Monthly Archives: August 2014

Information/Recipe: Aloo Masala / Aloo Subzi – Potato Curry (Indian Cooking Basics V)

Now that I have gone over all the ingredients, you must be wondering what the rest of this series will be about. I will explain that in this post.

First, in this post (Part V), I will explain a basic North Indian potato curry and variations. Many of the North Indian foods I will cover later will have many similar steps and techniques. This is a great beginner’s curry.

After this, I will give a recipe in each post for a very popular and well-known Indian dish (this will include: butter chicken [murgh makhani], palak paneer, biryani). Inbetween these recipes, I will give recipes for Indian flatbreads and breads such as chapati, paratha, naan, etc. Look forward to these delicious foods!

If you are a complete beginner at Indian cooking, it is okay! In these posts, I will introduce you to everything you need to know to cook Indian food. If you enjoy Indian food at a restaurant, you will be happy to know how to cook your favorite dishes at your own home.

Indian food is easy once you “get the hang of it”. To a beginner, including to me before I started making Indian food, it appears very challenging to cook Indian food with so many steps and ingredients. However, once I explain the basics, it will actually be revealed that it is quite easy. Indian food takes much more time than Chinese food, though. If you are in a hurry, especially if you are a beginner, I would recommend making Chinese food instead. Make Indian food when you have time, such as on a weekend.

First, you must understand that India is formed of many states. Every state’s cuisine is different and usually, the language is different too (although several states of North India speak Hindi). India may be divided into 4 main regions: North India, South India, West India, and East India. The cuisine of North India is the most well known overseas. There are also some South and West Indian dishes that are popular. East India is the least well-known. These four regions’ cooking styles are very different. Because the popular dishes I will introduce later are mostly North Indian, I will first teach you the basics of North Indian cooking. I also believe North Indian cooking is the easiest for a beginner to learn.

North Indian cooking always begins with making what I call the “masala”. This is made from cooking onion, garlic, ginger, green chilies, tomato, and spices in oil or ghee until soft and reduced. The ingredients may be either finely chopped or pureed. The “masala” is the flavor base for all dishes.
The basic masala is described above, but there are variations. Some religions of India do not allow consumption of onion and garlic. Therefore, there is also the “no-onion no-garlic masala” made without onion and garlic, but still containing oil, tomato, ginger, green chili, and spices.
The state of Kashmir’s cuisine differs from the rest of North Indian cuisine, so the masala is different. When I introduce my recipe for the Kashmiri dish “rogan josh”, you will understand what I mean.

After the masala is made, the vegetable, meat, paneer, or other main ingredient is added and cooked. Dishes may be dry or with “gravy”. If dry, little or no water is added. If with “gravy”, water and/or milk or cream is added. Sometimes, yogurt is also added.

Almost every North Indian dish is made with this pattern. As you can see, this makes it seem quite simple.
The recipe for aloo masala, also called aloo subzi, will demonstrate a basic North Indian dish made with a masala.

2 tbsp cooking oil
1 heaping tsp cumin seeds
1 inch long cinnamon stick*
2 green cardamoms, lightly crushed with rolling pin*
1 clove*
1 medium-sized red onion or yellow/brown onion (In India, red onions are always used. However, it is okay to substitute yellow/brown onions for red onions overseas.)
1 or 2 Thai green bird’s eye chilies (Optional if you do not want spicy. In India, the seeds are not removed! This makes the dish extremely spicy. You may remove the seeds for a mildly spicy dish.)
3-4 cloves garlic
1 inch long piece ginger
heaping 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
heaping 1/2 tsp Indian red chili powder (Use Kashmiri red chili powder if you want it red but not spicy. You can skip if you don’t have it.)
1 heaping tsp coriander powder
1 cup finely chopped or pureed tomatoes, or canned crushed tomatoes
salt to taste
2 medium-sized potatoes, peeled and cut into bite-sized pieces
about 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro for garnish (optional if you don’t like it or don’t have it)

* Instead of these spices, you may skip them and add a heaping 1/2 tsp garam masala with the turmeric, red chili, and coriander powders. These spices are called “whole garam masala” and are sometimes used instead of powdered garam masala in a North Indian dish. Whole garam masala can also include black cardamom, Indian bay leaf, and other spices included in the powdered garam masala. You are supposed to eat the cumin seeds, but do not eat the cinnamon, cardamom, and clove. If you accidentally bite one of those spices, you will taste a very strong flavor. I recommend beginners who are afraid of biting into a spice to use powdered garam masala. 🙂

1. Finely chop the onion, green chilies, garlic, and ginger. You can also puree them. Pureeing them is less work and some people prefer the smooth sauce. It is your choice.
2. Heat a pan and add oil. Add cinnamon, cardamoms, and clove. Cook for 5 to 10 seconds. If skipping these, skip this step.
3. Add cumin seeds and wait 5 seconds. They should make a popping sound during this time. If they do not, the oil is not hot enough, and next time, heat the pot more. If they pop too violently (jumping out of the pot and hot oil splashing everywhere), the oil is too hot.
4. Add the onion, garlic, ginger, and green chilies. If you finely chopped them, cook until onion is translucent and softer. If you pureed them, cook until the puree is reduced and becomes quite thick. This step is done over medium-high heat.
5. Add tomatoes, salt, turmeric, coriander, and red chili powders. If using powdered garam masala instead of the whole spices, add it too. Stir well.
6. Cook until the sauce is reduced and has become thick. If you chopped the tomatoes instead of pureeing, the tomatoes should be very soft.
7. The masala is ready! Now add potato pieces. Stir to coat the potato pieces with the masala well.
8. Add water to cover the potatoes. *If you don’t like much gravy, be careful not to add too much!* Bring to a boil and simmer until cooked.
9. Adjust the “gravy” to your preferred consistency. If you like more gravy, add water and bring to a boil. If you like it thicker, simmer until thick enough.
10. Add cilantro and stir. Turn off the heat and serve!

This dish is a side dish to a meal. You can eat it with more subzi (Indian vegetable dishes) and/or dal, rice or breads/flatbreads, etc.


Ingredients: Other Indian Ingredients (Indian Cooking Basics IV)

Besides spices and fresh herbs, Indian cuisine uses other ingredients too. This includes dal and legumes, flours, oils, dairy products, and other seasonings. This post will go over everything that is used in my recipes. It will be updated in the future to include more items.

Split and Whole Legumes

Many legumes are used in Indian cooking. There are both whole and split legumes. Dal usually refers to split and peeled legumes, but it is often translated as “lentils” even though only one type of dal, masoor dal, is actually a lentil. Let’s see all the common types of dal and whole legumes.
The names in parentheses are the Indian names. In Indian stores, these will usually be the names shown instead of the English.
Each legume is the seed of the plant in italics.

Split Legumes (Dal):
Split Pigeon Peas (Toor Dal) – Cajanus cajan
Split Black Chickpeas (Chana Dal) – Cicer arietinum
Split Mung Beans (Mung Dal) – Vigna radiata
Split Black Gram (Urad Dal) – Vigna mungo
Split Red Lentils (Masoor Dal) – Lens culinaris

Whole Legumes:
Kidney Beans (Rajma) – Phaseolus vulgaris
Chickpeas (Chole / Channa) – Cicer arietinum
Black Chickpeas (Kala Channa) – Cicer arietinum
Whole Mung Beans (Mung Dal Chilka) – Vigna radiata
Whole Black Gram (Urad Dal Chilka) – Vigna mungo


The most common flours used in Indian cooking are:

Whole Wheat Flour (Atta)
All Purpose Flour (Maida)
Chickpea Flour (Besan)

Whole wheat flour from India is slightly different from American whole wheat flour and can be found at an Indian grocery store. It is okay to substitute American whole wheat flour though.


The oils that you need for Indian cooking are:
A neutral flavored oil that can stand high temperatures (peanut, canola, “vegetable” [soybean], etc)
Clarified Butter (Ghee)

*Ghee is expensive and can be made at home from unsalted butter. I just buy it from Indian grocery stores, where it is still much cheaper than ghee in health food stores.*

For some dishes, you’ll need:
Mustard Oil
Coconut Oil

If you live in South India, it would be easy to get:
Untoasted Sesame Oil (to differentiate from the toasted sesame oil used in Chinese, Korean, and Japanese cooking to flavor foods)

But if you cannot get it easily and for a cheap price, you can substitute any neutral-flavored high temperature oil.

Dairy Products

Milk (In India, it would be whole milk. 2% milk is also good. I would not prefer skim milk for cooking, but you can still use it if you want.)
Heavy Cream (You can substitute unsweetened evaporated milk or half and half, but cream is the richest.)
Plain Yogurt (Whole milk yogurt in India. Reduced fat, etc. is good too. Indian people make it at home, but I just buy it from the store.)
Paneer (An unfermented Indian cheese that looks like extremely firm tofu and does not melt. Often translated wrongly as “cottage cheese” in Indian recipes.)

Other Flavorings

Ginger-Garlic Paste – Many Indian recipes use this ingredient, a mixture of pureed ginger and garlic in a 1:1 ratio. You can substitute grated ginger and garlic pressed through a garlic press, or finely minced ginger and garlic. It is quite convenient to use this paste though, but it often contains preservatives if bought from the Indian grocery store. You can easily make it yourself, but it goes bad if you do not use it every day.

Tamarind (Imli) Concentrate – This can be found in jars at the Indian grocery store. It is dark and sticky and adds a sour flavor to food.

Shredded Coconut – If you live in Southeast Asia or India, please use fresh shredded coconut. If you live in somewhere like the USA or Europe, dried shredded coconut (dessicated coconut) is good for most recipes. In recipes requiring fresh shredded coconut (will be mentioned in the recipe), use frozen shredded coconut, found in Indian grocery stores.

Coconut Milk – Use fresh coconut milk in Southeast Asia or India. Otherwise, use canned/carton coconut milk. The Aroy-D brand, found in green cartons, is a good choice. It is also handy because many recipes use 1/2 or 1 cup, and it is exactly 1 cup (1 to 2 uses). If you can only find cans, the brand Mae Ploy is best. Aroy-D and Chaokoh cans are also good. Beware of fake Chaokoh coconut milk – there is a brand called Chaokoq!! The real one is much better quality.

Ingredients: Indian Fresh Herbs (Indian Cooking Basics III)

Unlike dry spices, not many fresh herbs are used in Indian cuisine.

Cilantro (Hara Dhania)
Cilantro, the leaves and stem of the Coriandrum sativum plant, is used to garnish almost all Indian dishes. You probably already know what it is. You can grow cilantro yourself; it grows back if you cut it and keep the root in the soil.

Mint (Pudina)
There are many kinds of mint, but the most common is spearmint, the Mentha spicata plant. Mint, along with cilantro, is part of green chutney, the sauce that goes with many Indian street foods. You can grow mint yourself.

Curry Leaves (Kadipatta)
The leaves of the Murraya koenigii tree are used in almost all South Indian foods. They are almost impossible to find in the USA (just once in a while they pop up in an Indian grocery store), and they go bad in only a few days in the refrigerator. If frozen or dried, they lose flavor. If you are interested in South Indian food, I recommend you to buy a Murraya koenigii tree, which many Indian people own.You can also just buy a small amount at a time if you do not use it every day. If you cannot find it, you may skip it from a recipe. It will lack the curry leaf flavor, but it will still be delicious. Obviously do not do this in a recipe for curry leaf chutney; in that case just make coriander or mint chutney.
These leaves are not related to curry powder.

Ingredients: Indian Spice Blend Formulas (Indian Cooking Basics II)

In the last part of the Indian Cooking Basics Series, I introduced all of the Indian spices that may show up in a recipe. In this post, I will explain spice blend formulas. The post will be updated every time I introduce a new spice blend in a recipe.

Garam Masala

The most commonly used spice blend in all of India is called garam masala. This aromatic blend of spices is centered on coriander and cumin seeds, usually in a 2:1 ratio. To these spices, more aromatic spices are added such as cinnamon, cloves, cardamoms, and nutmeg. The spices are ground into a fine powder. Every family makes garam masala slightly differently.

The formula I am sharing is for Punjabi garam masala, from the Indian state of Punjab. Most of the popular Indian foods are from Punjab, so these dishes contain Punjabi garam masala. You can use Punjabi garam masala in any recipe asking for “garam masala”.
Punjabi garam masala is usually not dry-roasted. The spices are just measured and ground raw. If you wish to dry-roast the spices, add all of the whole spices except black cardamom to a pan. Dry-roast over medium heat until fragrant, then set aside on a plate and cool to room temperature. Then grind all of the spices with the black cardamoms. Black cardamoms are not dry-roasted because they lose sweet flavor when dry-roasted. Again, I do not dry-roast any of the spices for Punjabi garam masala because it is usually not dry-roasted. It is also faster to make without dry-roasting.

Adapted from

1/4 cup (4 tbsp) whole coriander seeds
2 tbsp whole cumin seeds
1 tbsp whole green cardamom pods
3 or 4 whole black cardamom pods
1 tbsp whole cloves
1/2 tbsp whole black peppercorns
2 cinnamon sticks, each 2 inches long
1 1/2 whole Indian bay leaves
1 1/2 dry whole red chili peppers (either Indian chili, chile arbol, or chili Japones), including seeds
approximately a heaping 1/4 tsp grated nutmeg

If you want to dry-roast spices, dry-roast everything except black cardamom until fragrant, then cool to room temperature. If not, just start by adding everything to a spice grinder.
Add all spices to a spice grinder (coffee grinder used only for spices and not coffee) and grind until a fine powder. Sometimes the cinnamon does not grind. In this case, add the powder to a glass jar but leave some in the grinder. Keep the cinnamon in the grinder. Then grind until a powder. Add everything to the glass jar and cover with airtight lid. Store and use when needed.

Chaat Masala

Chaat refers to Indian street foods, so chaat masala is the spice blend used in many delicious street foods. The spices in chaat masala are not as common as the spices in garam masala, so I recommend beginners to buy premade chaat masala.

Adapted from eCurry

2 tbsp coriander seeds, dry-roasted in a pan until a darker and fragrant
2 heaping tsp cumin seeds, dry-roasted in a pan until darker and fragrant
heaping 3/4 tsp carom seeds (ajwain), dry-roasted in a pan until fragrant
*Be careful not to burn the spices while dry-roasting!*
1 1/4 to 1 1/2 tbsp Indian black salt (kala namak)
2 1/2 dry red chilies (Indian chilies, chile arbol, or chile Japones), including seeds
1 1/2 heaping tsp dry mango powder (amchur)
heaping 1/8 tsp powdered asafoetida (hing)
heaping 1/4 tsp dry ginger powder (soonth)
heaping 3/4 tsp black pepper powder
heaping 1/2 tsp dry mint leaves
heaping 1 to 1 1/2 tsp Kashmiri red chili powder

1. Dry-roast the three spices called to be dry-roasted in the ingredients, then cool to room temperature.
2. Add everything to a spice grinder and grind into a fine powder.
3. Store in an airtight glass jar.

Coming next when I introduce the recipes:
Sambar Powder
Rasam Powder

Ingredients: Indian Spices (Indian Cooking Basics I)

This post contains information about ALL Indian spices and spice mixes that may be used in my recipes. It will be updated once in a while. This way, they are all on one page and it is more organized. All of these spices are quite commonly used in Indian cooking, but some of them are more often used than others. For beginners, I recommend buying turmeric powder, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, Indian red chili powder (If you don’t like food too spicy, get Kashmiri red chili powder. You can also use a combination of regular Indian red chili powder and Kashmiri to create medium-spicy dishes.), and garam masala. These are used in the majority of Indian recipes. I strongly recommend visiting an Indian supermarket, where the spices are much, much, much, much, MUCH cheaper than in American supermarkets. It is also much easier to find the less common spices in an Indian supermarket. If there is none near you, you may have to order online which is very expensive. If you love Indian food, it may still be worth it.

Indian cuisine and all South Asian cuisine uses many spices to give flavor to food. This is different from East Asian and Southeast Asian cuisines, which use a combination of fermented sauces and spices to flavor foods. Spices each give a different flavor and color to food, making each dish look and taste distinct. Spices also have medicinal purposes and even modern scientists agree they may help prevent some diseases.

It is necessary to Indian cooking to have a spice grinder. Buy a coffee grinder and use it only for spices.

Many spices are not on this list, but all of the common ones are. Some spices are used mostly in Northern Indian cuisine and some are used in mostly Southern Indian cuisine.
Hindi names are in parentheses next to each spice name. Many Indian supermarkets label spice names in an Indian language (not always Hindi). They may be spelled differently in English letters, but I choose the most common way of spelling.

Asafoetida (Hing)
Asafoetida is the dried sap from the root and stem of a plant called Ferula assa-foetida. It smells absolutely terrible. It is added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking, only a very small amount is used. Once added to oil, it becomes a more pleasant smell. Overseas, it can only be found powdered in a bottle resembling a medicine bottle. This powder contains a filler and it does not have much of the actual asafoetida in it. It still smells terrible…
In India, it can be found in solid form. This solid form must be pounded in a mortar to a powder before using.
No-onion-no-garlic recipes often use asafoetida to boost the flavor. Some Indian people do not eat onion or garlic for religious reasons. Recipes with onion and garlic can also contain asafoetida.

Indian Bay Leaf (Tej Patta)
Indian bay leaves are not western bay leaves, which are the leaves of the Laurel tree. Indian bay leaves are the leaves of the Cinnamomum tamala tree, which is related to the cinnamon tree. Many Indian recipes call for “bay leaf”, and they refer to this spice. The western (Laurel) bay leaf is not used in India. You can find the Indian bay leaf at Indian supermarkets. They look different from Laurel bay leaves because they have three veins instead of one. The leaves are added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking.

Green Cardamom (Choti Elaichi)
Green cardamoms, the dried fruit of the Elettaria cardamomum plant, are the third most expensive spice in the world, but are still much cheaper at Indian grocery stores than American grocery stores. Each small pod contains tiny black seeds that are often powdered in Indian dishes or desserts. Green cardamoms are also lightly crushed and added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking, or ground into spice mixes such as garam masala.

Black Cardamom (Bada Elaichi / Kali Elaichi)
Black cardamoms, the dried fruit of the Amomum subulatum plant, are larger than green cardamoms and have a very different flavor. They are also cheaper, so are often incorrectly described and used as an inferior substitute to green cardamom. Black cardamoms are not used in sweet foods. They have a smoky flavor because they are dried over a fire. They are ground into spice mixes such as garam masala, and are also lightly crushed and used whole in braised dishes or rice dishes.
*A related species, Amomum costatum, is used in Sichuanese cooking, in braised meat dishes, and is called 草果 (cao guo – “tsall gwuh” – literally: grass fruit). These can be substituted with the Indian black cardamom.

Carom Seeds (Ajwain)
These tiny seeds are the seeds of the plant Trachyspermum ammi and are often mislabeled “Bishop’s weed”. They are added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking. They are also used to season parathas.

Chaat Masala
This spice blend is commonly used in Indian street food, which is called chaat. Beginners should buy it from the store, because many of the spices in it are not too commonly used in Indian cuisine (all of them are still on this list though). I will make a post soon containing all of my spice blend formulas. Look forward to it!

Cinnamon (Dalchini)
“True cinnamon” is the dried inner bark of the Cinnamomum verum tree, which is mostly grown in Sri Lanka. This is very hard to find and would be very expensive. Most cinnamon is actually the dried inner bark of the Cinnamomum cassia tree. The “true cinnamon” has a sweeter flavor, and the “cassia cinnamon” has a slightly stronger flavor. Both are good to use. In Indian cooking, cinnamon is usually used as whole sticks, added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking. The cinnamon sticks are also ground as part of spice mixes such as garam masala.

Cloves (Laung)
Cloves are the dried flower buds of the Syzygium aromaticum tree. They are fully-grown and unopened green buds are picked and dried in the sun until dark brown. Cloves are very strongly flavored and are added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking. They are also ground into spice mixes such as garam masala.

Coriander Seeds (Dhania)
These are the dried seeds of the cilantro/coriander plant, Coriandrum sativum. They have a very different flavor from the cilantro leaves. This spice is usually added as a powder, but can also be added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking. They are also commonly ground into spice mixes such as garam masala and sambar powder. This is one of the most common Indian spices, used in most Indian dishes. Buy the whole seeds and grind them in a spice grinder, about 1/2 cup at a time. Store this in a small airtight container until used up. Powdered spices lose flavor faster than whole spices so this is better than buying coriander powder.

Cumin Seeds (Jeera)
The dried seeds of the Cumimum cyminim plant, these are also very commonly used in Indian cooking. They can be added whole to hot oil at the beginning of cooking, or used ground into powder. They are also ground in spice mixes such as garam masala. The ground form can be made from raw cumin seeds, or dry-roasted cumin seeds. The roasted, raw, and fried cumin seeds all have different flavors. Like coriander, I recommend buying the whole seeds and grinding them when necessary.

Fenugreek Seeds (Methi)
The seeds of the plant Trigonella foenum-graecum, fenugreek seeds are added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking or ground into spice mixes.

Dried Fenugreek Leaves (Kasuri Methi)
The dried leaves of the Trigonella foenum-graecum plant are used in the famous dishes of butter chicken, butter paneer, and malai kofta! They are essential to the flavors of these dishes. You can find them in Indian grocery stores.

Fennel Seeds (Saunf / Mouri)
The seeds of the plant Foeniculum vulgare look similar to cumin, but taste very different. They are added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking or ground into spice mixes. The powder is also used in Indian cooking.

Garam Masala
This is a spice blend used very commonly in Indian cuisine. Beginners can buy it premade, but I recommend everyone to grind it at home once you have all the ingredients. Cumin and coriander seeds should be owned by all people who cook Indian cuisine, and the other spices are also quite commonly used. Check out Indian Cooking Basics II for the formula.

Dry Ginger Powder (Soonth)
Ginger is the rhizome of the plant Zingiber officinale. The rhizome is very commonly used fresh in Indian and Chinese cooking. However, it is also dried and powdered. The powder has a different flavor than fresh ginger, and it is much, much stronger.

Mace (Javitri)
Mace is the aril of the fruit of the Myristica fragrans tree, native to Indonesia. It looks like a red coil around the seed, which is called nutmeg (see nutmeg below). Mace is ground as a part of biryani masala, and rarely used otherwise.

Dry Unripe Mango Powder (Amchur)
This powder adds a sour flavor to many Indian dishes. It is quite hard to find, but you should be able to get it at an Indian supermarket. It is made from unripe mangoes, which are the fruit of the Mangifera indica tree. The unripe mangoes are dried and powdered.

Black Mustard Seeds (Rai)
These tiny black round seeds are the seeds of the plant Brassica nigra. These seeds are added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking. They are used very commonly in South Indian cuisine.

Brown Mustard Seeds (Sarson)
Brown mustard seeds are larger than black mustard seeds, and they are the seeds of the Brassica juncea plant. They are less commonly used than black mustard seeds.

Nigella Seeds AKA Black Caraway Seeds (Kalonji / Kalo Jeera)
These seeds of the Nigella sativa plant are often mislabeled “onion seeds” or “black cumin” (black cumin is actually a different plant called Bunium bulbocastanum, but it is called this because “kalo jeera” literally means “black cumin”). They are used to flavor breads, ground in spice mixtures, or added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking.

Nutmeg (Jaiphal)
Nutmeg is the seed of the fruit of the Myristica fragrans tree, native to Indonesia. They are used powdered in dishes such as biryani, and also added to spice blends such as garam masala. Buy them whole and grate them freshly.

Panch Foron
This blend of 5 seeds is used in East Indian cooking. It is a mixture of the following spices in equal amounts:
cumin seeds
radhuni (seeds of Trachyspermum roxburghianum plant)
nigella seeds
fenugreek seeds
fennel seeds

Black Peppercorns (Kali Mirch)
The most common spice on Earth, used all over the world, black peppercorns are the dried immature fruit of the Piper nigrum plant. In Indian cooking, the spice is usually ground into spice blends such as garam masala. Buy them whole and grind them with a pepper mill when the powder spice is called for.

Dry Pomegranate Seeds (Anardana)
These seeds of the fruit of the Punica granatum tree are added to hot oil at the beginning of cooking to add a sour flavor to foods. The seeds are also eaten fresh.

White Poppy Seeds (Khus Khus)
The seeds of the Papaver somniferum plant, poppy seeds are not too commonly used in Indian cooking. You may have seen them in muffins before. The Papaver somniferum plant is also the source of all narcotic drugs such as morphine and codeine! The seeds actually contain trace amounts of these drugs! However, they will not cause any effects at all, so don’t worry.

Indian Red Chili Powders (Lal Mirch)
Indian red chili powder is made from pure ground red chilies. There are many different kinds that you can find at an Indian grocery store, such as mild (Kashmiri), medium spicy, and extra spicy. I use Kashmiri red chili powder because it is very mild but very, very red. If you do not have an Indian store near you, you can use a blend of cayenne pepper powder to taste and paprika for color.
Indian red chili powder is not the spice blend called “chili powder” in the USA! The “chili powder” is a blend of chili, cumin, coriander, oregano, and other spices used to make the Mexican-American dish called chili.

Whole Dry Red Chilies
These chilies are the fruit of the plant Capsicum annum. They can be found at Indian grocery stores. You can substitute chile arbol or chile Japones, found at Mexican grocery stores or sometimes American grocery stores. They are split in half and added to hot oil for seasoning. Indian people include all the seeds. If you do not food too spicy, don’t add all the seeds, or don’t add any seeds for a non-spicy dish.

Saffron (Kesar)
The most expensive spice, saffron is the stigma of the flower of the plant Crocus sativus. Each plant can have 4 flowers, and each flower can have 3 stigmas. That means the each plant can only have 12 tiny pieces of saffron. They are all hand-harvested. Saffron from Spain is the best quality. Do not confuse saffron with safflower, a very cheap dried flower that may look somewhat similar to saffron. Saffron is usually used in rice dishes such as biryani and also in the Spanish rice dish paella.

Indian Black Salt (Kala Namak)
This salt is light purple color in powder form. It is used in spice blends such as chaat masala. If you can’t find it, you can buy chaat masala from the store.

White Sesame Seeds (Til)
Sesame seeds are used in South Indian cuisine, but not much in the rest of the country. They are sometimes included in a spice blend.

Star Anise (Chakra Phool)
This spice is not used too often in Indian cooking, just sometimes part of a spice mix. It is very common in Chinese cooking, though.

Turmeric Powder (Haldi)
The rhizome of the plant Circuma longa is boiled, dried in hot ovens, then ground into a deep orange-yellow powder used very commonly in Indian cooking. It adds yellow color to foods and contains circumin, which may prevent cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, diabetes, allergies, arthritis, and more. The powder is most commonly used in Indian cuisine, but the raw rhizome is also sometimes used.

Let’s get cooking! I am working on a basic Indian cooking series going over the basics of Indian cooking and sharing many popular and delicious food. This is Part I. As more recipes and information are published, they will be listed below. Have fun!

Information: Mooncake(月饼)

If you are not familiar with Chinese culture, you most likely do not know what a mooncake is. That is okay because I will tell you everything about this food in this article, yay! The next post will be a recipe for snow-skin mooncakes.

First, we will start on the background of mooncakes. Mooncakes(月饼 – yue bing – “yweh beeng” – literally: moon flatbread)are neither a cake nor a flatbread, but a type of sweet eaten on the mid-autumn festival(中秋节 – zhong qiu jie – “djohng tsyoh dzyeh” – literally: middle fall [fall meaning autumn] holiday), often called the moon festival in English. This day falls on the 15th day of the 8th month of the Chinese lunisolar calendar. The 15th day of every lunar month is a full moon, and the 1st day is always a new moon. There are 360 days in a year in the Chinese calendar, not 365. Therefore, every 6 years, the sixth month repeats again so there are 13 months, which is 390 days. If the “leap month” is skipped, the seasons would become very strange and out of order. Back to the date of the mid-autumn festival – 15th day of the 8th month. Because every 15th day always has a full moon, the mid-autumn festival obviously has a full moon. The Chinese believe that the full moon on the mid-autumn festival is the brightest out of all full moons in the year. Traditionally, on the day of the mid-autumn festival, the autumn harvest was celebrated with a feast. Obviously, the autumn harvest is not very important anymore, but the festival is still celebrated with family reunions, a feast, moon-gazing, hanging Chinese lanterns, and burning incense to Chang-E. (I will explain the legend of Chang-E below.) The food will always include mooncakes, which are a symbol of the holiday.
The mid-autumn festival will take place on:
Monday, September 8, 2014
Sunday, September 27, 2015
Thursday, September 15, 2016
Wednesday, October 4, 2017
Monday, September 24, 2018

If you noticed, I mentioned someone named Chang-E above. Here is the legend of Chang-E below! There are so many variations, but here is the version I learned (and also my favorite because it makes both Hou-Yi and Chang-E a hero):
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there were 10 suns. The 10 suns took turns going in the sky so only one was there at a time. However, one day, they became quite lazy so all 10 suns appeared in the sky at once and did not come down. This caused the temperature to become unbearably hot, all the crops died, and lakes dried up. There was a giant famine and everyone starved. Finally, a very strong archer named Hou-Yi(后羿 – hou yi – “hoh yee”)shot down 9 of the suns so only one was left. He became a hero and soon became the emperor. However, after he became the emperor, he became lazy and neglected his duties. All he did was eat, drink, and have fun. One day, someone gifted him 2 bottles of the elixir of immortality, one for his wife. They were warned that if one drank both bottles, something bad would happen. His wife, Chang-E(嫦娥 – chang e – “chahng uh”)did not want Hou-Yi to live forever because he was a terrible emperor. Therefore, she drank both bottles even though she knew about the negative consequences. After drinking both, she started floating up to the moon. Hou-Yi saw her, but they could not stop the force. She ended up living on the moon forever, as she still became immortal. She lives with her immortal pet white rabbit, the only one to keep her company. Back on Earth, Hou-Yi understood why his wife drank both bottles, and became a good emperor until his death later on. The end!

So, now that you know the story and the holiday, you must wonder why the story has nothing to do with mooncakes. This is because mooncakes were invented much later than the story was. The mooncake is a very sweet and rich food the size of your palm. It is circular and consists of a very thin wrapper around a filling, usually very sweet. These fillings can be lotus seed paste, red bean paste, mung bean paste, mixed nuts and ham, pineapple jam, red jujube paste, and more. The wrapper can be a pastry made from flour, egg, invert syrup, and a little potassium carbonate solution (this is Cantonese style). It can also be flaky pastry (this is Eastern Chinese style), or made from sticky rice flour (this is called snowskin mooncake). The Cantonese style usually has lotus seed paste with salted duck egg yolks. If you are not Chinese, you may think this sweet food seems very strange (salted duck egg yolks!), but it is eaten by all Chinese people. In China, mooncakes are always a gift item sent to everyone where you work. You may have received a box from Chinese co-workers. Mooncakes are eaten by cutting into small wedges and eating with a pick that usually comes with the mooncakes in the box.

Cantonese style mooncakes are very hard to make if from scratch. The invert syrup and salted duck egg yolks must be prepared a month ahead, and the pastry is quite hard to prepared thinly and delicately. If I buy these premade, I may try to make it at home and share the recipe. The recipe I will share with you is for the much easier snowskin mooncakes. They are also much friendlier with non-Asians as they do not contain salted duck egg yolks. The filling can be red bean paste or yellow mung bean paste, both which I will share easy recipes.

For snowskin, as well as Cantonese style mooncakes, you need a mooncake mold. There are traditional wooden ones and modern plastic ones. I have never seen them outside of China, but you may find them in large Chinatowns. You can order them on Ebay, shipping from China or Hong Kong. If you have Chinese relatives, ask them to bring when they visit you (that’s what I did XD) and if you visit China, BUY ONE. The modern plastic ones are all I can find now on Ebay. They are also easier to use, so I recommend. If you can find traditional wooden ones, they still work well.
You also need a very hard to find ingredient labeled “roasted glutinous rice flour” which is not actually roasted and is gluten free. I will explain it in the recipe post.

If you enjoy Japanese daifuku mochi (大福餅), you will also enjoy snowskin mooncakes, I promise. If you have not tried any sweets with sweet bean pastes before, I recommend you to try one first, as apparently some non-Asians dislike the taste. You can find snowskin mooncakes frozen at Chinese supermarkets during the time near the mid-autumn festival.

PS. If you like salted duck egg yolks (CONGRATULATIONS IF YOU DO AND YOU ARE NOT ASIAN!!) I recommend you to buy a box of Cantonese style mooncakes with lotus seed paste and salted duck egg yolks. Some of the brands are really expensive, but I just get the cheaper kind. The cheaper kinds use a mixture of white beans and lotus seeds instead of just lotus seeds, but they still taste very good to me. I bought the Joy Luck Palace brand from Taiwan. I recommend Taiwanese brands over mainland Chinese brands as Taiwan has better quality control than mainland China.
If you don’t, you can try to find a box of mooncakes without salted duck egg yolks (this is quite challenging task) and try them.
Just a warning, mooncakes are very sweet and rich!

Recipe: Kimchi Fried Rice (김치 볶음밥)

Kimchi fried rice (김치 볶음밥 – gimchi bokkeumbap – “keem-chee polk-oom-bahp” – kimchi stir-fried rice) is one of my favorite foods ever!! It tastes so good that you really have to taste it!! It can be very spicy or mild depending on your kimchi. The taste is very good, with kimchi’s flavor but not as sharp as raw kimchi.

If you have not heard of kimchi (possible if you are very new to Korean food), it is a Korean food of napa cabbage with spicy seasoning paste (this has lots of garlic, onion, green onion, some ginger and apple for sweetness, and salty from fish sauce or fermented baby shrimp). If you are not accustomed to Asian food, this may seem like a strange food, but I think it is very tasty. Many Americans think that kimchi smells terrible and tastes ever worse. (I have little idea how this is possible, as I despise the smell of fish sauce, stinky tofu, and salted fish, but I find kimchi’s smell to be fine. It includes fish sauce and/or fermented baby shrimp, which both smell very bad, but combined with the garlic and onion, the smells are gone.) Cooking kimchi into kimchi fried rice makes it less strongly flavored. (This DOES kill the beneficial bacteria though.) Even kimchi haters can enjoy kimchi fried rice!

I usually buy kimchi from the Korean grocery store because it is too much work for me to make at home. However, people interested should definitely check out Maangchi’s recipe for mak kimchi, which is made from napa cabbage cut into squares, which I always make if I feel like making it instead of buying it. You can also check out her tongbaechu kimchi recipe, made from quartered napa cabbage. It is more challenging and harder to serve too, but it is the traditional method.

For kimchi fried rice, I follow the recipe below, adapted from Aeri’s Kitchen recipe for kimchi fried rice. It is very delicious and worth making!!

Ingredients: Serves 2
2 generous cups cooked Korean/Japanese white rice (can use Calrose rice)
1 cup kimchi, cut into small pieces
1 tbsp cooking oil
2 tsp white sugar
1 pinch salt
2 tbsp kimchi liquid (When you take out the kimchi and chop, liquid will drain from the kimchi. Use this liquid. If it is not yet 2 tbsp, supplement with liquid from the jar of kimchi.)
1/2 tsp sesame oil
2 eggs, cooking oil
toasted white sesame seeds (black sesame or combination is good too)
finely chopped green onion
julienned toasted nori

1. Fry the eggs in a pan with oil. You can fry both sides, or do sunny side up.
2. Heat a pan, add 1/2 tbsp oil.
3. Add kimchi and stir. Add sugar, stir, and cook, stirring once a while, over medium-high heat, until the liquid has evaporated and kimchi is lightly browned a little. (around 5 minutes)
4. Add rice. Sprinkle salt, kimchi liquid, and 1/2 tbsp oil evenly on top. Mix well with kimchi.
5. Cook, stirring once a while, until dry to your liking. I prefer drier kimchi fried rice, so it may take up to 10 minutes.
6. Add sesame oil and combine well.
7. Serve on plates or in bowls (I prefer bowls for rice dishes), top with fried eggs, sesame seeds, green onion, and nori.
8. Enjoy! I hope you love it because I do!


Recipe: Dal Bhat (दाल भात)

Dal bhat is the national dish of Nepal, and it is also eaten in northern India. Dal refers to legumes, and also the soup made from the legumes. Bhat refers to cooked rice (same as fan in Chinese, bap in Korean, and gohan in Japanese). Dal bhat is the name for legume soup served with rice. This is a basic meal, but very delicious! I think it is the ghee that gives such a wonderful flavor 🙂
Dal is often translated as lentils, but dal also refers to beans, peas, etc., not just lentils. For this recipe, I use red lentils, known as masoor dal, to make the dal soup. Red lentils cook quite quickly and are very tasty.

Serves 3-4
Adapted from YoWangdu, a great source for Tibetan recipes. (Tibetan people who live in Nepal or India also eat dal bhat very often!)

Cook plain basmati rice (or other rice if you prefer) in a pot or rice cooker while you prepare the dal.

How to Make the Dal
1 cup (split and peeled) red lentils (masoor dal), washed and drained in a bowl
1 slightly heaping tbsp ghee (measured when not melted, it seems to expand when melted)
heaping 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
heaping 1/2 tsp whole black mustard seeds
1 onion, finely chopped
1 tbsp finely minced garlic (~3 large cloves)
1 tbsp finely minced ginger
heaping 1/2 tsp salt
heaping 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
heaping 1/2 tsp coriander powder
heaping 1/2 tsp Indian red chili powder (Use Kashmiri red chili powder for non-spicy dal; it gives red color. You can also skip, but it won’t be as red.)
heaping 1/2 tsp garam masala
1 tomato, finely chopped or blended in food processor (I used 1/2 of a 14 oz can tomato, blended in food processor.)
water (I used about 3-4 cups)
1 tbsp butter
finely chopped cilantro or green onion for garnish

1. Heat a pan. Add ghee.
2. Add cumin and black mustard seeds. Cook 5 seconds on medium-high heat.
3. Add garlic, ginger, and onion. Stir well. Cook, stirring once a while, until onion is translucent and lightly browned.
4. Lower heat to medium and add salt and spices (all ingredients between ginger and tomato). Stir well to combine for a minute.
5. Add tomato and stir. Cook a few minutes until reduced.
6. Add lentils and combine well.
7. Add water and bring to a boil over medium-high heat.
8. Cover and cook for 20-30 minutes.
9. Uncover and stir.
10. Add butter and cilantro or green onion. Stir until butter is melted and evenly distributed. Turn off the heat.
11. Serve the dal in a bowl. I like to serve rice in a bowl too, but you can also serve on a plate. Optionally, serve with a little yogurt and Indian pickled vegetables (achar). This is often served with a vegetable curry called tarkari, but I like to eat just dal and rice too. Dal is high in fiber and nutrients. To serve, Indian people and Nepali people like to spoon dal on the rice and then eat with hands. However, I prefer to eat with a spoon. It is your choice. 🙂
Enjoy! This is really delicious, and I never imagined that “bland” lentils could taste so good! Butter and ghee enhance the flavors and the spices add great dimension of flavor. I love it!