This recipe and story first appeared as a guest post on Scissors & Spice. Thanks again, Lynn!
Dum Aloo is one of many unsung heroes of Indian vegetarian cooking, with paneer, kofta, and mixed veg dishes usually stealing the spotlight. If you like potatoes and enjoy creamy, tomato-based curries, this delicious wonder will win you over. Soon you’ll be cooking it regularly and looking out for it on menus.
When I lived in Amravati, India, teaching Art and English for a year at a Cambridge International School, I quickly made friends with much of the neighborhood. From the first day, I was invited to family meals and constantly got amazing offers of home-cooked lunches. It was culinary heaven!
I learned so much about traditional Indian cooking (and a lot of Hindi) from the family of one of the local vegetable cart vendors who lived down the street. In the evenings, I’d often hear a knock at the door or get a short text message, and within minutes the kitchen was alive: full of cheery voices, sizzling sounds, amazing smells, and the incredible, vivid colors of spices and fresh vegetables.
Navratan Vegetable Korma is immensely popular all over the world. It’s another one of those Indian dishes with countless variations and incarnations. Having lots of vegetables, fruits and nuts, and the creamy sauce, however, are standard features. Actually, the name “Navratan” implies (at least) 9 different ingredients. I won’t count yours, if you won’t count mine.
It’s no secret that this website and my cookbook feature an abundance of great Indian recipes. Indian food is one of my (many) favorite cuisines! I’ve loved it my whole life, and I’ve been cooking Indian vegetarian food for over 20 years, ever since that first paperback copy of The Higher Taste back in ’91. I also discovered many great recipes during my extended visits to India. It was tricky to decide which recipes to include.
One of my youngest brother’s best friends (and a generous supporter on Kickstarter, not to mention all around great guy) made it clear to me how happy he’d be to get a recipe for his favorite Indian dish: Vegetable Korma. It’s a pleasure to share this with you, B!
I could talk about Paneer Makhani for hours. I have so many stories about and memories of this dish, mostly from my visits to India, but also from great Indian restaurants around the world and the many variations of it.
This dish actually parades about under many names. This is true with many incredible Indian recipes. Anyone who’s been to more than two Indian restaurants or eaten at home with Indian families understands this. In fact, I’ve found myself in passionate debates and confusing conversations revolving around these naming issues! Every family has their own idea of what a dish is and isn’t, what it’s called, and what it contains. Or doesn’t. Imagine trying to get a concise definition of pizza, with all it’s shapes, colors, toppings, and flavors – You start to get an idea how complicated the naming game is.
On my first two visits to India in the early to mid-2000s, I had idly or dosa for breakfast almost whenever possible. I’m a huge fan of South Indian breakfasts. Unlike most North American and European breakfasts, which tend to be on the sweeter side (think: cereal, toast with jam or even chocolate spread, pastries, muffins, pancakes), Indian breakfasts are typically spicy and savory… and did I mention: delicious?
Amazingly, it wasn’t until my third and fourth trip to India that I got to know the Indian breakfast hit, poha. These kinds of things happen if you’re too focused on your favorite dishes and foods! That’s why it’s so important to try new things. Be open to suggestions, take chances, and enjoy invitations to home cooked meals! I encountered poha so late in the game probably because it’s much more of a family dish – prepared at home kitchens across India. It’s less likely found on restaurant menus. That said, some hotels (code word for restaurant on the sub-continent) and breakfast spots do offer poha.
The best poha I ever had, as with many Indian dishes, was not at a restaurant, but at a home. A very special home in fact, where I was welcomed and treated like family. If you’ve been following my stories on this blog, you know I lived for a year in Amravati, India – deep in the state of Maharashtra. I had amazingly generous and attentive neighbors, and my host family was particularly endearing and kind.
Many years ago, on my first India trip, I stayed for several days in the city of Jaipur – The Pink City of Rajasthan. I recall walking for hours, mesmerized by the people and the loud colors and fantastic, flowing saris and shirts. I was constantly taking photographs. I remember riding with insane auto-rickshaw drivers along the crowded, dusty streets, weaving around pedestrians, bicycles, beggars, and cows. Just like in all the books and movies.
I’d only been in India for a few weeks at that point, and I was still very much in New Arrival Mode: The first two to four weeks of being in India – everything is an overwhelming assault on the senses. You’re in near-constant amazement at how wild and vivid life can be. The circus and overloaded charm fade (somewhat) after a few weeks, but usually one or more things happen every day that remind you: you’re in a very different world.
Next to only perhaps seeing the Hawa Mahal, and trekking around some of the old forts, my favorite experience in Jaipur was at a small café that was famous for their saffron lassi. I remember retreating from the hot sun into the shade with my journal and heavily marked-up guidebook, sliding my tired self into a plastic chair, and sipping this amazing, glowing, pink-orange chilled treat. The flavor was intense, exotic, new to me. That fresh saffron lassi straight from the fridge was the best thing in that moment. I contemplated how many I would need to order and drink before it would be too much. I stayed long enough to need a second one, and then got on my way of exploring the streets further.
For something so simple, it’s hard to believe it took me so many years to figure out how to make a good lassi. The secret is the right combination of soy yogurt, water, and ice cubes. I think I’ve got it down good now, so I’m ready to pass on the recipe for my all-vegan rendition of the Indian classic yogurt shake.
Of all the famous and celebrated Indian street food in the world, vegetable pakoras are ranked at the top, along with samosas, chaats — and perhaps dosa and idly, depending on if we’re talking about North Indian street food or South Indian street food. Is there a difference? You better believe it. But where do the two meet?
Conceptually, veg pakoras (or pakodas or bhajji or even veg fritters, depending who you ask) are something found in both North and South India, and the love and lust for them is equal. It’s not a culinary civil war as with the chapati (roti) vs. rice battle of the traditions.
With veg pakoras, the spices vary and the vegetable ingredients certainly vary, but the idea and the appreciation are shared. While we’re on the subject of pakoras: in many places in India you’ll find not just pakora made with all kinds of vegetable bits, but also fun things like deep-fried pakora-battered sandwiches and slices of bread.
In my many trips to India and especially in the year living there, I’ve had the opportunity to eat veg pakoras from hundreds of different places. I actually ate them a lot more eating out than eating at home with families. I will say, some of the street vendors and store fronts have some pretty grubby setups, and I wouldn’t recommend eating the samosa and pakoras from just any train station vendor. But still, there’s almost always a decent enough place to be found. If not… just step into your own kitchen!
Masoor Dal, or Indian red lentil curry, is one of the most classic dal recipes and a standard and favorite all across India — and the world. It accompanies almost any excellent Indian meal, and goes well with rice, chapati, naan, roti and all of your favorite breads. You can even serve it in a bowl with crackers or croutons and be a true East-West fusion superstar.
There are endless variations on this dal recipe. The tomato is optional but improves the flavor dramatically, going well to smooth the Indian spices and compliment the fresh ginger. Many Indian cooks make an even simpler, stripped-down version of dal, relying only on the key spices: cumin, coriander, and turmeric — possibly with a dash of garam masala. The smooth texture is obtained by cooking the lentils long enough that they literally fall apart. You can speed things up with an immersion blender, as noted below. (You might need to start with less water, as immersion blending a hot, liquidy soup is a messy and dangerous matter.)
Even when cooking non-Vedic, I do use asafoetida and mustard seeds. Many Indian lentil and bean dishes just don’t need the strong garlic and onion flavors, especially if one or more vegetable dish you’re serving with the meal does rely on garlic and onion. Garlic quickly overpowers other tastes. I encourage you to experiment with less – or even none – and discover the true flavors of the more exotic spices.
With some practice it’s quick and simple to make and perfect when you want a nutritious meal and haven’t got much in the kitchen. You do always keep plenty of lentils, spices, and rice, right? Exactly. Continue reading
Mutter Tofu Paneer is the vegan Mutter Paneer – a peas and homemade cheese-cube curry, one of the most famous and popular North Indian vegetarian recipes and dishes. It’s on almost every menu of every Indian restaurant everywhere. But every cook makes it their own special way.
I experimented with this dish several times a month for the year that I lived in India. Even if you aren’t a numbers whiz, you probably have the idea: Yes sir, Yes ma’am, I’ve cooked this dish a lot. I’ve also sampled dozens of different variations across the subcontinent and at Indian buffets throughout North America and Europe.
The best Mutter Paneer ever? No question, no doubts: at homes eating with the family as an honored guest. Indians know how to make you feel like the most welcome guest in the world. Amazing food makes it easy.
Chilli Paneer (also known by other creative spellings such as Chili Paneer and Chilly Paneer) is one of the most famous Indo-Chinese dishes in India, along with Veg Manchurian. From street carts, restaurants, and home kitchens across the continent you can find this spicy hybrid dish.
This vegan Chilli Tofu Paneer variation is easily made by substituting tofu for paneer cheese. Batter-frying with cubes before adding to the sauce and veg is a trick which adds more texture and taste to your ‘paneer’. Tofu isn’t quite as easy to find in India as fresh paneer, but while living in Amravati, India, I was able to find tofu. I experimented often in the kitchen making this stellar Indo-Chinese appetizer. Even the neighbors were impressed!
During the year that I lived in Amravati, India. I must’ve had 30 or 40 slightly different varieties of Sindhi Bhindi Masala. Usually just referred to as Bhindi (Hindi word for okra), this spicy okra dish is North Indian in origin. The kind I learned to make in Indian kitchens is a typical, traditional Punjabi and Sindhi vegetable dish.
Bhindi Masala is a regular feature at family lunches and dinners, and was in my lunch tiffin more often than not. Every restaurant cook, every mother, every sister, every grandmother, and every hobby-cook son cooks their okra a little different than the next. Sometimes in curry sauce, usually without. Some were still a bit crunchy, some melted in my mouth. Often they were intentionally burnt and bathing in oil, others were so spicy my lips went numb and my nose started to run away. As a guest at homes and in restaurants, I usually ate this with chapati bread — along with everyone else. At home I usually make it with rice. That’s partly because I love rice, and partly because I’m just not really Mr. Chapati Master.
Every proper Indian meal includes a nice, cooling raita. Authentic Indian food is spicy and those who know have a yogurt-based raita on the side to cool things down if the fire alarm starts ringing.
A delicious side dish and appetizer, many a raita is just raw cucumber, tomato, onion, carrot, and/or bell peppers. I like this hybrid with cooked potatoes and cool cucumbers. It’s sort of cross between a classic vedic yogurt potato dish (which I learned from the Hare Krishnas in the 90s), more traditional Indian raita (which I learned in countless variations in India, particularly living in Amravati) and what most of the world knows as potato salad. But with creamy soy yogurt instead of regular yogurt or mayo!
Palak Paneer is another one of those famous North Indian dishes you’ll find all over India and all over the world wherever Indian food is being made and served. It’s another of my favorites (yes, yes, I have many favorite Indian dishes). It’s also known as Saag Paneer and often found with fried potatoes instead of cheese or tofu under the name Palak Aloo or Saag Aloo. Technically, Saag and Palak are different leafy greens; for our purposes spinach will be fine.
Gobi Tikka is an easy, delicious recipe to whip up. It’s a blast of flavor and has a wonderful texture and the classic yellow we often associate with Indian delights. It’s one of many “pure vegetarian” Indian appetizers or mains that’s easy vegan and works well with a tiffin lunch or dinner on-the-go. It tastes fantastic with rice and also works well wrapped in or scooped up and enjoyed with Indian flatbread: chapati or naan.
Bengan Bhartha is an incredible, spicy Indian eggplant puree. Similar to Middle Eastern baba ganoush, it’s traditionally eaten with flat bread. My North Indian pals would never dream of eating this dish with rice, but if you’re not a chapati master yet and want to enjoy it with some Basmati, I’m not going to call the Curry Cops.
Anyone who has been to a Hare Krishna temple for the Sunday Feast is certainly familiar with this tasty, fragrant Indian sweet. Let’s not confuse it with Middle Eastern halvah, which is also super tasty, but is rather different taste and texture. Indian halva is traditionally made with ghee or butter — however we can make a delicious vegan halva with good margarine. Oil works too, but it lacks the richer flavor. I love to round out a nice Indian thali with this treat served in a little metal bowl, like in the photo above.
All across India and in Indian restaurants around the world this popular dish is easy to find — in dozens of different colors, styles, textures, and tastes. My favorite is a Punjabi variety, from the region of Northwest India bordering on and including what is now Pakistan, the origin of many Sindhi and Sikh communities, including those I lived among in Amravati (Maharashtra) in 2010-11. Ten years earlier, in Amritsar I had some really good stuff. I remember delicious ones in Rajasthan, too. Heck, my favorite Pakistani place down the street here in Berlin makes it excellent, too. This is what I’ve come up with in my own kitchens after years of tinkering and trials with lots of different recipes and suggestions.
I’ve had the pleasure of many, very different Vegetable Biryani dishes, all across India and at various places across North America and Europe. A boring biryani is quite a disappointment. Yeah, I’m a bit of a biryani snob. This is the story of the dish that reset my standards for that typical South Indian meal. If you’re lucky, it’s served on a giant banana leaf, maybe on top of metal Thali plate, maybe not. And if you’re wise and willing, you’ll eat it with your fingers.