Too heavy, too rich, way too spicy. These are just some of the comments you hear when people talk of Indian food. In all fairness, the assessment isn’t completely way off base. We order our favorite dishes on the menu but don’t think through how they work together in terms of ‘balance of flavors, textures and fat’. I for one am certainly guilty. Greedily picking dishes with three stars next to them (ratings for chili levels), my ‘snap’ seeking palate is very quickly put in its place with more than I can handle.
As I headed over to New Yorks latest Indian culinary find ‘Moti-Mahal Delux’, I was given a re-education. Gaurav Anand, restaurateur of NYC’s three leading Indian restaurants, one of which includes Moti-Mahal Delux, is as ‘straight-talking’ as his dishes. His ingredients are sourced locally and for the most part, organic. His kitchens have no tolerance for short-cuts and short-changing and each dish is executed with the precision that is being upheld at Moti Mahals original restaurant in Dariyaganj, New Delhi. In a word, he is a perfectionist.
Yet, he recognizes that pulling out the stops is not sufficient. The overall experience is a partnership between the patron and restaurant. The question one poses the server at the time of ordering a meal is often ‘what are your most popular dishes?’ when it should be ‘what dishes do you recommend? ‘, ‘How do these dishes inter-play with each other?’. Indian cuisines is built around steaming, grilling, sautéing and of course like most other cuisines, it has it’s mother sauces (base sauces). Gaurav recommends selecting a dish from each category and opting for dishes made with different base sauces. Planning to order butter chicken, paneer makhani and makhani daal ? the experience may induce a little heartburn as butter and cream is a defining component in all three. Deciding on which bread with your chicken curry? A naan will serve to mop-up flavors whilst the choice of a whole-wheat roti might block them. Gaurav shares how to approach an Indian menu:
Selecting from the following categories
1) Clay oven/ Grill: Kebabs/ tikkas and a house salad with chutneys – typically eaten as an appetizer
a. If choosing a cream based dish, such as chicken makhani, select a sautéed vegetable like okra or eggplant and a light yellow lentil curry, such as, tadka daal
b. If choosing a sautéed protein, such as mutton or chicken curry, you can open your vegetarian choices to include dishes like paneer makhani or black buttered lentils – daal makani and dum aloo Kashmiri (potatoes cooked in steam)
Gaurav shared his recipe for Eggplant Saute- Baingan Jaitpuri, as it’s versatility makes it work well with both choices. The dish is vibrant as baby eggplants are coated in a warm and tangy tomato-like relish.
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Recipe for Egpplant sauté - Baingan Jaitpuri
1 lb. baby eggplants
¼ tsp. cayenne pepper powder
Salt to taste
1 tsp. chaat masala (seasoning mix available at Indian specialty stores)
3 red onions
1 white onion
2 large tomatoes
1 tsp. cumin powder
3 tbsp. olive oil for sautéing
1 cup vegetable oil for frying
1 tbsp. dried mango or amchoor powder (mango powder available at Indian specialty stores)
- Make a spice mixture of: cayenne pepper, salt and chaat masala
- Slit the eggplant across but only up to the stem. Stuff each eggplant with a pinch of the spice mixture
- Finely chop the onions and tomatoes, and saute them with olive oil until they are brown
- Add cumin powders and cook for 5 minutes over low heat. Let the sauce cool
- Fry the eggplant for about 8-10 minutes over medium heat in a large skillet or in two batches. Add to the sauce, gently mix and sprinkle with amchoor powder
- Serve with red onions soaked in lime juice and naans (Stonefire make great naans and are available at most supermarkets)