ChowTime: Indian Food that will Blow your Mind!

Indian restaurants are a dime a dozen. Great Indian restaurants are hard to come by. Very few can master the taste and delicate flavors of a home-cooked Indian meal. However, two restaurants owned by the same husband and wife team have managed to make me feel like I’m eating dinner in someone’s home.

Vij’s (formal dining) and Vij’s Rangoli (casual dining and market) owned by Vikram Vij
and Meeru Dhalwala in Vancouver, Canada take Indian cooking to new heights.  Sam Sifton from the NY Times has described Vij’s as “an extraordinary Indian restaurant.” The cooking combines traditional flavors, as well as experimenting with new ones.  You’ll find saag paneer (traditional) along with Sooke Trout with lobster in coconut, curry leaf, and kokum curry (original creation).

If you don’t live in Vancouver,  Vikram and Meeru have made it possible for you to sample their original and flavorful cooking. The two have just released their second cookbook, Vij’s at Home: Relax, Honey: The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking, and have shared two of their delicious recipes with us.

From the book Vij’s at Home—Relax, Honey: The Warmth and Ease of Indian Cooking © 2010, by Meeru Dhalwala and Vikram Vij. Published by Douglas and McIntyre an imprint of D&M Publishers Inc. Photographs by John Sherlock. Reprinted with permission of the publisher.

Mushroom Medley in Potato Curry

This dish is an Indian soup that is eaten like a potato chowder, and because it is made with buttermilk, you get a good serving of calcium. Boil the potatoes and have them peeled and roughly mashed before you start making the curry, and chop the mushrooms so that the various varieties cook at the same time. We use a medley of shiitake, oyster and crimini mushrooms, but use whichever ones you prefer. Make sure you have a ladle and a whisk on hand for this recipe.

Combine potatoes and enough of the water to cover them in a large pot on high heat and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat to medium and boil for 45 minutes, or until potatoes are soft but not mushy when pierced with a knife. Drain potatoes and set aside to cool.

Once potatoes are cool, use your fingers or a sharp knife to peel off and discard the skins. Roughly mash the potatoes using your fists or a potato masher. (Be sure to leave the potatoes a bit chunky, as you want some texture in the soup.)

In a large heavy-bottomed pot, heat oil on medium-high for 45 seconds. Add cumin seeds and allow them to sizzle for 30 seconds. Add garlic and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, or until golden. Stir in ginger and sauté for 30 seconds, then add salt, coriander, cayenne and turmeric, and sauté for 1 minute. Reduce the heat to low, stir in potatoes and mix well. Increase the heat to medium-high, add the remaining water and stir thoroughly. Bring to a boil and reduce the heat to low.

Pour buttermilk into a large bowl (or the same one in which you kept the potatoes). To prevent the soup from separating, use a ladle to spoon about 2 cups of the hot potato curry into the buttermilk. Whisk the mixture until it is well combined. Carefully spoon all of the buttermilk into the pot of curry. Using the whisk, mix well, and, stirring continuously, bring to a boil on low heat. Add mushrooms and cook for about 2 minutes,or until slightly wilted. Remove from the heat and serve immediately

Serves 6

Prep & Cooking Time
45 minutes + 45 minutes
to boil potatoes

1 1/2lbs potatoes, unpeeled
5 cups water
1/2 cup cooking oil
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
3 Tbsp finely chopped
garlic (9 medium cloves)
3 Tbsp finely chopped ginger
1 Tbsp salt
2 1/2 Tbsp ground coriander
1 Tbsp crushed cayenne pepper
1 tsp turmeric
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
6 oz mushrooms, chopped

Serve with:
Brown Basmati Rice
Spicy Cauliflower “Steak”
Spicy Pork Roast with Garlic

Lamb in Creamy Green Cardamom Curry

There are two main ways to make this dish. For dinner parties, we cook the traditional way on the stovetop, sautéing the onions and masala in a pot and then cooking the lamb. But on workdays, Meeru mixes all the ingredients together in a large casserole dish and puts everything in the oven about 1 1/2 hours before dinner. The oven method doesn’t have the same punch or deep colour of the sautéed masala, but when convenience reigns, it’s still delicious. Nanaki prefers the oven method, as the spices aren’t as strong.

Often, Nanaki and Shanik do the mixing. For them, it’s like playing with playdough. They don’t like to wear gloves, so their hands and the counter do get messy. Nevertheless, if they’ve had anything to do with making the meal, it automatically tastes good to them. You can leave the curry in the oven once you turn it off, as the lamb only gets more tender.

Feel free to replace the buttermilk with either stirred yogurt or whipping cream. Buttermilk or yogurt gives the curry a slight tang, whereas the cream makes it richer. We serve this lamb curry with rice or naan bread, but it is also delicious over boiled, salted potatoes.

For the oven method, move your oven rack to the middle position and preheat the oven to 375°f. Place all ingredients in a large casserole dish and mix until well combined. Cover with a lid or aluminum foil, place in the oven and bake for1 hour. Using a sharp knife, poke a piece of lamb to make sure it is tender. If it is still slightly tough in the centre, bake for another 15 to 30 minutes, or until cooked. Turn off the heat and allow lamb to rest in the oven, covered, until serving time.

For the stovetop method, heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed pan on high for 1 minute. Add onion and sauté for 5 to 6 minutes, or until golden. Add asafoetida and stir for 1 minute. Stir in garlic and sauté until golden, 1 to 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to medium and stir in tomatoes. Add turmeric, mustard seeds, cayenne, paprika, cumin, cardamom and salt, stir and cook for 5 minutes, or until oil glistens on the tomatoes.

Stir in lamb, mixing until well combined. Pour in water and mix well. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low, cover and cook for 50 minutes.

Place buttermilk (or yogurt or cream) in a medium bowl. To prevent curdling, whisk about 1 cup of the hot curry into the buttermilk (or yogurt or cream), then pour the mixture into the pot of curry. Cover and continue cooking for 15 minutes. Using a sharp knife, poke a piece of lamb to make sure it is tender. If it is still slightly tough in the centre, continue cooking for another 15 minutes, or until tender. (It has never taken us longer than 1 1/2 hours to cook the lamb.) Turn off the heat and allow lamb to rest on the stove, covered, until serving time.

Serves 6 to 8

Prep & Cooking Time
30 minutes + 1 hour to stew on
the stove; 15 minutes + 1 to
1 1/2 hours to cook in the oven

1/3 to 1/2 cup cooking oil
2 cups chopped onion (1 large)
1/2 tsp asafoetida (optional)
4 Tbsp chopped
garlic (12 medium cloves)
3/4 cup crushed canned tomatoes
1 1/2 tsp turmeric
1 1/2 Tbsp ground black mustardseeds (optional)
1 1/2 tsp ground cayenne pepper(optional)
1 Tbsp paprika
2 Tbsp ground cumin
10 to 12 green cardamompods, lightly pounded
1 Tbsp salt
3 lbs stewing lamb,trimmed of fat and cubed
1 cup water(for oven method) or 2 cups water (for stovetop method)
1 1/2 cups buttermilk or plain
yogurt (minimum 2% milk fat) or
3/4 cup whipping cream

Serve with:
Eggplant and Paneer Pâté
Punjabi Lentil Curry
Eggplant and Navy Beans
in Kalonji and Tamarind
Curry (for dinner parties)

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