A couple of weeks ago I was playing Words with Friends with Rohini Rustogi on my smart phone.
For those who haven’t been bitten by the Words with Friends bug, it’s an app that’s basically Scrabble played wirelessly, miles apart. Players get points for playing different letters and can chat during the game. Rohini and I have never actually met. We became cyber friends through a mutual friend. She and her husband, Hemant, own three Montessori schools, including the one in Waterset in Apollo Beach.
During one of our games I played the word “riata.” Not really sure if it was actually a word, I held my breath to see if it would be accepted. It was.
Rohini, who was born in Kangra in Himachal Pradesh, India, sent me a note saying “riata” is a culinary term in Indian cuisine. I responded by commenting it might be nice to get together and talk food.
“Why don’t you come over for dinner instead and we can fix an Indian-inspired dinner,” she chatted back.
That was one dinner invitation I couldn’t turn down. What unfolded was a delicious meal and delightful evening.
Most Americans think making Indian food from scratch sounds about as easy as learning Hindi.
Like any cuisine, there are items on the Indian menu that do take extra time and energy to make, including desserts, specific breads and even some curries and appetizers.
But when you’re cooking foods at home on a daily basis, like the stir-fry Rohini and I prepared, it was actually quite easy.
The first thing Rohini grabbed from her cupboard was her masala dabba, a traditional Indian spice box made of one large, outer tin with seven inner spice pots. You can pick one up at any Indian grocery store — or online.
The tins are then filled with the cook’s seven essential spices: salt, cumin seeds, black mustard seeds, turmeric powder, garam masala, coriander powder and red chili powder or cayenne.
While I chopped peppers, tomatoes and onions, Rohini explained her magic mix of toasted spices, oil-browned onions, tomatoes and cilantro. I tasted and asked questions, much the way Rohini learned to cook from her mother and her mother-in-law.
For our main dish we made chicken keema curry.
Keema is a dish in which various kinds of ground meat, generally lamb or beef, are cooked with various spices and as often as not, with a vegetable incorporated. Rohini uses ground chicken and peas, until she heard one of her dinner guests was a dedicated pea-hater. She omitted the peas.
Once the ingredients were assembled, the preparation of the dish only took minutes.
Rohini served cooked rice with toasted fennel seeds with our meal. I loved it so much I’ll be making rice this way at home for sure, plus lentils, green beans and cauliflower with hints of spice. The meal was an explosion of flavors.
I left with plenty of leftovers and new knowledge, like how to gently roast spices before you cook, and that red onions have a stronger flavor most Indian cooks prefer.
My phone just dinged, so I need to get back to my ongoing series of Words With Friends. It’s my turn.
Lynn Kessel is a freelance food columnist and blogger. For more of her recipes, visit southshore.tbo.com and enter the search words Lynn Kessel or look for her blog at www.lynnkessel.blogspot.com.
CHICKEN KEEMA CURRY
1 lb. ground chicken
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, diced
1 teaspoon garlic paste
1 teaspoon ginger paste
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 teaspoon garam masala
Chili powder to taste
Salt to taste
1 medium tomato, diced
1 tablespoon plain yogurt
1/2 cup fresh cilantro, chopped
Heat oil in a pan and add the diced onion. Saute until the onions begin to brown. Add the garlic paste, ginger paste, coriander powder, garam masala and chili powder. Saute mixture for 5 to 7 minutes, adding a few drops of water for consistency.
Add ground chicken to onion and spice mixture and fold in thoroughly.
Stir constantly until chicken starts to brown. Add the diced tomato and tablespoon of yogurt. Cover and cook 8 to 10 minutes. Transfer to serving bowl and garnish with the fresh cilantro.
Makes 4 servings.
Source: Rohini Rustogi