Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Out and About: Apna Bazaar and Indian Food

I realized the other day that it's been nearly 6 years since my friend Audrey started our "cookbook club". Many of the original members have since moved away, but our little group still meets about every 6 weeks or so to share food, drinks and girly conversation. I always look forward to our Sunday get togethers, and we have had some really terrific meals. Six years is a long time to collect cookbooks though, so lately we've tried to alternate choosing a book, and then referencing food blogs. For this past period, we read from A Curry of a Life and Journey Kitchen, both blogs that are heavily influenced by Indian food.

Let me just say that I LOVE Indian food. The spices, the smells...I just think it's so good. However, I rarely cook it at home. So I was glad to have the chance to learn more about it, and both of these blogs were a great resource. Due to time though, I really only read and cooked from A Curry of a Life. I was fascinated by her life's adventures, and really loved the videos she posted of her mother in law cooking several classic Indian dishes.

I made do with the spices I had at home for the few dishes I made, but when it came time to choose (and cook) a dish for our get together this past Sunday, I knew I had to step up my game. I wanted to make Malai Kofta, my absolute most favorite Indian dish. It's a veggie dumpling dish served in a decadent, creamy tomato curry. I've only had it in restaurants, and knew this would be something worth trying at home. However, the blog states that there was an ingredient that really shouldn't be substituted (and typically only found in Indian stores), so I began a search for a local Indian grocery. There weren't very many close to home, but thanks to Yelp, I came across Apna Bazaar.

This little store is tucked in a very ethnic strip center very close to my office, making it really convenient for future trips. I went with only 2 ingredients in mind, but left with a few other goodies. This place was a little bit of Heaven! It's a long and narrow store, and everything was organized in an easy to find manner. Pricing was also easy to read, and I was shocked at how inexpensive most items were. They had a huge bulk spice section with many bags of spices for $2-3, tons of flours and rice varieties, and of course all of the specific Indian ingredients that I don't really know how to categorize. I ended up just browsing down each aisle and picking things that I remembered seeing in recipes I wanted to try.

For $19, I left the store with the following (all of which will last for awhile):

Enough brown basmati rice to last us for months
Ghee (clarified butter that I plan on learning how to make myself)
Chana masala mix
Kasuri Methi (the magic ingredient for Malai Kofta)
A bag of Garam Masala (not pictured)

The lady who checked me out was very nice, and I happily went on my way with my goods. I did stop at Costco and happened to see a bag of refrigerated Chapatis, and grabbed that too. 36 of them for $8- not too shabby! Punjabi Indians use this flatbread as a utensil with most meals, but I am way too lazy to make them from scratch. I remember seeing this same product at Apna, so I'll have to compare pricing next time I go back.

I finally made it home (Saturdays at Costco are insane), and began the 3 hour cooking marathon on Sunday. The dish was a lot of work, but I think it would be easier to make a second time. I learned from this blog post that Kasoori Methi is an ingredient frequently used in restaurants, but not typically at home (if Americans are making Indian dishes). And this is why it doesn't always taste the same, or as good. You rub the leaves in your hand and sprinkle into the dish at the very end. The result is that your food tastes fabulous, but you end up smelling like it for at least the next two days.

The dish was nothing short of amazing, and our whole meal with the group was delicious. I made a double batch so Hank and I could enjoy it at home (and for lunch). We both agreed that it was worth the effort. But with 2 cups of heavy cream, it's not something I'll make often. Colleen (from A Curry of a Life) served this at their wedding, and I agree that it's definitely a special occasion dish.

If you're interested in learning more about how to cook Indian food at home, check out both of these blogs, and then head to Apna Bazaar to get your ingredients! They have everything you need, and it won't break the bank.

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