Adventures in Indian Cooking

Adventures in Indian Cooking

I have an insatiable curiosity to try as many different cuisines and variety of dishes during my lifetime as possible. Apart from simply how food tastes, I’m fascinated by the social, geographical and historical factors that influence the evolution of culinary traditions. Food can bridge understanding between people and I love anything that can do that. It’s so much fun to explore a new ingredient and discover how to coax out and combine flavors to recreate the taste that explodes on my tongue when I have that first bite. But there are cuisines and dishes that are so seemingly complex that it can be daunting to jump in and experiment all alone, so I seek out guidance.

As a longtime lover of Indian cuisine, I decided to tackle it in my kitchen. Like the real deal. Even though I’ve explored a bit on my own, I knew it was time to sign up for a class and I chose CulinAerie near Thomas Circle in DC. CulinAerie describes itself as a recreational culinary school. I’ve always described myself as an avid home cook but now I’m calling myself a recreational cook. That’s perfect. CulinAerie offers hands-on lessons, not just demonstrations. My class focused on Royal Indian cuisine–recipes from chefs who cooked for Indian emperors!

The instructor Rupen Rao has published two cookbooks on Indian cuisine, one of which features Ayurvedic cooking that focuses on the dietary needs of each person depending on their body type. Fascinating stuff. But that’s a post for another day. Rupen was friendly, knowledgeable and very funny. And he learned to cook from his mom, so big points. I very much enjoyed his cookbook. Yes, of course I bought it. I openly admit to having a cookbook problem.

The ingredients were laid out for each one of us when we entered the classroom. On the menu was Chicken Korma (a cashew cream sauce), Kashmir Lamb Stew, Garlic Spinach, Caraway Perfumed Rice and Indian Rice Pudding with Mango Mousse.

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The first step to making Chicken Korma is to marinate the chicken in yogurt and spices like garlic, ginger, coriander, turmeric, sweet paprika and jalapeño pepper. Once those flavors start to get to know each other, caramelize the onions. Ghee (or clarified butter) is often used in Indian cooking instead of oil. Making your own ghee isn’t hard, just a matter of removing the milk solids from melted butter. But you can also buy it at Asian markets, Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s.

We added chopped onions to a hot saucepan with ghee and let them slowly caramelize, being careful to stir them regularly over medium heat. Once the onions were nice and browned, we removed them and added cardamom, cloves, cinnamon,  ghee,  the caramelized onions, cashews, chicken stock, garam masala and nutmeg in a blender. Then we added this mixture to the chicken and cook.

You can serve white basmati rice cooked with ghee, caraway seeds, cilantro and salt. You’ll be amazed by how much flavor the caraway seeds add to the rice. Absolutely delicious. Before starting on the lamb dish, we made the spinach. Pretty simple but so flavorful. Sauté jalapeno, garlic and onions until softened, then add spinach. Salt to taste and voila!

Kashmir Lamb Stew is best with tougher cuts of lamb. The key is letting it cook for a long time at low heat. First step is to sauté peppercorns, cinnamon, cloves, black cardamom, onions and garlic until fragrant. Then we created a separate mixture of ground spices combined with yogurt. Once the lamb is cooked with the spices, the yogurt mixture is added and brought to a simmer.

For the Rice Pudding with Mango Mousse, the key is to heat the milk first before adding rice. Once the rice is tender, he added the sugar, cardamom and nuts. Make sure to use Alphonso mango pulp and mix with heavy cream. Adding sugar slows down the cooking process, so it should always be added at the end. Thanks to Rupen for that important tip!

I was stuffed by the end of the night, but I had to try a few bites of that creamy goodness. Indian rice pudding is not as sweet as American rice pudding, and canned Alphonso mangoes from a good Indian market are amazing. As close to right off the tree as you’ll get.

Suffice it to say, I was satisfied by my class and learned a lot, but I didn’t want to stop there. I made the fish and mango curry from the cookbook for a recent dinner party with out-of-town friends. This dish called for green mangoes which I was very familiar with thanks to my time in the Dominican Republic, but for the first time ever, all the mangoes at the grocery store were ripe! So I hit an Asian supermarket, and found both green mangoes and curry leaves.

This dish definitely wouldn’t have been the same without proper ingredients. Thankfully, I can take advantage of living in DC where I can access all kinds of international markets that allow me to experiment with flavors and practice making some of the most complex and delicious cuisines in the world. No cuisine should be too intimidating to try. Ask for help if you need it, but never be afraid to explore, in or out of the kitchen.

Best of DC

Best of DC

Every year, the Washington City Paper asks DC residents to vote for their favorites in just about every category imaginable from favorite Bloody Mary to favorite doctor (One Medical Group, oh yeah!) to favorite strip club. Yep, no service goes unnoticed. And they also throw a fun party to showcase the winners. This year it was held at the Carnegie Library Building in Mount Vernon Square.

As an avid foodie, I recognized many familiar and beloved faces at the Best of DC event. One of which was Thip Khao, winner of the best Asian Restaurant Category. Thip Khao serves up quality Laotian fare which is mostly unfamiliar to many DC residents. The name Thip Khao refers to the adorable baskets that hold individual servings of sticky rice.

I’m also an Instagram addict and I follow local artist Kelly Towles, so I instantly recognized his US Capitol figure. Previously, Towles featured the figure on t-shirts but this was a full blown up rendition which set the stage to showcase so many local businesses and entrepreneurs.

 

The Belgian Embassy offered up one of its iconic dishes – the Belgian Waffle. There was a sweet option but I opted for savory. The smoked salmon waffle sadly was already gone but they offered chicken pate on a waffle instead. The subtle sweetness of the waffle itself paired with the savory and creamy chicken pate was great, but it was a lot of pate!

 

I was so happy to find Cotton and Reed at this event. I never used to consider myself much of a rum fan. I found rum drinks too sweet. Turns out I just wasn’t drinking the right rum. I moved to the Dominican Republic where I had my first taste of truly amazing rum. Brugal blew apart my idea of what rum should taste like. Then I tried Barbancourt from Haiti, and it was unlike anything else I’ve ever tried. It’s like thinking that all beer tastes like Coors Light and then discovering an IPA.

 

I first tasted Cotton and Reed at The Passenger, an awesome local DC bar and I was hooked. Then I heard about a Cotton and Reed pop up in Adams Morgan and my love for their rum was confirmed. So, I just had to stop by and give them some love. Stop by their tasting room at Union Market especially if you’ve never considered yourself a rum fan. You just might be a convert.

 

There was a lot of buzz when Buredo opened in DC. My friends and I made it a point to try them just after they opened. We had a sushi burrito picnic on a beautiful day in Franklin Square. And then I kinda forgot about them. It was good but there’s so much good food in this city. When I saw Buredo again at the Best of DC event and tried their shrimp tempura burrito, I was reminded that I need to get myself over there more often. So delicious!

 

And then there were the breweries! Of course, good old DC Brau made the list. I live near their brewery and tasting room and love taking advantage of the $2.50 pint special on Fridays. Best deal in town! And I was also thrilled to see 3 Stars Brewery. I’ve loved all of their beers and I need to try the Go Go Weiss, a collaboration with Other Half Brewing in Brooklyn. It’s a sour ale with cherries and cherry blossoms. It’s pink!

 

I felt as if I had to choose my favorite among the favorites and while it was tough to do among so many great food and drink options, I was delighted by Daikaya’s cocktail the Hara Hara. Gin has always been my drink and this featured Joseph Magnus gin, Rinomato (an Italian bitter aperitivo), cherry blossom paste, grapefruit, lime and Thai basil. Just a touch of sweetness. It was delicious, unique and refreshing.

 

Adventures with Mom

Adventures with Mom

It’s rare that my mom and I get to spend time together in DC by ourselves, so when she decided to come down from Pennsylvania for a mother daughter visit, I knew I had to cram in as much of the fun stuff we both like to do as possible. We love history and visiting house museums and I had been wanting to take her to the Hillwood Estate, the home of Marjorie Merriweather Post, for years.

 

I also get my love of food from my mom who’s an amazing cook and food explorer, so the itinerary on our first day started off with breakfast at A Baked Joint in Mount Vernon Square – home of the best biscuit sandwich I have ever had.

 

I’m a coffee addict and my mom a tea lover so I knew A Baked Joint could satisfy us both. I like plain old drip coffee served black with no sugar. And my mom is a black tea lover and was over the moon about their Assam which she also takes black with no sugar. Upon my insistence, she tried a biscuit and I got the open faced smoked salmon sandwich on house baked baguette.

 

 

Fueled up and ready for touring, we headed over to Hillwood in NW DC set back in the hills near the Peirce Mill in Rock Creek Park. Marjorie Merriweather Post was the heiress of the Post cereal fortune and an avid art collector. Her home was a museum where she loved to entertain guests and show off her prized possessions.

 

She was particularly interested in ornate, European artwork and is probably most famous for her collection of Faberge eggs. But during her time living in Russia as the wife of the US Ambassador to Russia, she also amassed a huge collection of priceless Russian treasures. She and her husband lived in Russia during the Revolution of 1917. Because of the turmoil and unrest, Russian artifacts were easy to come by and Marjorie recognized at once the great value of these items, many of which are displayed in her home today.

 

Hillwood is also famous for its gardens. They include formal French style gardens, a Japanese garden, rose garden and a large greenhouse filled with tropical plants and an extensive orchid collection which was on display during our visit. After a warm, sunny morning full of exploring the ornate house and the beautifully manicured grounds of the Hillwood Estate, we had once again worked up an appetite. And this time, we were headed to Georgetown for some delicious vegetarian tacos.

 

When I first heard people raving about Chaia tacos, I thought to myself how good could a vegetarian taco really be? Chaia tacos defied all my expectations. With thick, homemade soft corn tortillas and fresh, seasonal produce of the highest quality, Chaia tacos are hearty and delicious and gorgeous to look at as well. My favorite is the kale and potato, but the mushroom tacos come in a close second. My mom was highly impressed with the rutabaga taco as well. Though neither of us are vegetarian, we both agreed that we could easily give up meat if we could have Chaia tacos every day.