Over the last 2 decades learning about cooking I keep coming back to the same idea that out of all the cuisines I have learned about, the cuisine of India is the most vast. The array is staggering and the differences at first glance in recipes or regions don’t seem that discrepant….until you actually cook the recipes.
As y’all know, I’ve been an Indian cooking instructor for several years. And I started out teaching to make the public aware of the regional differences of Indian food, mostly because of my various roots in India. But I’m certainly NOT the only Indian cook out there. And I want you to see even MORE variety that this beautiful, diverse, prodigious country of India can offer.
So for the next 6 weeks or so, I’ll be posting some of my Indian friends’ recipes every week, for a total of 6 recipes. These friends come from different regions of India, but most of them are Indian-American (first-generation), just like me. Why do I mention that? You’ll see that the recipes I’ve chosen are traditional recipes (not many shortcuts) but all do-able and approachable. The recipes are either transcribed from their own familial recipes, or they’re recipes that they themselves adapted many times over to create something workable for this generation and their family. They could also be recipes influenced by other members of family who come from different parts of India. The recipes were all tested and photographed by me but the original recipe comes from the friend, and in each post I’ll tell you a little bit about them!
For example, today I’m starting with my friend Jayanthi’s recipe. Her husband is from Goa and she is from Chennai but grew up in Bangalore. She puts on these fantastic Goan feasts for our large Indian friend circle but the recipe she chose to submit to this series is her creation, inspired by a Tamilian dish. It is FANTASTIC. It clearly has some influence from Southern Indian cuisine with the addition of coconut milk and it reflects her true passion in cooking because she makes a fresh toasted spice blend (she calls this her curry powder which she uses for many curries). Folks, making the fresh spice blend makes a world of difference. Make a whole batch (quadruple the recipe) and use it for a couple of months. This is a healthy, nutrient-dense, and traditional Indian dish that accomplishes a lot in one bowl. Be happy I have good-cooking friends. 🙂
- For the homemade curry powder needed (please double recipe to have enough):
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
2 or more dried red chilies, broken up into small pieces
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
- For the curry:
2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil
¼ teaspoon black mustard seeds, optional
¼ teaspoon Cumin seeds
6 Curry leaves, optional
1 medium onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
4 heaped tablespoons of the homemade curry powder above
4 cups peeled and cubed butternut squash or kabocha squash. .
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 cups water
1 cup coconut milk (about half a 14oz can)
3 cups tightly packed baby spinach
- For the curry powder: place coriander, cumin, fennel seeds and broken up red chilies (discard stems) in a medium pan. Use a pan large enough so that the spices are spread in a thin layer.
- Toast the spices on medium-low heat, shaking the pan often, till the spices turn color and get fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. A stainless steel pan or cast-iron skillet work well for toasting spices.
- Cool the roasted spices. Then using a spice grinder, grind into a fine powder. Mix in the turmeric and blend once more till everything is combined.
- Store in an airtight container for 2 months or use for the curry now.
- For the curry, heat oil over medium-high heat in a large saucepan and add mustard seeds if using. When they start to pop, add the cumin seeds quickly and curry leaves, lower the heat, and stir till fragrant, about 30 seconds. Be careful not to burn the seeds.
- Add onions and cook about 7-8 minutes until lightly browned.
- Then throw in the garlic and cook for 30 seconds or till fragrant.
- Sprinkle 4 tablespoons of curry powder, stir, then add the peeled, cubed squash or pumpkin and salt.
- Pour in 2 cups of water and bring to a boil. Then reduce heat to a lively simmer, cover the pot and let the squash or pumpkin cook till it is fork tender, about 20 minutes. If the water is drying up before the pumpkin is done, add more water, half cup at a time. If there is too much water in the pot, boil it uncovered, till there is only about ¾ cup water remaining.
- When the squash/pumpkin is cooked, add the coconut milk and remaining 1 tablespoon of curry powder. Stir and bring back to a boil.
- When the curry boils, add the spinach and cook just till the spinach wilts, about 1 minute.
- Serve hot over steaming basmati rice.
© Shefaly Ravula/ Shef’s Kitchen