Currying Flavor
Spice It Up!

March is Asian/Pacific Heritage Month, and what better way to celebrate than with food? One sure-fire route is to step into the world of Indian cuisine, which is known for fragrant aromas and delectable flavors. Not only can you visit one of the many top-notch Indian restaurants throughout the Triangle, but you can also try whipping up a dish or two yourself. And with recipes like these, from recent cookbooks, you may find yourself wanting to celebrate Asian/Pacific heritage every month. (Note: If you can’t find an ingredient in the grocery store, you can usually find it in the Triangle’s Indian and Asian markets.)

Regional Feasts of India
by Lachu Moorjani

Published by Gibbs Smith
Chickpea-Flour Fritters
Sanha Pokoras

Pakoras are very popular all over India, and most regions have their own version. Usually pakoras are made by dipping slices of potatoes or other vegetables in a batter made with chickpea flour (called besan in Hindi) and then deep-frying them. Chickpea-flour batter is often flavored with spices, which may include turmeric, chile flakes, cumin powder, ajwain or other spices. At times, some rice flour or baking powder is added to the batter to make the pakoras crispier.
Sindhi sanha pakoras are different from pakoras made in other parts of India. Onions and potatoes are finely diced and mixed with many other ingredients, such as ginger, chile peppers, cilantro and pomegranate seeds. The result, in my very biased opinion, is pakoras that taste better than any other.

1 cup chickpea flour
1/2 cup finely chopped onion
1/2 cup finely diced potatoes (1/8- to 1/4-inch cubes)
1 tablespoon dry pomegranate seeds, coarsely pounded
1 tablespoon coriander seeds, coarsely pounded
1 teaspoon salt
1-inch piece ginger, finely diced
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon chile flakes
1/4 cup loosely packed, chopped cilantro
Oil for deep-frying

Mix all the ingredients except oil and add just enough water to make a thick paste.
Heat the oil in a 6- to 8-quart saucepan. Using a large spoon, drop several large dollops (2 to 3 inches in diameter) of the paste into the hot oil and deep-fry to a golden brown at medium to high heat. Frying too many pakoras at one time will reduce the temperature of the oil and the pakoras will fall apart and soak up too much oil. Remove and place in a tray or platter lined with paper towels. Repeat until the entire mixture is finished.
Break up the fritters into about 1-inch pieces, and fry these pieces one more time at high heat to a crispy, dark golden-brown color.
Remove and place on another platter lined with paper towels. Serve with mint cilantro chutney (see recipe below).
Makes 6 servings.


Mint Cilantro Chutney

2 to 3 tablespoons tamarind concentrate (see step 1 below)
1 large tomato, coarsely chopped
½ medium onion, coarsely chopped
2 cups loosely packed cilantro (about 1 bunch), thick stems removed
½ cup mint leaves (about ½ bunch)
1 green serrano chile pepper, about 3 inches long, chopped (optional)

Make the tamarind concentrate by soaking a large lemon-size ball of tamarind in a small bowl for 1 hour in enough water to cover. Mash with fingers to dissolve. Strain. The final concentrate should be the consistency of thick buttermilk.
Puree all ingredients together in a blender. The blender will work better if moist ingredients (tamarind concentrate, tomato and onion) are pureed first. Taste and adjust for salt and tamarind.

Malabar Chicken Curry

This dish originates from the Malabar Coast, which spans the west coast states of Karnataka and Kerala in South India. This is a light curry with robust flavors. It is eaten hot in South India.
3 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons mustard seeds
1-inch piece ginger, chopped
3 to 4 dried red chiles, broken in pieces
3 medium onions, quartered and thinly sliced
2 pounds boneless, skinless chicken dark meat, cut into 1- to 2-inch pieces
2 teaspoons coriander powder
1 teaspoon turmeric powder
2 teaspoons paprika
1/2 to 2 teaspoons hot chile pepper powder, to taste
2 teaspoons fennel powder
1-1/2 teaspoons black peppercorns
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 cup coconut milk
2 medium potatoes, peeled and cut into ¾-inch cubes
8 to 10 curry leaves

In a 6- to 8-quart saucepan, heat the oil. When hot, add mustard seeds. Fry for about 10 to 15 seconds. When mustard seeds pop, add ginger and broken red chiles and fry for another 15 seconds.
Add onions and sauté over medium to high heat until slightly brown, about 10 to 12 minutes. Raise the heat to high and wait 1 to 2 minutes, or until the pan gets very hot. Add chicken and stir-fry until almost all the moisture has dried up and the chicken is nicely browned.
Reduce heat to medium; add all the spices and salt. Stir for 3 to 4 minutes and then add coconut milk (shake can before opening). Bring the mixture to a boil; add 1/4 cup water if there is not enough liquid. Reduce heat, add potatoes, cover and simmer slowly for about 20 to 25 minutes, or until chicken and potatoes are tender. Add curry leaves during the last 5 minutes of cooking.
Makes 4 - 6 servings.

Complete Book of Indian Cooking
350 Recipes From the Regions of India

by Suneeta Vaswani
Published by Robert Rose

Mustard-Flavored Chicken Tikka

Boneless chicken chunks infused with complex flavors are a hit with young and old. Mustard oil adds that extra special touch.

2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
3 tablespoons ginger paste
3 tablespoons garlic paste
1 tablespoon hot mustard, preferably English mustard
1 teaspoon salt or to taste
1/4 cup chickpea flour (besan)
1/4 cup pure mustard oil
3 tablespoons thick plain yogurt
1 tablespoon minced green chiles, preferably serranos
1-1/2 teaspoons cayenne pepper
Oil for oiling grill

Rinse chicken and pat dry thoroughly. Cut into 1-1/2-inch pieces.
In a bowl, mix together lime juice, ginger, garlic, mustard and salt. Add chicken and toss to coat.
In another bowl, mix together chickpea flour, mustard oil, yogurt, chiles and cayenne into a paste. Coat chicken evenly with mixture. Cover and marinate for at least 1 hour in refrigerator, preferably 3 to 4 hours.
Preheat charcoal grill, barbecue or indoor grill to medium heat.
Thread 3 to 4 chicken pieces onto 20 metal skewers or long bamboo skewers, soaked in water for 30 minutes. Insert a second skewer parallel to the first, about 1/2 inch apart.
Cook on well-oiled charcoal grill or indoor grill, turning once and basting with additional oil or mustard oil, until pieces are no longer pink inside and are slightly charred outside, about 10 minutes. (If using an indoor contact grill, the cooking time will be shorter.) Serve immediately.
Makes 12 servings.

Cayenne-Spiked Apricot and Nuts Pulao

The spicy, sweet taste of this rich dish, combined with the texture of nuts and dried fruit, makes it a fabulous party dish. It is good with meat or chicken curry but equally wonderful with roast chicken or turkey.

1-1/2 cups Indian basmati rice
1/2 teaspoon saffron threads
1/2 cup granulated sugar
1 stick cinnamon, about 3 inches long
4 whole cloves
2 tablespoons cayenne pepper or to taste
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lime or lemon juice
1/2 cup dried apricots
1/2 cup whole blanched almonds
1/2 cup walnut or pecan halves
2 tablespoons oil
1-1/2 cups thinly sliced onions (lengthwise slices)
1-1/2 teaspoons salt

Place rice in a bowl with plenty of cold water and swish vigorously with fingers. Drain. Repeat process 4 or 5 times until water is fairly clear. Cover with 3 to 4 inches cold water and soak for 15 minutes or for up to 2 hours.
In a bowl, soak saffron in 1/4 cup very hot water for 15 minutes.
In a saucepan, cook sugar, 1-1/2 cups water, cinnamon, cloves and cayenne over medium heat until mixture is bubbly and syrupy, 5 to 7 minutes. Stir in lime juice. Mix in apricots, almonds and pecans. Set aside.
In a large saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onions and sauté until golden, 6 to 8 minutes.
Drain rice and stir into onions. Sauté for 2 minutes. Stir in nut mixture and saffron with liquid. Add 1-3/4 cups cold water and salt. Cover and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to as low as possible and cook, without peeking, for 25 minutes. Remove from heat and set lid slightly ajar to allow steam to escape. Let rest for 5 minutes for rice to firm up. Fluff gently with fork. Gently spoon onto a platter to serve.
Makes 8 servings.

Vij’s Elegant & Inspired Indian Cuisine

by Vikram Vij and Meeru Dhalwala
Published by Douglas & McIntyre

Prawns in Coconut Masala

This recipe can be served as an appetizer or passed around with drinks. On its own, the masala goes well with naan (bread) or rice. You can substitute canola oil for the ghee in this recipe but remember that you will lose some flavor. Don’t substitute butter. It is difficult to cook cumin seeds alone in butter, as you need to keep the heat relatively high and the butter ends up burning and sticking to the bottom of your pot. Also, use a good-quality coconut milk. You don’t use very much but you want to be able to taste it in your recipe.

30 prawns, shelled and deveined
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons ghee (see recipe page 23) or canola oil
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 large onions, chopped
3 large ripe tomatoes, finely chopped
2 tablespoons coconut milk, stirred
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
2 teaspoons chopped green chilies
3 bunches green onions (white and green parts), chopped

Place prawns in a colander and rinse under cold water. Allow excess water to drain. In a bowl, combine prawns and 1 teaspoon of the salt. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside in the refrigerator while you are making the coconut masala.
In a large frying pan, melt ghee on medium-high heat (or heat oil for 1 minute). Add cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle for 30 seconds. Add onions and sauté 5 to 8 minutes, or until dark brown but not burned. Stir in tomatoes, coconut milk, vinegar, chilies and the remaining 1 teaspoon of salt. Cook for 5 minutes, or until tomatoes are cooked through. Add green onions and stir well.
Add prawns, stirring constantly until they become pinkish-orange. This will take about 3 minutes. Immediately remove from the heat.
Place 5 prawns on each of six small shallow plates. Top each serving with one-sixth of the coconut masala. Alternatively, divide the coconut masala evenly among six small shallow plates, then top with 5 prawns per plate.
Makes 6 servings.

Modern Indian Cooking

by Hari Nayak and Vikas Khanna
Published by Silverback Books

Southern Indian Potatoes With Peas and Tarragon

1 pound small red or white potatoes
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 tablespoon dried yellow split chickpeas
1 medium red onion, thinly sliced
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
2 tablespoons fresh curry leaves, minced
2 fresh green chilies, minced
1 cup frozen shelled peas, thawed
Salt to taste
1/2 cup fresh tarragon, chopped

Put the potatoes in a saucepan, add water to cover and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium and cook, uncovered until the potatoes are tender, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain and let stand until cool. Cut each potato into quarters. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large nonstick wok or skillet over medium-high heat and add the mustard seeds and chickpeas; they will splutter upon contact with the oil, so cover the pan and reduce the heat until the spluttering subsides.
Quickly add the onion and cook, stirring, until golden, about 5 minutes. Then mix in the coriander, red pepper flakes, turmeric, curry leaves and chilies. Cook for 1 minute, add the potatoes, peas and salt. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally over medium-low heat until the potatoes are golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Add tarragon and transfer to a serving dish.
Makes 6 servings.

Marinated Lamb Popsicles With Fenugreek Cream Curry

This is our signature dish at Vij’s — probably our most famous and most popular.

For the lamb:
1/4 cup sweet white wine
3/4 cup grainy yellow mustard
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
4 pounds French-cut racks of lamb, in chops

For the curry sauce:
4 cups whipping cream
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon paprika
1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 tablespoon dried green fenugreek leaves
1/4 cup lemon juice
3 to 4 tablespoons canola oil
3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic
1 teaspoon turmeric

Combine wine, mustard, salt and pepper in a large bowl. Add lamb and coat well with the marinade. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 2 to 4 hours.
In a large bowl, combine cream, salt, paprika, cayenne, fenugreek leaves and lemon juice. Heat 3 to 4 tablespoons of the oil in a medium pot on medium heat and sauté garlic until golden. Stir in turmeric and cook for 1 minute. Stir in the cream mixture and cook on low to medium heat for about 5 minutes, or until it is gently boiling.
Preheat a stove-top cast iron grill or barbecue to high heat. Place lamb on the grill and cook for 2 to 3 minutes per side.
Serve popsicles piping hot off the grill. Depending on their size, place 4 to 5 lamb popsicles on each plate. Pour the cream curry over the meat or ladle it into a small bowl and use it as a dipping sauce for the popsicles.
Makes 6 servings.

Kadhai Fried Paneer With Rainbow Vegetables

3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 tablespoon ginger, minced
2 large cloves garlic, minced
2 small onions, diced
2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground fennel seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom seeds
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
Salt to taste
4 small tomatoes, diced
2 small green bell peppers, diced
2 small red bell peppers, diced
2 small yellow bell peppers, diced
6 ounces paneer cheese, diced
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
4 scallions, chopped
Freshly ground black pepper

Heat the oil in a large nonstick wok or skillet over medium-high heat; add the ginger and garlic, stirring about 1 minute. Add the onions and cook, stirring until golden, 2 to 3 minutes.
Add the coriander, cumin, fennel, cardamom and red pepper flakes and stir over medium heat, about 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and bell peppers, cover the wok and continue to cook, stirring constantly until the dish is saucy, about 5 minutes.
Add the paneer, cilantro and scallions and cook over medium-high heat, uncovered, about 5 minutes.
Serve hot, sprinkled with black pepper.
Makes 4 servings.

Cilantro Chutney

This chutney is easy to prepare and can be served with virtually any dish. Store leftovers in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to one week.
1 bunch cilantro, washed and stemmed
1-½ teaspoons garlic-ginger paste
1 green chili pepper, stem removed
¼ cup raw peanuts
¼ teaspoon ground cumin
½ teaspoon salt
½ teaspoon sugar
1 teaspoon lemon juice
½ medium-size tomato, quartered (optional)
2 tablespoons mint leaves (optional)

Combine all the ingredients in a blender and process until smooth, adding 1 to 2 tablespoons water if necessary.
Makes ¾ cup.

Flavorful India: Treasured Recipes From a Gujarati Family

by Priti Chitnis Gress
Published by Hippocrene Book

Potato Samosas

Vegetarian samosas are enjoyed throughout Gujarat. They make an excellent appetizer when served with cilantro chutney or tamarind chutney (see below). Your guests will appreciate your efforts!
For the filling:
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 medium onion, chopped (1/4 cup)
1-1/2 teaspoons garlic-ginger paste
1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint
1 to 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh green chili (to taste)
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup cooked green peas
3 medium-size potatoes, boiled, peeled and mashed
For the dough:
1-1/2 cups chapati flour
1 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons oil
2 cups oil for deep-frying

To prepare the filling, heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Add the onions and sauté for 3 to 5 minutes, until lightly browned. Reduce the heat to medium-low, and add the garlic-ginger paste, cilantro, mint and green chili. Saute for 1 to 2 minutes. Add the salt, peas and potatoes. Stir well to combine. Remove from the heat and set aside.
To prepare the dough, combine the flour, salt and oil in a bowl. Mix well with your hands. Slowly add 1/2 cup of water, a few tablespoons at a time, and knead into a dough that is firm, springy and not sticky.
To assemble the samosas, divide dough into 10 to 12 walnut-size balls. With a rolling pin, roll out a ball of dough into a circle about 6 inches in diameter. Place 1-1/2 tablespoons of stuffing on the top half of the circle. Fold the bottom half up to form a semicircle. Bring the sides around to make a triangle. Dip your fingers in water and run them along the edges to wet them; press together to seal firmly. Continue with the remaining dough balls and filling.
Heat 2 cups of oil in a deep pan, or kadhai, over medium-low heat. When the oil is hot, add the samosas, two or three at a time, and deep-fry for 2 to 3 minutes, turning midway, until golden brown. Collect the fried samosas in a bowl lined with paper towels. Serve hot.
Makes 10 – 12 samosas.

Tamarind Chutney

From “Flavorful India: Treasured Recipes from a Gujarati Family”
2 tablespoons tamarind paste
¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
¼ teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon brown sugar
Optional ingredients:
1 tablespoon finely chopped golden raisins
1 date, finely chopped
½ to 1 green chili, stemmed and minced
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro

Combine all the ingredients, including any desired optional ingredients, with 1 tablespoon of water. Mix well. Add 1 to 2 tablespoons additional water for a more liquid chutney.
Makes ¼ to ½ cup.

Eggplant Stuffed With Spices
Bharela Ringan

This recipe calls for small, or “baby,” dark purple eggplants, found at many Indian and Asian grocery stores. Look for small, firm eggplants with fresh, green stems. The potatoes provide a crunchy contrast to the soft eggplants in this dish.
2 tablespoons grated fresh ginger
1 teaspoon sesame seeds
1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon finely chopped green chili
1 teaspoon fennel seeds
1 teaspoon oil, plus 1/2 cup oil for frying
2 tablespoons chickpea flour (besan)
1-1/2 pounds baby eggplant, washed and stems trimmed
1 large potato, peeled and sliced into thin rounds

To prepare the stuffing, combine the ginger, sesame seeds, cayenne pepper, turmeric, cumin, coriander, salt, green chili and fennel seeds in a small bowl. Heat 1 teaspoon of oil in a small skillet over medium heat. Add the chickpea flour and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes, until the chickpea flour is lightly browned. Combine the chickpea flour with the spice mixture and set aside to cool.
To prepare the eggplants for stuffing, make an incision to halve each eggplant, but be careful not to cut all the way through! Next, make smaller incisions (perpendicular to the large incision) to divide the eggplant into 6 to 8 pieces. Repeat for the remaining eggplants.
Using a small spoon or your fingers, fill the incisions in each eggplant with the stuffing mixture. You should use about 1 teaspoon of stuffing per eggplant.
Heat the remaining 1/2 cup oil in a large skillet. When the oil is hot, add the stuffed eggplants and cover quickly to avoid splattering. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes. Turn the eggplants carefully to avoid breaking them. Move the eggplants toward the center of the skillet and place the potatoes around them along the edge of the pan.
Reduce the heat to low, cover, and cook for 20 to 25 minutes, turning the potatoes and eggplants every 5 minutes or so. Remove from heat when the eggplants are browned and crispy on the outside and the potatoes are cooked through.
Makes 6 servings.

Clarified Butter
From “Vij’s Elegant & Inspired Indian Cuisine”


There is no substitute for ghee in Indian cooking. It is easy to make, has its own distinct nutty flavor and, most importantly, can be heated to high temperatures without burning. We use ghee like butter, but in smaller quantities. If you like ghee, you can always use it in place of canola oil. Or you can use half ghee, half oil to make up the required amount of oil in a recipe.
We usually start with unsalted butter, but you can also use the salted variety. The salt will just burn slightly and drop to the bottom of the pan when you pour off the ghee. The entire process, from solid butter to ghee, should take 15 to 18 minutes. If you are vegan or lactose intolerant, you can omit ghee in most recipes.
Melt butter in a small, heavy pot on medium heat. Once melted, reduce the heat slightly and boil gently for 5 minutes. Using a small sieve, scoop out the solids that are floating on top. Continue gently boiling butter and scooping the floating solids every 3 minutes. Scoop carefully so you remove only the solids and not the actual ghee that is forming. You will notice the butter change slowly from a creamy light yellow to a clear golden liquid with fewer solids.
After 10 to 13 minutes the ghee will start to foam. Using the sieve, scoop through the foam to make sure you have removed all of the solids. Once the foam reduces, you will have a clear golden liquid. This is ghee. Turn off the heat and allow ghee to cool for about 20 minutes.
Pour ghee into a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Once it is completely cool, refrigerate ghee. Can be used right away. Will keep refrigerated in an air-tight container for 3 months (or longer).
Makes 1-1/3 cups.