Tuesday, August 30, 2011
Learning how to cook Indian food in Japan
One of the things I love most about Japan is the food. Sushi, ramen, curry, tofu, tempura, soba, udon, sashimi, onigiri, yuzu, nashi, gobo, edamame and wasabi. I love it all. But man cannot live by white rice and miso soup alone.
Unfortunately, easy access to foreign food is difficult to come by in Kyoto. It's almost impossible to satisfy a craving for Jamaican patties or Russian borscht or Mexican fajitas without spending a lot of time, energy and money traipsing across town to the tiny specialty shops that may or may not have what you're looking for in stock that day.
So it was a treat to be invited over to my friend Sunil's apartment to learn how to cook Indian food using ingredients easily found in Japan. Few Japanese supermarkets carry basmati rice or a large variety of beans or the myriad of spices needed for Indian cooking. But Sunil is able to buy everything he needs online from Ambika Japan.
Sunil, who originally hails from Delhi, said he didn't know what to eat the first few months after he arrived in Japan. Being vegetarian and unable to read Japanese meant he went hungry most of the time. Tired of subsisting on rice, Sunil asked his mom to teach him how to cook via Skype. Friends told him where to buy ingredients online and thus began a year-long foray into Indian cooking. The experience was miserable at first. Sunil overcooked the rice, burned the curry, couldn't figure out the right balance of spices, couldn't prevent the bread from hardening. But he persisted and made small adjustments here and there until the food began to taste good. The more he cooked the better he got. The better he got the more he enjoyed cooking. The more he enjoyed cooking the more he began to invite people over for dinner. And the more he began to invite people over for dinner the more his reputation began to spread.
I told him I had heard about his culinary prowess in the hallways at school. He laughed and said he wasn't sure he deserved any praise but that I'd be welcome to try his cooking for myself. Even better, he said he'd teach me and a couple of friends how to cook Indian food.
We made kidney bean curry with puri. It was easy to make and even easier to eat. The curry had the magical flavour combination of garlic, ginger, onion, tomatoes and chili peppers. The puri was soft and delicious. With Sunil's permission, I have reprinted his recipe below.
Red Kidney Bean Curry With Puri Recipe
One head of garlic
One chunk of ginger
One large tomato
One medium onion
Five green chilies
500 grams of red kidney beans
One tablespoon of whole cumin
Half a tablespoon of turmeric
One tablespoon of coriander powder
Half a teaspoon of tamarind
Half a teaspoon of salt
Half a tablespoon of garam masala
Chili powder to taste
Three cups of atta (whole-wheat flour)
1. Either cook the red kidney beans in a pressure cooker yourself or buy them pre-cooked in a can. Be sure to save the water from the pressure cooker or the can.
2. While the beans are cooking, prepare the puri dough. Spread out a bunch of newspapers on a large surface and dump three cups of whole-wheat flour in the centre. Knead small drops of olive oil into the flour then add a few drops of water, little by little, kneading the flour into one big ball that is slightly hard. Set the dough aside and keep it covered until you've finished cooking the curry.
3. Grate the ginger and garlic. Chop the onion, chili peppers and tomato.
4. Set the stove to low heat and add four tablespoons of olive oil to a large pot or frying pan. Add one tablespoon of whole cumin and fry for 30 seconds.
5. Add chopped onions, grated ginger, grated garlic and chopped chili peppers.
6. Stir fry until the onion is golden coloured.
7. Add half a tablespoon of turmeric powder and one tablespoon of coriander powder. Continue stirring and cooking for a few minutes.
8. Add the chopped tomatoes. Stir for about five minutes until everything becomes like a paste. Add half a tablespoon of salt and some chili pepper to suit your taste. Add half a teaspoon of tamarind.
9. Add the cooked beans. Little by little add the water that the beans were cooked in (or the water in the can of beans). Be careful not to add too much. You don't want liquid curry.
10. Add half a tablespoon of garam masala spice blend. The curry is finished. Now it's time to make the puri.
11. Take the puri dough and rip off small chunks and roll it in your hands into small balls. Using a rolling pin, roll each of the small balls into a small circle. Use oil on the pin if the dough starts sticking.
12. Fill a deep frying pan half full with canola oil over a high flame. When the vegetable oil is hot, take a pair of tongs and place (one at a time) a single puri in the oil. Allow it to deep fry for about two seconds before turning it over to do the other side for another two seconds. The puri will puff up immediately. Remove it from the oil quickly and set it aside. Continue one by one until they are all done.
13. Enjoy! Serves five.