The moveable feast: Going Indian at India home
I am of course Indian and so is Raju who cooked us an excellent typically Punjabi meal one evening about a month ago. We were given a choice by the ambassador whether to go out or eat at home. It was no choice really and dinner at India House was easily picked.
Before dinner the discussion went from books to movies to cookbooks and one saw whole piles of cookbooks on shelves. When a fellow Indian offers you a home cooked meal expect a light repast where the taste of the food is not drowned by oil or drenched in spices.
While His Excellency, Rakesh Sood was talking about catching up on the food scene and the DVD scene we walked into a typical Indian meal. It was created around Methi Murgh or Chicken and fenugreek of which Jiggs Kalra, Indian’s best-known foodie says, “As with almost every delicacy, Methi (Fenugreek) Murgh tastes best with fresh fenugreek. The world’s finest fenugreek comes from Qasur, in Pakistan. Dried fenugreek powder is now, in tribute, referred
to as Kasoori Methi or fenugreek from Qasur. The ‘spice’ — is an adequate replacement for the fresh vegetables.”
In this recipe Jiggs Kalra breaks down the traditional garam masala or hot spice which is made up of several spices into its components because it goes specifically with two types of cardamom and a pinch of mace being used in a totally unusual combination. A cup full of yoghurt plays an important part in making one of the accompaniments to the Methi Murgh, which was a centrepiece. This is the peas, paneer or farmer cheese you get as a bye product of cooking the Methi Murgh.
Of Matar Paneer Madhur Jaffrey says, “This Punjabi dish, with some variation in the spices is eaten over all of North India. Indian restaurants whether in India or outside it, almost always ever serve it on their thali, or vegetarian platter”.
Raju used the paneer made from the methi chicken, lightly fried, put into ½ kg of shelled peas that have been cooked. The taste is homely. And the dish goes well with Murgh Methi.
At the end you are given a choice to either cover the Methi Murgh with a lid or to seal the cooking vessel with the chicken inside with dough, which is then put into a preheated oven for 15 minutes. If it’s served fast enough as it was by Raju, you walk into a room made aromatic by the smell of fenugreek.
I’ve noticed even in my own home when you cook a matar paneer you automatically in a Pavlovian reflex cook Aloo Gobi or potatoes and cauliflower of which Madam Jaffrey says,
“This is the kind of comforting ‘homey’ dish that most North Indians enjoy. It has no sauce and is generally eaten with bread.”
Another Pavlovian response is “No gravy, make a dal and serve with chappatis or a kind of bread”. We had yellow dal that memorable evening. It was smooth and creamy and there was ginger and garlic chopped into it. The creamy texture was befitting of the best Dal Makhani. As if this wasn’t magic enough Raju served instantly made chappatis. It is bread that we in Nepal can seldom make and I’ve often wondered if they can make it in South India. It is like the rest of the meal a North Indian preoccupation. But now we know where one can get all things North Indian and Punjabi. Would that all Indian’s ambassadors possessed such excellent taste.