's village food is made spicy the way I've indicated in the book. I've eaten in some South Indian's friends' homes where I could not mange to eat the food it was that spicy. So, there are ranges. Again, I gave you a window into my world with my spice levels. But, you know your palatte. Don't go there if you truly can't handle heat. Work up to it. I'm not judging you. The point is that you should love the food. The food should be delicious to you. Keep in mind as well, that as the dishes sit, the immediate heat of the chili also subsides a bit. If you make a dish and it's a little too much, just add a little milk, cream, or yogurt to it to balance it out. A good example would be to do this for my palak paneer (spinach and cheese) recipe.
Why is my chicken not RED?? Before you go and post a one-star review on Amazon as a result of this, I want you to note that in a normal world chicken is never red. That's right, folks. Not even Indian chickens. You've only been brainwashed to think so (and I was the same until I started to cook myself) because the Tandoori paste in which chicken and other meats are marinated in most Indian restaurants is infused with good old basic red food dye. This chicken is often grilled and served dry. Or, it can be cut up and put into a chicken tikka masala sauce. The chicken tikka masala recipe in my book gets a little bit of redness from paprika. That's it. And, the chicken curry dish on page 108 should be brown in color from the masalas that are added. If you are looking for red chicken curry in South East Asia - that's likely a blend of Indian and SE Asian spices. Often that is served in countries like Malaysia and Thailand. If you want to eat healthier kick the red dye habit to the curb. It's gross and it might even lead to negative behavioral issues in young children. It's totally not worth it. And for the guy in Thailand that just can't understand why he ended up with a greasy mess (ironically that's after 1/4 cup of oil in a 5-quart slow cooker and three pounds of chicken), you are welcome to email me. I'd love to buy my book back from you. This was such a labor of love, I'd rather not have you even be bothered to keep the book a minute longer than you'd want to...My email? firstname.lastname@example.org.
I'm Indian...and the recipes in this book don't seem authentic: This one I'm a little over the top on. If you are Indian than you realize the country and culture AND cuisine is so vast there is no authentic. I never claimed that this book represents an entire country. We stated in the beginning that it's a Punjabi's take on Indian food. Keep in mind, my husband and I both come from Punjabi families and we still have vastly different tastes in everything from rajmah to kardhi. So, don't review this as 'not authentic'. You might say it's different from what you are used to if you're from another state outside of Punjab..and if you want the recipes to taste closer to home then just make your modifications and notes right in the book. There are many Indian cookbooks out there that I use as a reference but have yet to find one that really rings true to the way I grew up eating - well, except for mine - because I was the one to write this one. I don't criticize other Indian chefs or authors. I just love that they have a different way to speak the same culinary language. Why not mix it up -- and as Indians why not all rejoice in the celebration of all of our points of views? Because there is no one way to cook Indian food.
Simplest of Simple Yellow Lentils (page 55): Cook this one 7 hours on low. I've also clarified that this is the moong dal: dried split, and skinned yellow moong dal.
Simple Spinach and Lentil Soup (page 56): Cook this one 6 hours on low or 4 hours on high. Same thing as above, this is moong dal.
Simple Split Chickpea Curry (page 65): Yes, folks. You are right. You SHOULD NOT use 33 cups of chana dal. It should be 3 cups, which can be figured out by taking a look at the 603 g measurement. Thank you to the folks who helped catch this typo early - we fixed it after the first print.
Chicken Tikka Masala (page 109): Kudos to the reader who realized that red chile pepper was listed twice - eliminate the first reference and use 1 tsp - 1 tablespoon. Thank you for pointing that out and I appreciate that it did not dissuade you from trying out the recipe and others in the book. Hugs!
Chicken Vindaloo (page 114): The correct cooking time is 7 hours on high.
Rice Pudding (page 127): The correct cooking time is 3 hours on high. Some folks have asked if you can make this one with brown rice. For some reason, using brown has not worked for me in the past, but if you have tried it sucessfully please, please add your comments and maybe we can include that as part of the recipe at a later time.
Where do you shop? I am currently compiling a list of grocery stores and online vendors where folks can purchase spices and goods. Please share your favorite spots - names, addresses and even phone numbers if and when possible. These are places that you've tried and trust. I will try and put a post out soon with your findings. In the meantime, I want to let everyone know I'm on my way to offering my own spice blends, which will be available shortly. You'll be able to purchase a starter kit of spices through this blog.
Again, thanks to all the rest of you. Please continue to check back as I will be adding to this post as the questions continue to filter in.