While on a sabbatical from work, I made the decision to uproot myself and allow my passion for cooking, good food, and traveling take me to Delhi, India.
The goal for this trip was simple- Indian recipes! Going alone and knowing no one, I took this as an opportunity to live on my agenda, making this trip whatever I wanted it to be.
Though I had done very minimal research before I arrived, I did come across the Food Enthusiasts of Delhi’s blog- of which I immediately became a member. This was the first and foremost best move I made, as it afforded me the opportunity to meet a community of foodies, some of their families, and made my vision become a reality.
After arriving in India, I met up with FED on one of their food RAIDS and began socializing my intentions and mission for the trip. What I did not expect was an outpour from the group to invite me into their homes to give me personal lessons of authentic dishes! I cooked with wives, mothers, grandmothers, sisters, and even some of the gents- everyone was willing to show me their sacred recipes, of which some I have been vowed to absolute silence.
My culinary experiences were mostly Northern India based, spanning from Punjab to Calcutta. Being a huge fan of all types of food- I had no limitations on anything that was prepared. I had a full experience of everything from snacks and appetizers to entrees and desserts. Here were some of my highlights.
Paneer Tikka was one of the dishes we created, and with ample prep time, this decadent dish can be whipped up relatively quickly. Paneer (Cottage Cheese) itself, is boiled milk, curdled, then wrapped in a cheese cloth. In any dish, the delicate texture of the paneer melts in your mouth, while your taste buds are overjoyed with the soft, creamy taste. It is a personal favorite of mine, and the tikka was a perfect complement to this mouthwatering delight.
To make this dish, the spices were ground by hand, which made a beautiful gold coloring. Once the spices were crushed, the paneer and vegetables were left to marinade. Once ready, they were pan grilled until slightly crispy.
This dish is the epitome of flavor for vegetarian dishes; a perfect blend of tomato and onion puree, beans, and spices served and eaten with ghee soaked dough (Poori)- scrumptious! It was one of the first dishes I observed, and immediately became one of my favorite Indian dishes. Accompanied by hearty helping of chopped onions and pickled chili makes this dish a hands-down winner!
Not in my wildest dreams would I have imagined cutting the edges off white bread, soaking two pieces in water and wringing them out with my palm, filling the wet bread with a potato mixture, making a ball, and frying it in ghee. This was truly worth mentioning, as it was simple- yet made a satisfying and rewarding snack!
Fish Curry in a Mustard Sauce
The dish from Calcutta proved to be fast, simple, and piquant. The nice blend of hand crushed mustard seeds and green chili gave a mild yet zesty combination of flavors. This was poured over rice and eaten with traditional Indian silverware- hands only!
Sweet and Tangy Pumpkin:
Cooking with a family from Punjab I got to experience another phenomenal vegetarian dish. The dish tastes exactly how it sounds; sweet and tangy- which target most every taste bud. Prepared by a grandmother of one of the FED guru’s, this dish had been perfected for generations- and each bite conveyed perfection. My taste buds have certainly acquired a taste for chaat masala- a tangy spice that I will most definitely keep in my household from here on out, and this sworn-to-secrecy recipe will be one I cherish.
Kadi Pakoda takes a bit of prep time, but well worth the effort. We made fried vegetable pakoda balls, which were ultimately added to the curd/curry mix. The dish was rich in flavor and very satisfying. A blend of garam masala, chili, and mustard seeds mixed along with the mild taste and texture of curd (strained plain yogurt) make this dish complex and yet smooth and gratifying on the palate.
Words cannot convey how much I adore this dish, and it is not all too often you find it prepared in the home, as it is a traditional snack food found on the streets with lots of various ingredients. The brilliant mixture of tangy and sweet, the crunch of the fried dough, the coolness of the yogurt, the spicy bite from the chutney, and the smooth, rich texture from the garbanzo beans, makes this dish a must-try!
My cooking experiences varied vastly, and at each home I picked up various tricks-of-the-trade. One of the most important notes I will take from cooking and eating in India is the difference it makes to take the time to grind and blend spices by hand. The aroma, flavor, color, and strike to the taste buds makes this act of grinding an art form- and one that need not be overlooked or underestimated. Another important note is the more robust flavor that comes from food when using hands over utensils. The act of mixing a sauce over rice by hand, penetrating each grain, brings out an intense flavor- none of which is lost by the use of a metal spoon. Lastly, there are no shortcuts. Food is amazing because the time and the preparation that is put in (and if all done right, then dishes can be prepared rather quickly). Using fresh spices and fresh food are key, and timing is everything!
Additionally, there is much to be said, especially coming from a culture that relies on fast food and frozen meals, for the full cycle of food in India; from preparation to consumption, all of which in an event. Cooking and consuming is an art form. It’s a tradition passed from generation to generation, it’s a way for wives to connect with their mother-in-law, and a way to identify a family to a certain region. It’s just one more way to bring the close family unit together- giving them a daily event in which to partake and share stories from their day.
I have much practice to do to replicate these dishes, of which in some cases took generations to perfect, but I will none the less try my best to do service to all those who took the time to help teach and guide me along my journey. Not only has my experience and culinary repertoire been enriched by these families and experiences, but I, as a person, have been enriched, and feel utterly blessed.
Any place and experience is what you make of it, and in Delhi, I made a wide group of friends and family, not to mention a lifetime of memories. I can honestly say that had I not met FED I would not have learned as much or had as much fun as I did. They made Delhi come alive, and gave food the recognition and credit it deserves, and certainly made this foodie’s dream a reality. Thank you, Food Enthusiasts of Delhi, for letting me partake in your activities, there is a lot to be said for all of the members- and I look forward to RAID’ing with you again!
Text & Pictures by Jen Sugermeyer
Though there are things which need correction in this post, however I let it be like Jen sent it to me, so that we can get first hand perspective and understanding for a foreigner of our Food. However you are welcome to make suggestions in the comments for Jen to improve her knowledge and cooking skills. ~ Shashank