Wednesday, January 19, 2011

For the Fun and the Challenge: Indian Food for Sixteen

Last Saturday night we gave a dinner party/fundraiser for our church, First Congregational Church of Berkeley. The evening, entitled “Trends in Religion, Culture, and Politics,” included a dinner, to be cooked by me, and a discussion led by Katherine Fulton and our senior minister, Patricia de Jong. Sixteen people had signed up. Whew! So several weeks in advance of the Big Night, I asked myself: What would be the most fun to cook for a group this size?

I found the answer quite easily. Back in December we spent a week at Rancho la Puerta, a beautiful spa and cooking school located in Tecate, Mexico, about an hour from San Diego. The cooking school is connected to the organic garden that I wrote about last year on January 10, 2010. This year’s guest chef was Raghavan Iyer, an Indian from Mumbai (Bombay), who now lives in Minneapolis of all places. Raghavan is a very gifted teacher and also writes splendid cookbooks. His most recent is 660 Curries (2008), following up on Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking (really) and The Turmeric Trail. I loved his class, loved my classmates, and loved the food. So I bought his books and started working my way through 660, relishing the flavors and the exploration of a new cuisine. And decided, with no small amount of hubris, that I would cook an Indian feast for the dinner party. Had I ever been to an Indian feast? Actually, no. But it was a thrill, a challenge, a “what the hell” kind of moment.

Perusing his cookbooks, as well as Veganomicon, a favorite vegan cookbook, I came up with ten dishes that I thought would work—really I found thirteen but quickly realized that ten was plenty. Eight new recipes, two that I’d cooked before. Yellow pad in hand, I started planning.

I made a store list, and on Friday photocopied the recipes and put them in a notebook—so much easier than wrestling with four cookbooks and multiple pages, visited Vik’s Chaat Corner in Berkeley for Indian provisions and finally went to my local supermarket for everything else. I got home around noon and started cooking. Did I mention that first thing in the morning I’d had a crown on a back tooth? It was quite a day. By 10:30pm that evening, I had made seven of the ten dishes, crammed everything into my fridge (no mean feat), and cleaned up the kitchen. Saturday morning, I started on the last three dishes, interspersed with hiding various messes and tidying up the rest of the house. By 5:00pm when the guests started to arrive, I was pretty much ready. And the evening moved on nicely from there.

Curried Carrot Dip, Veganomicon, (see recipe below) with crackers and toasted naan (Indian bread) accompanied the first part of the conversation.

I put the following dishes on my dining room table, buffet style:

Cashew Cheese with a Red Bell Pepper Sauce, 660 Curries

Chickpeas with Mango Powder, 660 Curries (see recipe below)

Chicken in Saffron-Almond Sauce, The Turmeric Trail (see recipe below)

Samosa-Stuffed Baked Potatoes, Veganomicon

Gujarati Cabbage Slaw, Betty Crocker's Indian Home Cooking

Unripe [and Semi-ripe] Papaya Salad with Chiles, The Turmeric Trail

Spiced Yogurt Sauce, Veganomicon

Golden Raisin Relish, The Turmeric Trail

And finally, warmed naan which I purchased.

We took a break from the second part of the discussion to sample Sweet Potato Halwa, Recipes from an Urban Village, along with little tangerines and dates.

It was quite a feast. You’ll find recipes for three of the dishes below.

Thanks to Veganomicon and to Raghavan’s delicious recipes, the food was a great success. Lots of new flavors and textures: mango powder, asafetida, garam masala, paneer. A beautiful array of colors, lots of oranges and subtle yellows, green garnishes, and red sprinkles. And the conversation was as lively and interesting as the food, just as I had hoped. There were mutterings about a repeat next year. Am I up for it?

1 comment:

Barbra Wiener said...

Hi Katherine,
I know Ragavan and took a class on curries in Minneapolis years ago. He also catered a home dinner party at my house. I love his cooking and he is a sweetheart! You have inspired me to cook some Indian food this week. I will try your latest recipe. Thanks for this wonderful blog!
Best, Barbra Wiener