#23 Date selected: 26/3/16 Date completed: 28/3/16
Country selected: India
Dining Selection: Cooked own
What was on the menu:
- Tadka Dal
- Palak Paneer (Spinach in Cottage Cheese)
- Strawberry Phirni
Recipe for Palak Paneer taken from ‘Extending the Table (World Community Cookbook)” by Joetta Handrich Schlabach. Found on Amazon Kindle books here: http://www.amazon.com.au/Extending-Table-World-Community-Cookbook-ebook/dp/B00AKDXRCU/ref=sr_1_2?s=digital-text&ie=UTF8&qid=1457172097&sr=1-2&keywords=extending+the+table
Saturday 26th March 2016, 2.51pm
Hooray – another excuse for curry! As you might be able to tell, I’m a little excited about picking India for my next challenge though I didn’t expect to get it so soon, having only completed my Pakistani challenge a short time ago.
India is the second-most populous country in the world (and the most populous democracy) with over 1.2 billion people. The country is nestled amongst quite a few other countries – namely China, Pakistan, Nepal, Bhutan, Myanmar (Burma) and Bangladesh. It borders the Indian Ocean on the south, the Arabian Sea on the south-west and the Bay of Bengal on the south-east.
Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism and Sikhism originated in India with Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism and Islam arriving in the 1st millennium CE. A very diverse culture evolved with this mix of influences, with the British East India Company shaping this further during the 18th & 19th centuries.
The struggle for India’s independence was marked by a figure synonymous with freedom and non-violent resistance – Mahatma Gandhi. He attempted to practise nonviolence and truth in all situations and advocating for others to do the same, leading nationwide campaigns for easing poverty, expanding women’s rights, building religious and ethnic amity, ending untouchability and achieving self-rule. He is unofficially called the Father of the Nation and helped India achieve independence in 1947. He was assassinated in January 1948 on his way to a prayer meeting with his death sparking nationwide mouring. His funeral procession was five-miles long. Over two million people joined the procession which took over five hours to reach Raj Ghat from Birla house where he was assassinated.
Like Gandhi, many Indians practice vegetarianism and the cuisine is heavily influenced by religious and cultural choices and traditions. It has also helped the history of international relations, the spice trade between India and Europe being one such example. Rice, beans and other pulses feature heavily as staples with a wide range of spices and flavourings utilized throughout.
Monday 28th March 2016, 6.37pm
I decided to go vegetarian for this challenge. In part this is because vegetarianism is so common in India but also because I’m keen to try some more vegetarian options in my diet. I decided to try a few different recipes and went for a vegetable based curry, a lentil based curry and a dessert.
Lentils are very common in India and I was surprised just how many different versions were available online. Many called for a pressure cooker and this item has obviously made the traditional style of cooking much easier and quicker. Unfortunately I don’t have one myself so this wasn’t an option. I toyed with adapting the method for stove top or slow cooker but realised, with a bit more research, this wouldn’t be necessary.
The range of different lentils used is simply incredible! I didn’t even realise there were so many different types out there. There is a strong Indian community in Australia and many of the different varieties of lentils are available online, but in the end I decided to go with what we already had in the cupboard.
Tadka Dal is a simple red lentil curry. I settled on this one because of its vibrant colour and the selection of spices used in the recipe. Thanks to the addition of the turmeric, it comes out a bright saffron colour that’s really quite beautiful.
It’s easy to make – a steady process of sautéing then simmering the various ingredients to make the dish, then frying off a bunch of different spices and adding them to the finished product for an extra layer of flavour (called tempering). It’s not a particularly spicy curry and I think I might have added a bit too much water to the lentils which watered it down a bit but the flavours of the mustard seeds, garlic and ginger filter through and gives it plenty of flavour (though subtler than I had expected).
The recipe gives you the option to add some lemon juice to the dish. I had planned on doing so and even had the lemon ready on the bench, but completely forgot to add it in the end! I have some leftovers which I was planning on eating for lunch tomorrow so perhaps I’ll try the added lemon then instead.
I did however use a small amount of curry powder (in lieu of the optional curry leaves mentioned in the recipe) and this gave it another layer of complexity. I didn’t have any asafoetida but I read that onion powder was a suitable substitute so added a bit of that instead.
Next was the vegetable-based dish. I settled on Palek Paneer (Spinach in Cottage Cheese) as I thought it would be a nice creamy contrast to the lentils.
It’s incredibly easy to make – fry off some onion and ginger, add fresh chopped spinach, chilli, garlic and a cinnamon stick and cook for about 10 minutes. Later add some chopped tomato, some cottage cheese and a bit of water and cook until most of the liquid is absorbed. That’s it!
Now I have to admit that this isn’t the prettiest of dishes to look at. It’s actually kind of off putting to be honest. What it lacks in visual appeal however, is more than made up for in flavour. It has a smooth, creamy texture and the flavours of the cinnamon and spinach shine through. I found it incredibly moreish and actually went back for seconds it was so good! I could easily eat this on a regular basis and the best thing about it (as well as the lentil dish for that matter) is that it’s incredibly healthy. Definitely one to add to the favourites list!
I served both curries with rice and kind of picked and chose between them. Neither was particularly spicy and I think would be fairly accessible for anyone who is looking to broaden their diet. I’m used to eating quite a lot of meat but I didn’t miss it at all with this dinner.
Lastly, I decided to try and Indian dessert. I found it too difficult to pass by the Strawberry Phirni so that made it onto the menu. It’s basically a strawberry flavoured rice pudding but the rice is ground down so it’s much smoother than you’d imagine. It’s sweet but not sickly sweet, has a lovely hint of cardamom through it and goes deliciously topped with almonds and pistachios. I also added a few rose petals (my new favourite thing!) and these went beautifully with the dish. I’m actually not a huge fan of strawberries but I really liked this dish and would definitely try it again.
All up I was incredibly happy with this meal and will almost certainly be trying them again sometime in the future.
But first, onto the next challenge…..