Last weekend, the teacher of a class I'm auditing (about food in Paris) asked me to help her cook an Indian meal for 60 people at the Slow Food Cafe in Bastille. The theme was Indian, and being the only other Indian person in the class, I obliged. (Not to mention that I love doing this kind of stuff)
So I spent the next 12 hours of my Saturday, from 10 am to 10 pm, chopping, peeling, stirring, frying, currying, tasting and drinking. It was a wonderful learning experience, especially because the professor is South Indian, which means I knew nothing about the food we were going to be cooking. I met her equally food crazy students, who were all there to help us turn this idea for a meal into something truly delicious. The metro ride home was particularly embarrassing, as I found out what it means to really be perceived as 'a smelly immigrant'. But I don't blame them; I looked dead tired, reeked of onions and ghee, had pieces of food in my hair and on my clothes...
Thanks to Courtney who was the food paparrazi and documented our entire amazing, tiring, onion-smelling day.
First we made the ghee, the basis of all the dishes. You make this by slowly boiling butter, then skimming off the frothy white bits and saving the clarified, golden syrup that is left at the bottom.
Then we made the raita, a garlicky yogurt dip with grated cucumbers. The purpose of this side dish, which is almost always to be found on an Indian table, is to soothe the palate if the curry is too spicy.
Then we prepped the veggies for the rice pilau, a rice dish made with vegetables that are first sauteed in the ghee along with various spices, and then added and cooked together with the rice.
Then, the dahl, or lentils. These are yellow lentils, called moong dahl. They should be soaked before hand, and then they don't take too long to cook. This particular type is usually fed to children in India when they have a fever or a cold.
Making the turka for the dahl. This is the spice base for the lentils, made with onions, chilies,cloves, cardamom and mustard, cumin and coriander seeds, all fried slowly in ghee until caramelized, then stirred into the lentils at the very end.
Then came the curry; chicken, sweet potato and tamarind in a tomato sauce, topped with fresh coriander.
And last but not least, the dessert: halva, or sooji, is basically semolina fried in ghee, then cooked in water with sugar, cardamom, cinnamon and spices until it turns soft and velvety. Topped with cashews fried in more ghee.
All in all, an amazing experience that culminated in an amazing dinner. (Plus a couple of nice additions to my recipe collection)