A Passage to India 

Different recipes from India’s diverse regions

Different recipes from India’s diverse regions

In spring 2000, I returned from my trip through India very well fed, my enjoyment of the country measured in heaping tablespoons of curry, cups upon cups of milky chai and many pounds of chapatti and naan. I somehow avoided the dreaded Bombay belly and had permanently traded in my affection for typical American fare (comparatively bland) for a love of Indian food. Still, most Americans think of Indian cuisine in terms of curry only. But the country’s cuisine is radically diverse and complex, due largely to years of foreign invaders (who brought their own culinary influences) and regions whose landscapes include the Himalayas, the Thar Desert and the sunny southern beaches. Indeed, Indian cuisine holds plenty of options for vegetarians and carnivores alike, and combines more spices than you thought existed.

With more quality Indian restaurants popping up in Nashville, you have the chance to sample fare from the whole country: from Goa’s spicy fish vindaloo, to Punjab’s tandoori chicken, to the wonderful snacks (chaat) of Bombay. Even better, you can make these dishes at home quite easily. Here are a few other regional recipes from local restaurants to get you started.

No worry, lamb curry—Invasions of northern India over the centuries have shaped that region’s cuisine into what is probably the most globally recognized of all Indian cuisines. The Moghuls, tribesmen from central Asia, are believed to have imparted the greatest influence, particularly evidenced through the use of meats, yogurt, cream and spices such as garam masala and fennel. Most diners recognize tandoori chicken, naan and chicken tikka masala as favorite northern Indian foods. Another favorite northern specialty, Kashmiri Rogan Josh, is a rich orangish-red lamb curry. The secret to most curries is in the intricate mixture of onion, garlic, ginger and tomatoes, plus a variety of spices, which you can find at several Indian markets around town.

Sitar, one of Nashville’s best destinations for Indian food, offers a divine Lamb Rogan Josh. Overseeing Sitar’s kitchen is chef Charan Jit Kumar, from the northern state of Punjab. Kumar came to Nashville two years ago, after serving as the chef at Sitar in Knoxville since the mid-’90s. He laughed at the idea of the Scene writing down his recipe, indicating it’s simplicity—just a pinch of this and that.

But Indian food, though hardly simple, is well worth the effort. This dish is guaranteed to make you want to lick the serving spoon. If you try this at home, pair it with basmati rice and pick up an order of naan to go.

Lamb Rogan Josh

Recipe adapted from Sitar Indian Restaurant, 116 21st Ave. N.; 321-8889

Serves 3-4

Vegetable oil for frying

2 garlic cloves, crushed

2 green chilies, finely chopped

1 inch fresh ginger, grated

1 tbsp. curry leaves

1 tbsp. curry powder

1 large onion

400 g. (14 oz.) canned tomatoes

2.2 lbs. of lamb steak, cubed (beef or chicken can be substituted)

1 c. sour cream or plain yogurt

1 fresh tomato, diced

1 tsp. salt

1 tsp. garam masala

1 tsp. meat masala

Pinch chili powder

3-4 tbsp. heavy cream

Directions: Heat oil in a pan and add garlic, chilies, ginger and curry leaves; stir-fry for a few minutes. Chop onions in a food processor and add to oil. Cook for 5 minutes while stirring. Stir in curry powder. Blend canned tomatoes in food processor and add to mixture. Cook for another 5 minutes. Set aside.

In another pan, brown the cubed lamb in oil. Add yogurt or sour cream to lamb and mix well while cooking over high heat. Add salt, chili powder, garam masala and meat masala. Mix well and cook for 2-3 minutes. Add curry sauce and diced tomatoes. Cook for 2-3 minutes. Mix in heavy cream and bring to a boil. Lower heat and simmer until lamb is tender (20-30 minutes). Serve with basmati rice.

Not your average griddlecake—By virtue of location, southern India wasn’t nearly as affected by Persian, Turkish or Moghul influences as the northern regions. Likewise, southern Indian cuisine lacks the hearty, meat-dominated dishes that are characteristic of dishes up north. Southern Indian dishes are most often vegetarian, using a multitude of lentils, and usually accented by coconut, tamarind, coriander and mustard seeds.

Masala Dosa is a typical breakfast dish or light snack that stands in stark contrast to the rich, heavy foods of the north. A dosa is a very thin rice and lentil crepe that can be filled with anything, but masala dosas are usually filled with a potato curry and then accompanied by a chutney.

Bistro Shakti is the new creation of Mahadev Shashidhar, or Shashi as most know him, who formerly owned East India Club in Brentwood. Looking to change the way we typically think about an Indian restaurant, Shashi has opened his business in a beautiful old home in historic downtown Franklin, and created a more modern café setting inside. He even hosts live music on Friday evenings. Bistro Shakti’s menu covers traditional dishes, like the masala dosa below, but will soon include more eclectic menu items, like Indian-inspired pasta dishes.

Masala Dosa (Rice and lentil crepe, stuffed with seasoned potatoes)

Recipe provided by Bistro Shakti, 142 Second Ave. N., Franklin, 790-6774

Dosa

Makes 4-6 dosas

For the dosas you will need a griddle or large grill pan

1 c. urad lentils

1/2 tsp. chana dahl (spilt peas)

1/4 tsp. fenugreek (methi) seeds

2 1/2 c. long-grain rice

Directions: Soak rice, lentils, chana dahl and fenugreek seeds in warm water for 2-3 hours. Drain and put mixture into a food processor. Puree rice/lentil mixture until it is the consistency of pancake batter. Add salt to taste. Let batter ferment at room temp. for 6 hours. After fermenting, whip the batter well and heat the griddle or pan. Oil the griddle with a few drops of olive oil and pour 1 cup of the batter onto the griddle. Spread the batter evenly over the griddle (dosas should be 7-8 inches in diameter) and let cook for 2-4 minutes over medium heat or until the edges become crispy. Flip dosa with a spatula and cook for another 30 seconds. Flip back over and fill with seasoned potatoes or other filling. Fold the dosa over in a half-moon shape. Serve with coconut-mint chutney.

Potato Filling for Masala Dosa

1/2 onion, diced

1 hot chili pepper, minced

1/2 tsp. black mustard seeds

2 large baking potatoes, cooked, peeled and mashed

Directions: Lightly sauté onion, chili and mustard seeds in vegetable oil. Cook, peel and mash potatoes and add to onion sauté. Mix well and the filling is ready.

Better than beer?—The mango lassi is as ubiquitous on Indian menus as cows are on Indian streets. There’s no mystery why. This non-alcoholic, yogurt drink cools the body, soothes the sweet tooth and tastes like a vacation. Plus, it’s a good alternative to Indian beer, which rivals PBR in taste. Nick Patel’s two-year-old Taste of India is already a Nashville favorite and great place to get your lassi fix. This simple recipe can be altered a variety of ways by incorporating rose water, milk, honey or even salt.

Mango Lassi

Recipe adapted from Taste of India, 1805 Church St.; 327-5400

Makes 2 servings

1 c. plain yogurt

1/2 c. canned mango pulp

3-4 tsp. sugar, to taste

Pinch of cardamom optional

Directions: Put all ingredients into a blender and blend for 2 minutes. (You may add 1/2 cup of milk to blender if consistency is too thick.)

Pour over ice into individual glasses and serve with sprig of fresh mint.

For Indian spices, lentils, sweets and more, visit these markets:

Apna Bazaar (3808 Nolensville Road; 333-0028) Owner Sudhir Patel, from Gujarat, India, is happy to explain the medicinal value of all the spices he sells. Friday through Sunday he has fresh roti (breads) available at the store. Suraj Imports (1807 Church St., 321-3818) Located next to Taste of India, this Indian market carries all the essentials for Indian cooking, plus more Bollywood flicks than you can shake a hip at. Farmers Market (900 8th Ave. N., 880-2001) Nashville’s Farmers Market is a dreamland for cooks of ethnic foods. You should have no problem finding the spices you need, as well as seafood, meats, and, of course, lots of veggies.

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