For five years we lived in San Francisco only a block away from Zante’s Pizza & Indian Cuisine. It was so close, so convenient and so reasonably priced that I rarely made Indian food at home. It’s a good cuisine to cook when you’re having vegetarians over for dinner though and I did sometimes make it.
We sold the house and moved to Hawaii in 2002. Finding good Indian food in Hawaii proved to be difficult. We really only found one place we liked; it was fairly expensive and always massively crowded. So, I started cooking Indian at home a lot more. Since then, it’s become a standard in my rotating repertoire, sometimes making frequent appearances only to disappear for a month. Only very rarely does more than month go by without me making and Indian meal. More recently, I’ve been using two dishes from last night’s dinner to accompany a non-Indian meal.
Yesterday, I was a bit stumped as to what to make for dinner. So, I put off thinking about it for a long time. I puttered in the garden, ignored my dilemma and hoped I’d figure something out. Somehow my mind simmered and came up with Indian. In fact I had everything in the house for three different vegetarian dishes. I keep a block of paneer in the fridge at most times. It lasts for months and along with frozen spinach, onions and spices I’ve got everything for Saag Paneer. I’ve made my own paneer before and it’s quite easy, but it’s even easier to leave a block in the cheese drawer. This is the dish I judge an Indian restaurant by. I love this version, but it’s still not quite the perfect version. I absolutely love how the paneer gets flavored in this recipe. However, I liked the sauce from another recipe better. Alas, I’ve lost that recipe.
The second dish is from my stained, tattered, worn, faded copy of Madhur Jaffrey’s An Invitation to Indian Cooking. The paperback is being re-issued April 19, 2011. I have cooked a good many recipes from this book. Yes, they are Americanized versions and Jaffrey gets some flack about that, but the food is delicious. I only encountered her Cauliflower with Onion and Tomato a couple of years ago because I had some aversion to cauliflower. This dish is stunningly delicious. Even the most ardent cauliflower hater will like it. Well, maybe anyway. I make it as a side dish to almost any dinner party. Everyone loves it.
The third dish is from Southern India. The north gets most of the attention culinarily. Most Indian restaurants in America feature Northern Indian food. I saw this recipe on the Martha Stewart Show in May of 2009: Suvir Saran’s Stir-Fried Green Beans with Coconut. It’s a Southern Indian dish that’s unique and wonderful. I also use it for dinner parties that aren’t Indian food centric. In fact, I made it for Christmas dinner last year and not a bean was left. There are a lot of ingredients and some you’ll only find at an Indian grocery, but this dish is well worth it. I keep curry leaves in my freezer just so I can make this. I suggest using all of the optional ingredients, especially the Sambar at the end. This dish brought me one of the highest compliments ever, when an Indian man at a potluck praised it as being “just like my family makes.” I always use French Green Beans (Haricots Verts) as I like their subtle flavor better than big old fat green beans.
We tend to watch our carbohydrates during the week so last night I served this only with some naan, also from the freezer. I had meant to make Mrs. Wheelbarrow’s flatbread, but forgot. At a dinner party, though, I’d make some rice pulao and serve it all with a tray of Indian pickles, raita, and chutneys.