Chana Masala

Chana MasalaI adore Indian food. I love the spices and the warmth. I love that Indian food is packed with things that are good for my body, and that it doesn’t taste like “health food.” Indian food is fantastic.

But I’ve got to admit that I don’t cook Indian food at home very often. True, I love going home and recreating every delicious food in my very own kitchen; but I just find that Indian food is always better when I order it out. (Or, ahem, when friends make it for me. Yeah, you know who you are.)

In the months since learning about Caitlin’s dairy intolerance, I’ve had to avoid eating a lot of my favorite things. Dairy is in almost everything! And since a lot of Indian food is cooked with ghee (clarified butter), I’ve been wary of ordering Indian food at a restaurant.

Enter glorious chana masala, a simple dish featuring chickpeas cooked in a rich, spicy tomato sauce full of grated ginger and pressed garlic. This version comes together very quickly, ready from start to finish in under an hour, thanks to the help of canned chickpeas. And it is delicious!

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Dal Makhani (Lentils with Tomatoes and Cream)

Dal Makhani

I’ve been thinking for a while that I should give dal another chance. The first time I made it, I used a crockpot recipe that turned out to be super boring and a little like eating dirt…and Dave said, “Well what do you expect? This is what lentils taste like.”

But since then, I have discovered a love for both Indian food and lentils (perfect storm!). And the more people I share that sad dal story with, the more suggestions I receive for wonderful dal variations to try—as well as a few scoldings for my low opinion of dal in the first place.

So I got pretty darn excited when I found a simple and delicious dal recipe at The Tasty Cheapskate, my Secret Recipe Club blog for July! I really enjoyed perusing Jean’s blog—and I really related to a comment she made in her food journal that her children do not eat particularly well. Yes, it’s true…children of food bloggers do not necessarily eat wheatberry salads or fresh fruits or brussels sprouts or much of anything that isn’t “baya. deh-yeee. zava!” (Oh. You don’t speak toddler? In our house, that translates to “peanut butter and jelly sandwich.”)

And to answer your next question, although this dal was delicious, my toddler spit out his first bite (though he did try two more bites after that!—they met the same fate). Oh well.

Dal is a great dish because it is inexpensive* and filling! In this dish, black beluga lentils swim in an aromatic, spicy, creamy tomato sauce. Serve with basmati rice or your favorite Indian flatbread and you’ve got a completely nutritious meal!

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Saag Paneer

Saag Paneer

On Sunday morning, it was so warm I didn’t even need a coat when I went outside.

By midnight, the roads were icy and buckets of snow were on their way.

Late winter is so confusing! I don’t know what to wear, I don’t know what to make for dinner… (Right? On blustery days all I can think about are steaming, hearty bowls full of warm spices, which is not exactly appealing when it’s 60 degrees outside.)

In these final days of freezing winter, I truly just want to make the most of earthy, spicy foods before I have to give them up for spring salads. So I made saag paneer.

Have you ever had that? It’s basically a phenomenally spiced spinach and cheese dish, which you can eat with a fork or by swirling a piece of garlicky naan bread through it. Classic wintery goodness.

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Curried Avocados with Mustard

Curried Avocados with Mustard

The first time I made this snack, it was out of slightly morbid curiosity. It was just so weird, and there was so much going on: avocados, chilis, curry, mustard, cilantro. I thought maybe this recipe couldn’t decide what direction it wanted to go in, so it just went for everything at once.

Boy was I surprised when I took my first bite. Somehow, everything just worked together in the most beautiful way. It turns out that an Indian flavor palette works well on cool, creamy avocados! The avocado cooled down the serrano; the curry powder and mustard accented each other delightfully.

This snack is so good that one bite could never be enough. After I took the photos, I decided to have a forkful before my husband got home…two minutes later, half the bowl was gone! I am powerless to stop eating this stuff.

Just try it. You’ll thank me later!

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Chai Spiced Pancakes

Chai Spiced Pancakes

It’s gloomy. And cold.

What you need is for your kitchen to smell warm, and your stomach to be filled with sweet spices to keep you cozy from the inside out.

So let’s break open our spice cabinets and make chai pancakes! We could maybe even pretend that all those healthy anti-inflammatory and blood sugar–lowering spices make these pancakes somewhat healthy.

But however you choose to rationalize making pancakes and whipped cream in the middle of January (hey, we can’t restrict ourselves too much based on all those healthy eating resolutions!…otherwise we will crash and burn), you should definitely add these pancakes into your weekend breakfast rotation.

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Vegetable Khorma

This month for the Secret Recipe Club, I was assigned the blog Samayalarai: Cooking is Divine.

What an interesting blog—and something of a challenge for me, an Indian food rookie! Looking through the pages and pages of recipes, mostly for things I had never previously heard of, was a real education for me. I mean, my Indian food experience is fairly limited to the most common of dishes: naan, various kinds of masala, jalfrezi…

Let’s just say I spent a lot of time looking up Indian food terms on Google as I browsed the blog.

I landed on a dish called Dhingri Mutter, which means mushrooms and peas. One of the things that drew me to this dish is that it seemed like something I could easily make at home without buying too many exotic ingredients that would later go to waste. It also looked really healthy, and reminded me of a favorite Indian dish that I’ve been meaning to make for a while, Navrattan Khorma. Both are made with a fresh tomato-onion paste and yogurt sauce; the main difference is in the vegetables included. Since I’m not a huge fan of peas, I decided to expand this dish to include a few other vegetables as well, making it even more similar to the khorma I enjoy so much. I hope I didn’t compromise the integrity of the meal too much by tinkering with the ingredients! All I know is that I sure enjoyed it.

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Curried Butternut Squash Soup

Last Christmas, my husband’s family all gathered in California to spend a week together. It was that week of bizarre weather when it drizzled almost nonstop…and every native Californian freaked out and half the roads closed (as a Virginian, I found this reaction about as silly as how Richmonders behave if there’s a possibility of snow…but apparently there were actual mudslides, so maybe the Californians had a reason to be worried). But while we were there, we played dozens of board and card games, hiked up to the Hollywood sign in fog so thick we were literally about 20 yards away from it and couldn’t see any of the letters, and did yoga in the sitting room. And, lo and behold, I was not the only vegetarian present!

Clara, my husband’s cousin, is a great cook, and one evening she made this fantastic butternut squash soup. It’s vegan-friendly, spicy, and absolutely delicious! I have been dreaming of this soup since last year, looking forward to fall/winter squash season so I could make it and share it with you all. Now it’s perfect soup weather, and this filling bowlful will warm your stomach and your taste buds.

It takes about 3½ hours to make from start to finish, and while a lot of that time is inactive, this might be a good dish to prepare ahead if you are having guests, or to save for the weekend. Let’s dig in!

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