February 08, 2024
HOMESTYLE VS. RESTAURANT INDIAN FOOD. Most do not realize that there are two types of cooking in our Indian food space. One is what you get in restaurants - gourmet, delicious, slightly heavier, with cream and oils - a treat. And, the other is a style of cooking that we eat daily. We loosely refer to it as ghar ka khana, which translates to home cooking. It's at once light, healthy, and absolutely delicious - most of the recipes I feature on this website, in my four cookbooks, and what my platform is know to offer.
When folks ask me how in the world I can eat Indian food at home daily and still be healthy I realize they have no idea about this distinction. In our homemade foods, we don't use heavy creams or a ton of oil. Everything is balanced, including the bread. Believe it or not, we don't eat naan at home traditionally. We make and eat roti, a flatbread made from whole wheat flour that is thinner with way fewer calories.
This week, I launched my dream project. My own version of ghar ka khana at a mainstream grocery store - Harvest Market in Springfield, Illinois. They already sold my spices and sauces on their shelves so when I realized they have a 'made from scratch' deli, I asked if they would consider letting me show them how to use my products to make homemade Indian food from scratch. My goal was to show them how to use my curry starter sauce, our Punjabi masala, and my fresh spice blends roasted and ground right here in America rather than imported from India to create an amazing end product. We would not cut corners. They said yes! (I cannot thank Christine, Sean, Nick, and Mike enough and everyone else on staff who has helped taste test!)
So, I got to work and started to pull recipes together. I quickly hit my first sticking point. How do I get them to make beans from dried? If I told my community that I was serving canned beans they would never buy our product. I asked Harvest if they would let me teach them to use the Instant Pot to make dishes from dried beans. Again, they even said yes to that! And so, armed with my new book 'Instant Pot Indian', we got to work in the Nook, their kitchen on the second floor. The trick has been creating dishes that work for a mainstream audience (less heat) but also satisfy the high taste bar for an Indian audience. I think we finally did it after months of testing!
My Moong Dal is a great example of the tweaking we needed to do. While we eat it at home with a ton of ginger and garlic, I realized that it plays better as a brothy 'lentil' soup for a mainstream market. So I tried one batch without the ginger and garlic, and instead maintained the flavor with key spices. The result was not only perfect for the non-Indian customers and the seniors who are not be able to consume the heat, but it worked for our Indian community as well. What was really interesting is that our Indian community as it gets older is also cutting back on the heat they eat - so the flavor notes were perfect. And, if you want more heat, you just take it home and add it in! It was smooth enough to be a soup, but punchy enough to be a dal. Wow, wow, wow! The other dishes do pack a little more heat, but that is to be expected. We are rolling out Chana Masala, Butter Chicken, Rajmah, and Dal Makhani.
Liz, who is in charge of this project within the store is learning my recipes and replicating them. She is hands down amazing and a fabulous cook who embraces learning new techniques. I taught her what tarka is and how to use it most effectively in an Indian dish. She learned why the Chana Masala spice blend works so well in the chickpeas, and what the Chaat Masala is used for. She learned how to roast cauliflower perfectly and has been rolling out my Chaat Masala Kabobs for weeks. Frankly, the key with Liz? She loves to have fun - I don't think we stop laughing when we are together. Ask for her when you go in!
A local Indian physician came in and picked up food. And I realized when he did what the potential is for this project. No one should have to give up their day jobs (like I did) to eat healthy scratch Indian cooking. We are now going to be able to reach busy professionals, working moms and dads, and the elderly who all want easy solutions for our Indian foods in a way no one has really done before. Sure, Indian food is available in the prepared food section of many grocers - but it's pre-packaged and rarely meets our communities' high taste bar. What better way to keep your young kids eating their own foods than offering this up to them?
My most nervous moment was when the Asian Indian Women's Organization came in to sample. This group does not need cooking lessons - they are masters chefs in their own right. So, if they liked the food then we've truly accomplished something. When they came back for more moong dal, I realized that we'd hit all the right flavor notes.
Please know that we cannot do this without you. So, if you are in Springfield and if you shop at Harvest Market, please go in and ask for Indian As Apple Pie food in the deli section. And, please thank them for taking the time and the energy to do this. No good idea goes anywhere unless someone sees the vision and gives you the platform. And for that I'm truly grateful for this partnership with Harvest Market and their amazing staff. xoxo Anupy
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