Indian Food Pep Talk

May 6, 2013

Let’s talk about Indian food.  Do you love it?  Are you making it at home?  If the answer to the first question is yes and the second is no, why not?  Why are you not making Indian food at home?  I’m guessing it is one of these reasons:

1) The recipes are too long.
2) The recipes have unfamiliar ingredients.
3) It’s too spicy!
4) Who has all those spices?

You might notice that reasons 1-4 actually have to do with spices.  #1 Sometimes Indian food recipes have long lists of ingredients but if you look carefully, many of those ingredients are actually spices.  Sometimes up to half of the list really just needs to be measured out of a jar.  #2 Once in a while, I will find a recipe that calls for bitter gourd or drumstick (not the kind that is on a chicken) but usually the unfamiliar ingredients are actually spices.  #3 “Spicy” and “spiced” are really too different things.  Yes, there are a lot of spices in Indian cooking and that is why it is so intoxicating.  Most of the spices are there to give the food flavor and color, not necessarily heat.  When you are cooking it yourself, you control the level of heat so what are you afraid of?  #4 needs a new paragraph.

If you cook regularly, you probably have jars of cumin, coriander, and cayenne at home, these are spices commonly used in Indian food but also in Thai, Mexican, and Middle Eastern food, among others.  Perhaps you even have turmeric and mustard seeds.  Maybe you don’t.  Maybe you want to make a recipe that calls for fenugreek and garam masala and when you see that you think to yourself, “Now this is why I don’t make Indian food.”  I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to go buy whole jars of things that you are not going to use on a daily basis.  Most grocery stores these days have a bulk spice section where you can buy a couple of teaspoons for less than a dollar.  An added bonus is that the bulk spices tend to be much fresher than those you get in a  jar because there is a lot of turnover.  Take a tip from me and clearly write on the bag which spice it is and then store all your little bits of spices in one Ziploc bag.  That way, you can pull out that one bag when you want to make Indian food.  If you are looking for online resources for spices, I can highly recommend World Spice Merchant and Penzey’s.  World Spice Merchant has a storefront in Seattle and Penzey’s has locations all over the U. S.

Now that we are not afraid anymore, can we continue?  I make Indian food often in my kitchen.  I was never a fan of the Indian restaurants in Seattle so when I craved it, I made it myself.  I turn to several trusted cookbooks over and over and although I am a person always wanting to try new recipes, I gravitate toward the same dishes.  They are that good.

This Cauliflower and Potato Curry is a great place to start if you are apprehensive about cooking Indian food.  The recipe is easy, the ingredient list relatively short, ingredients are familiar, and it is not spicy (as in hot).  I have probably made this recipe 30 times and I change up little things each time.  Sometimes I use big tomatoes that I seed, sometimes I use cherry tomatoes, sometimes I use canned tomatoes.  I have made it with more cauliflower and fewer potatoes, and also with more potatoes and less cauliflower.  I’ve added frozen peas on more than one occasion.  I’ve used all coconut milk and also half coconut milk and half water.  I have made it soupier and drier.  My point is this is a very adaptable recipe.  How you see it below is how I like it best.

One Year Ago:  Flan, Layered Pasilla Tortilla Casserole
Two Years Ago:  Cheddar Crackers (I’ve made these about 1,000 times), Kaye Korma Curry
Three Years Ago:  Gianduja Gelato, Orange Grand Marnier Cake, Spaghetti with Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Tarragon
Four Years Ago:  Mexican Brownies, Noodles in Thai Curry Sauce with Tofu,

Cauliflower and Potato Curry
Adapted from The New Tastes of India
Serves 4

Coconut oil (or canola or peanut oil)
1 ½ tsp. fennel seeds
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 tsp. turmeric powder
1 tsp. chile powder
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 ¼ pound new potatoes (assorted colors are nice), cut into large chunks
1 small cauliflower, about 1 ¼ pounds, broken into florets
4 plum tomatoes, quartered and seeded
4 ounces coconut milk
4 ounces water
Kosher or sea salt
Handful of chopped cilantro

Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat.  Add just enough oil to coat the bottom of the pan.  Sprinkle in the fennel seeds and allow them to cook, stirring often, until they are toasted and fragrant, about 3 minutes.  Add the onion and cook until the onion is turning brown, about 10 minutes.  Add the turmeric and chile powder and stir for 2 minutes.  Stir in the tomato paste.

Add the potato, cauliflower, tomatoes, coconut milk, and another healthy pinch of salt.  Next stir in the water.  Bring the mixture up to a boil, then lower the heat to a simmer and cover the pot.  Allow to cook at a brisk simmer until the potatoes and cauliflower are tender, about 20 minutes.  Be sure to check with a fork or a paring knife.  If the mixture needs more liquid in your opinion, add more water or coconut milk.  Just before serving, taste for salt, and stir in the cilantro.


  1. I used to be a bit intimidated by Indian cooking, but since we moved to a town that has NO Indian restaurants (yes, you read me correctly, and yes, it makes me miserable), I started to cook at home.

    Not sure I do a great job, but little by little I’m getting more comfortable.

    By the way, I also buy spices from Penzey’s, and the other source for me is Spice House, which I heard has the same owners. Great products…

    Comment by sallybr — May 6, 2013 @ 6:25 pm

  2. I absolutely love Indian food, but never think to cook it at home! This post was great inspiration to get on changing that ASAP!

    Comment by Ashley - baker by nature — May 6, 2013 @ 6:39 pm

  3. This looks wonderful and just the answer to my question to myself this morning – what am I going to make for dinner using the cauliflower I have in my fridge. Perfect.

    Comment by Charlotte — May 6, 2013 @ 7:32 pm

  4. Yum! This is one of the easiest ones I’ve seen so I’m really excited to give it a shot. Do you have a mango wala type recipe that you love? That is one I’ve been searching for without any luck (nor satisfaction at my several attempts).

    Comment by Kathleen — May 6, 2013 @ 7:59 pm

  5. I couldn’t agree more! Indian food usually looks so scary at first glance, but once you have the basic ingredients it’s super adaptable. We make Indian food a lot at home and can’t get enough of it! Excited to try this!

    Comment by Katrina @ Warm Vanilla Sugar — May 6, 2013 @ 8:34 pm

  6. Given that I actually DO have all the spices, it’s pretty ridiculous that I don’t make indian food more often when I love it so much! This post was definitely inspiration to get it on my menu plan!

    Comment by Joanne — May 6, 2013 @ 8:35 pm

  7. This looks fabulous! I can’t wait to make it! We do have a wonderful Indian restaurant 15″ away which is great, but I have always wanted to cook it at home. I would love to have you post more of your favorites, so I could cook an entire dinner for friends at home :)
    Also, do you make any recipes that could be adapted to add ANY type of protein source? (Tofu, chicken or shrimp preferably)

    Comment by AnnieM — May 6, 2013 @ 9:06 pm

  8. I LOVE Indian food, but I don’t make it much at home — not because of spices — but because of rice. I haven’t perfected the art of perfectly fluffy basmati rice. Do you have any special tips, Dana? Do you use a rice cooker?

    Comment by Rose — May 6, 2013 @ 10:57 pm

  9. Love it and this recipe sounds fantastic. What great tips to get people cooking this amazing cuisine. I also LOVE The Bengali Spice Chronicles. I reviewed it on my blog a while back. Yum!

    Comment by Stephanie, The Recipe Renovator — May 7, 2013 @ 3:33 pm

  10. I love Indian food and make it often. A few years ago, I asked one of the parents I know from our school if I could watch her cook some time and she said yes! I took notes while I watched and came home and experimented. It was a great way to learn and watching her made the process less intimidating. She also explained the balance of the spices and some of the spices medicinal properties.

    Comment by Eileen — May 7, 2013 @ 3:34 pm

  11. Dana, I’m always happy when you invite us into your kitchen! Rose – I love Tilda brand rice – basmati imported from India. It’s sold in a gorgeous blue sack with a peacock on it. I first learned about it from Nigella Lawson. Easy! First, rinse well & drain the rice three times. Then presoak a bit with the following proportions – 1 part rice to 1.5 part water. I usually add a few bay leaves, fresh curry leaves if I have them, six green cardamom pods, and sometimes a cinnamon stick or two. After presoak, cover pan, bring to boil, then adjust burner to lowest setting, cook for 20 minutes. I think the best pan to use is your widest one. And one with a good tight-fitting lid. After your timer goes off, let the rice sit for 10-15 minutes or so – you can even slip a clean tea towel under the lid during this time if you like. Then gently fluff up the rice with a fork & enjoy! Tilda rice has the most extravagantly long grains, and an intoxicating fragrance.

    Comment by cR — May 7, 2013 @ 6:18 pm

  12. I felt like this post was meant just for me. Consequently, we just finished a delicious meal of cauliflower and potato curry. Incredibly easy and so, so good. Thank you for the well-timed pep talk, Dana!

    Comment by Diane Ambrose — May 9, 2013 @ 3:07 am

  13. There are some great tips from another commenter, so be sure to read those. I too always rinse my basmati rice (and I just buy mine from Trader Joe’s – affordable and good quality). I put it in a fine mesh strainer and really swish it around with my hands. I rinse it until the water runs clear. If I don’t feel like standing over the sink and doing that, I put it in a bowl of cold water and really agitate it, then drain it. I agree that the water proportion is 1.5 to 1 of rice. Most people use too much water. The rice I make from this same cookbook is divine so I will post that soon.

    Comment by dana — May 10, 2013 @ 6:19 pm

  14. I love cooking Indian food as a vegetarian cook it is one of the most inspiring world cuisines. Madhur Jaffrey has a brilliant cookbook called curry easy which has simple Indian recipes without being dumbed down, and there are lots of Indian recipes that aren’t that complex in their spicing.

    Comment by Elizabeth Mars — May 11, 2013 @ 7:00 am

  15. I love Indian food, but I only have a few recipes that I make at home. I would love to learn how to cook more Indian food so I will definitely be trying this recipe!

    Comment by melinda ke — May 13, 2013 @ 10:09 pm

  16. Dana! I just broke in my brand new Dutch oven with this recipe and it is soooo yummy! It will be my quick go-to curry. Thank you!

    Comment by Kathleen — May 16, 2013 @ 12:22 am

  17. I guess this is one of the easiest way to start to make an Indian dish ..thanks for the recipe of “Cauliflower and Potato Curry”.You can also try out cooking one of the famous Indian cuisines “Palak Paneer”..Its quite easy and doesn’t take much of your time to make as well as it isn’t spicy But it tastes great!!

    Comment by Indian Restaurant in Panama — May 16, 2013 @ 9:59 am

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