Monday, March 23, 2009


Over the weekend my friend Monika and I made an excursion to an Indian grocery store near her house. Supposedly it was the "larger" store in the area. This means when you walk down one of the two aisles in the store, you don't knock bottles of chutney off the shelf.

Have you been in an Indian grocery store? Here's what you'll find. Frozen flatbreads. Frozen dinners of spinach and cheese or lentil stew. Huge bags of ground and whole spices for about $3 each. Bottled ginger paste, bottle garlic paste, and my favorite - bottled ginger/garlic blend. Different kinds of pickle made with lemon or mango. Flour and beans of every variety. Refrigerated mix for making dosa (Indian version of a crepe). Fresh vegetables like ginger, cilantro, onions, garlic, okra, eggplant, potatoes and tomatoes. Goldenrod and tangerine colored sweet blocks made from flour and sugar, nuts and cheese.

I'm a kid in a candy store in there. Not because I like to stock up on the frozen samosas and naan (though I do). It's the aisle of spice mixes that gets me going. Because here's a secret: I never really learned any Indian recipes from my mom. She doesn't use recipes. This is how she makes goat curry. Get my dad to cut up the goat meat. Coat it in ginger, garlic, turmeric, red pepper, salt, and other mystery spices. Marinate overnight. Cook in a big pot with some water on a low heat for a long time, until it's tender. It's magically delicious. I might be leaving out some steps since I never really watched her make it, I just turned up when it started smelling good.

So I need those spice mixes. I need them to cook with and I need them to inspire me. I went in there to buy a chicken biryani mix and picked up one for kofta curry (also known as meatballs and gravy). But there were many options for curries, kebabs, veggies, tandoori, and desserts. Those boxes of spice mix last a long time so as much as I wanted to buy a shelf full, I restrained myself. I used my biryani mix to marinate my chicken overnight, mixing it with yogurt, tomato paste, slow cooked chopped onions, cilantro, garlic, ginger, and salt. I cooked the chicken and soaked the rice with whole spices - cinnamon, cardomom, and cumin seeds. Then everything went into a pot with some fried potatoes and saffron infused milk and cooked for nearly an hour. Don't you dare say I made my biryani from a mix.

Shan Food has a list of all their products. I especially like the category labled "Irresistible Pickle" and plan to name my off-the-beaten-path pub that some day.

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