As part of her “Detectives Around the World” series, Jen of Jen’s Book Thoughts has asked participants to blog about the country in which their chosen detective resides. As my detective is Vish Puri from The Case of the Missing Servant by Tarquin Hall, I’m going to talk about India.
If you follow my blog regularly, you know that I am passionate about promoting the literature of South Asia through the South Asian Author Challenge. However, I’m also a big fan of another part of South Asia – the food, and specifically, Indian food.
One of the things that really struck me about The Case of the Missing Servant was the vivid descriptions of food. They would make my mouth water, craving the delicacies that were being described.
“He sank his teeth into another hot, crispy pakora and his taste buds thrilled to the tang of salty batter, fiery chili, and the tangy red chutney in which he had drowned the illicit snack.” – The Case of the Missing Servant, page 1
Now, you can’t tell me that doesn’t make you hungry!
Growing up, my mother cooked Indian food every night for dinner, and as a result, I don’t think I really appreciated it until I moved out of the house for college and was reduced to searching the dorm cafeteria for something that wasn’t going to make my stomach turn while eating it.
Now, I enjoy Indian food, but am just really learning to cook it properly. I’ve had some lessons with my mom, and also have really been enjoying experimenting with Monica Bhide’s Indian fusion cookbook Modern Spice. As I’ve become more familiar with the quirks of cooking Indian food, I’ve learned how to simplify dishes, making them less intimidating. I’ve become more familiar with the necessary spices and comfortable with adjusting them to taste in recipes.
I’m going to share with you a recipe that I’ve come to love. I based it on a recipe I found elsewhere, but have tweaked and and changed it enough so that it has become my own.
The dish is called Mattar Paneer and it’s one of my favorites. It’s usually peas and cubes of Indian cheese in a tomato sauce…except I really don’t like chunks of paneer in my food, so my recipe is actually Mattar Without Paneer! If you want to insert paneer into the recipe, just cube the paneer (about 20 ounces for this recipe), fry it in oil until it turns golden brown, and then add it to the recipe at the end and let it simmer for a few minutes.
Note: Paneer and mustard seeds can be purchased at a local Asian store. Everything else should be readily available at a regular grocery store.
Mattar Without Paneer
2 tablespoons oil (I use olive oil, you can also use ghee, or clarified butter)
1/4 teaspoon mustard seeds
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 teaspoon ginger, minced
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 can diced tomatoes
1/4 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon salt (plus more to taste, if necessary)
1/2 teaspoon garam masala (plus more to taste, if necessary)
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (plus more to taste, if necessary)
1/4 teaspoon turmeric powder (plus more to taste, if necessary)
3/4 teaspoon coriander powder (plus more to taste, if necessary)
1 teaspoon cumin powder (plus more to taste, if necessary)
1/4 cup canned tomato sauce (or as needed)
1 cup frozen peas, thawed
1/4 cup heavy cream
1) Heat the oil, then add mustard and cumin seeds until the mustard seeds start to splatter.
2) Add the onions, garlic, and ginger. Cook until the onions are translucent.
3) Add the diced tomato (juices and all!). Add the sugar and salt, plus more salt if necessary (to taste). Cook for about 5 minutes, or until tomatoes have softened.
4) Add garam masala, cayenne pepper, turmeric, coriander, and cumin powders.
5) Add canned tomato sauce to thicken up the sauce. If you add too much, add some water. (This also goes for any of the seasonings – if you add too much of anything, just add some water, and then beef up what you need over again.)
6) Add peas and cook until tender.
7) Add heavy cream and let the mixture simmer for about 5 minutes. At this point, you can beef up your spices to taste if necessary. I usually add more cumin powder, turmeric, garam masala, and cayenne pepper.
It only takes about 20 minutes to cook, and I usually serve it over basmati rice. If you give it a try, leave a comment letting me know if you liked it!