If you’ve tried making any of the Indian dishes I’ve shared over the past few weeks, you know that cooking Indian food takes a lot of time. Not only is there lots of chopping and prep work, but also you have to measure out tons of spices and cook the food for at least an hour.
If you were feeling discouraged by the long recipe lists and cook times, take heart in the fact that most Indians don’t even cook their own food. With labor so cheap in the country, many families hire staff that cooks for them. The typical household meal normally has three different vegetable dishes, along with rice, roti or naan, and cut up fresh cucumber, onion, and tomato; and everything is cooked fresh. I can only imagine the work that goes into creating a meal like that everyday- breakfast, lunch, and dinner- and to pull it off, you would surely need someone in the kitchen full time.
The families that I visited each had at least two cooks, as well as a handful of other household staff. While the families were on the wealthy side of the spectrum, I was told this is pretty typical. The cooks were responsible for sourcing the food from the markets, preparing, and serving it.
I loved how the food was served. Each person was given a large silver plate with three small silver bowls holding a different dish. You would place your fresh roti bread on the plate, tearing it into pieces and using it to pinch your food up to eat. Because there are no utensils and you only use your hands, it can get messy; but no one wipes their hands off until the meal is finished, and then you just go and wash your hands at the sink. If the food is hot, you can add fresh tomatoes, cucumber, or mango to cool it down, which I had to do several times.
Markets are located all over the city, and they are mainly just small roadside stands. There is practically one on every corner, so no one has to go far to purchase their food. They all sell an array of vegetables and fruits, many that I had never seen before.
The homemade meals rarely strayed from Indian. Once we did order out pizza, but I could tell that was a big treat. Traditional Indian breakfast was also very interesting. There were lots of heavily spiced dishes, and I mainly just stuck to cooked potatoes and tomatoes, since they were light on my stomach.
Because everything is made from scratch, most homes don’t have the large refrigerators that we are familiar with here in America. There is no reason to refrigerate vegetables you are just about to cook; but further more, because of the spotty electricity service, there would be no reason as the power could go any minute. To that point, families don’t keep leftovers, and each meal is different. From what I could tell, the refrigerators were mainly used to keep drinks cold.
Speaking of drinks, I was highly surprised at how much soda is consumed in India. I thought soda was strictly an American plague, but even with the temperatures soaring in the 100F’s, I never saw anyone drink water! To be honest, I’m not sure how everyone stayed hydrated. On the other hand, I was drinking bottles by the liter. My theory is that the sugar and carbonation helps to cut the spice off of the tongue, and that is why so much is drunk with meals.
Alcohol, like water, is also a rarity. I never once saw it consumed in the home, and it was not served with any meals. Adult beverages are not sold at corner markets or gas stations in India; you must find a special liquor store even to purchase a beer. In some of the small towns we were traveling in that was certainly a challenge. However, most of the restaurants had a drink list, so it was possible to drink while out.
It’s not hard to have a passion for Indian food. The flavors are so exotic and much more bold than typical Western fare. However, I was having trouble eating it after a few days in the country. Because of water contamination, we were not able to eat anything unless it had been thoroughly cooked, meaning no fresh greens or fruit unless you could sanitize and peel it yourself. As someone who has a salad with practically every meal, I was missing food in its natural state.
The Northern Indian food we had was not only heavy on the spices, but it was very oily. Combined with the roti bread, which is basically pan-fried, the food we were served sat very heavily on my stomach. While I wish I could have eaten more, I never was able to finish a meal, much to the disappointment of my host.
However, one dish I never had trouble gobbling down was the Dum Potatoes. The potatoes were light enough for me, and I loved the perfectly spiced cream sauce they were simmered in. My rendition below is a bit less spicy, but feel free to kick it up a notch by adding more chillies.
This is the last of my India posts, and I hope you have enjoyed them as much as I have enjoyed sharing them. I can’t speak enough about how amazing the country and its people are, and if you ever get the chance to visit, take it! I hope to be going back soon. The country has definitely captured my heart, and there is so much more to explore!
Later this month, I’m off to Oregon, so look forward to another travel post and Portland themed recipe. Until then, I leave you with these amazing Potatoes!
- 2 Cups White Onion, chopped
- 4 Serrano Chilies, chopped
- 8 Garlic Cloves
- ¼ Cup of Raw Cashews
- 2 teaspoons of Fennel Seeds
- 1 teaspoon of Curry Powder
- 1 teaspoon of Cumin Seeds
- 2 Tablespoons of Canola Oil
- 4 Whole Cloves
- 2-inch Cinnamon Stick
- ¼ teaspoon of Ground Cardamom
- 2 Cups of Tomatoes, chopped
- 2 Tablespoons of Heavy Whipping Cream
- 20 Baby Potatoes, boiled, peeled, and fried
- 1 ½ teaspoons of Ground Coriander
- Place the first seven ingredients (through Cumin Seeds) in a food processor and process into a paste. Set aside.
- In a large pot, heat the oil on medium and then add the Cloves, Cinnamon Stick, and Cardamom. Cook until fragrant, and then pour the Onion mixture into the pot. Stir the Onion mixture for 2 minutes, and then toss in the Tomatoes. Stir continuously for 3 minutes.
- Next, Salt the dish to taste and mix in the Heavy Whipping Cream, cooking the sauce for another minute.
- Finally, add in the Potatoes and Coriander, stirring the sauce so the potatoes are coated. Turn the heat down to a low simmer and cover the dish, letting it cook for 30 minutes.
- Serve hot with rice. Makes 4 servings.