Issue 30

Comfort Food from India

Comfort Food from India

There are a few things that strike me when I reflect on my favorites when it comes to food and drink. The first is that, for me at least, my favorite dishes and drinks are not the best ones I’ve had. Chances are there wasn’t any fancy plating involved, nor any extreme garnishes, and I probably didn’t have it in a place that would stand out to anyone. As I think more about it, my favorites are not classified so much by what I had as the context surrounding it. What memories are attached to the dish or the drink, was it the first time I had it or is it something I keep going back to?

Comfort food springs to mind. These dishes aren’t fancy, but we go to them for solace and refuge. We look for them as something familiar when life seems to spiral out of control; and try as we might, though we may hunt them down at different restaurants, they just aren’t the same as when we have it at mom’s dinner table or in our own home, cooked on our stoves. Restaurants can get them close, but they just can’t quite get them right to truly match our pre-conceived expectations.

My favorite meal, hands down, is a simple one, when I stop to think about it. It is basic, and it is something I can make without really thinking about things, just knowing by the feel of ground spices in my fingers how much to put and when to throw it in the pan. My favorite is an Indian meal: kheema, steamed rice, yogurt curry, and masala green beans and potatoes. It’s my comfort food, and, I dare say, something I think I make even better than my mother.

I grew up thinking of ground meat as something called kheema, though I believe that in India it is properly called mince. For me, kheema is nothing more than spiced ground meat and peas. I first learned the dish using a conglomeration of spices: cumin, coriander, chili powder, salt, garam masala, and ginger-garlic paste, with fresh coriander (cilantro) sprinkled on top. To say the sum is greater than the parts, here, would be an understatement. About ten years ago, though, my mother introduced me to Bhafat (Bah-fahth) Masala. I now I have a standing order on for whenever one of my family goes to India, as I don’t know anywhere in the western hemisphere to get it and have no idea, whatsoever, on how to make this heavenly spice blend. I’ve found different recipes, but nothing that produces a flavor like what comes out of this spice blend I’ve found.

The second component to my favorite meal is a masala green bean and potato mix. Here we have diced onions, green beans and potatoes stir fried with onions, cumin seed, ground coriander, ground turmeric and chili powder. Again, not very complicated as far as some dishes go, and not a piquant dish if you use the chili powder correctly. This, coupled with the kheema and rice, is enough to make any meal memorable, but what makes this meal truly sing is the introduction of yogurt curry.

I’m not sure what the actual name for this sauce is, but it’s tasty. Where people could use either the kheema or the beans as the focal point of the meal, this is an accompaniment or a supporting member, if you will. This gravy is made from besan (chickpea) flour, plain yogurt, ginger, and mustard seeds as its primary ingredients, along with sugar. Perhaps the most difficult thing to achieve is on how to integrate the yogurt to frying ginger, peppers and mustard seeds jumping around in hot oil. It has a slight sourness from the yogurt, but it’s cut with the sweetness from the sugar that just works.

On the plate the rice gets its own space (I use about half the plate for mine), a separate section gets the kheema, and the third section gets the vegetable. I then liberally add the yogurt curry to the rice. Then you eat, get seconds, eat some more, pause, and look around for someone else to do clean up because you’re in a food coma.

It isn’t likely you’ll find anything in a restaurant served up like this. It is something only available in the home. It’s what I eat when I’m troubled, when I’m happy, when I’m needing to think about things – when I just want something good. It’s what I cook when I need to escape from the world for a while. Simply put, it’s my favorite.

Tags assigned to this article:
Home CookingIndian FoodMasala

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