I think lentils are pretty much easy to make and you have some darned good recipes out there on allrecipes.com, nigella.com (She even does chick peas really well...) but I feel that no one seems to do vegetables the Indian way! Now, I must warn you that each state (over 20) have their unique style and each household has their unique style.. so I will give you a few basic recipes from my "Mom's Kitchen" and if you like it, I will give you some more. Again, I am sorry, pictures will have to follow later as I am blogging from my Mom's place and don't have access to my pictures... but I promise some this weekend.
Checklist for cooking any Vegetable Indian Style (just a few things you should have on hand when starting out)
1. A large wok or deep pan (non-stick)
2. Onions - I prefer Red but White would do to
7. Cumin Seeds (if you have it great... otherwise just cook those veggies any way)
8. Tumeric Powder (Yellow color - has antiseptic properties and gives a nice warm color to the veggies)
9. Red Chilli Powder or Paprika
10. Coriander Powder - if you can lay your hands on it otherwise no worries
11. Salt - any kind you have :)
12. The veggies we usually cook - Okra or Lady Fingers, Bottle Gourd, French Beans, Cauliflower, Brinjal or Eggplant, Green Bell Peppers
Cauliflower and Potatoes
You will need 1 Onion chopped thin and fine, 1 Potato chopped into about 8-10 pieces and 1 small cauliflower chopped into medium sized pieces (about the same size pieces as the potato but the size of the cauliflower should be about 2-3times that of the cauliflower ), 2 pods of garlic chopped finely and the same amount of ginger and spices
1. Add about 1 tablespoon of oil in the wok or pan and add the cumin seeds if you have and let them splutter else start from Step 2
2. Add the finely chopped ginger and garlic to the oil and saute for about 30 seconds. Add the thinly sliced onion to this and coat the oil evenly around this. Now sprinkle a little bit of salt on this - it helps bring out the water in the onions and they want burn easily, instead they will soften.
3. Add the potatoes (you can use slightly boiled potatoes to save time) into the wok after the onions are slightly brown. Add salt (as required), 1/2 tsp turmeric powder, 1 tsp paprika, 2 tsp coriander powder and mix it well. Now add 1 tablespoon water and cover the wok. Keep stirring to make sure this doesn't burn.
4. After about 5 minutes, add the chopped cauliflower florets and mix well. Add a little water (2-3 tablespoon) if your vegetables are sticking to the bottom of the pan and cover the vegetables so they can cook in their own steam. Once the potatoes and cauliflower have softened and can be broken easily with a butter knive - they are ready to be served. Make sure you dry the water in the vegetable.
5. Serve as a side garnished with coriander or can be eaten in a panini with onions and tomatoes.
Note: If you want to shorten the process, you can always steam the cauliflower and use slightly boiled potatoes (both these should take only a couple of minutes in the microwave).
Use spices that you are comfortable with and have tasted before.
You could easily substitute the coriander powder for oregano - but then the Indian flavor would not be found in the dish. You can also use a bit of "garam masala" powder or 1 tsp of curry powder if that is more easily available.
In this recipe you can substitute cauliflower for any green beans (chopped finely), small eggplants (quartered), green leafy vegetables like spinach (chopped finely and boiled), fenugreek leaves, green bell peppers (chopped into similar size pieces as the potato) or just the potato itself. The method will remain exactly the same.
Okra or Lady's Fingers
When I first went to the US to study I had no idea that Ladyfingers are long thin biscuits used to make tiramisu and I kept wondering how could okra taste soo yummy in a tiramisu till I discovered the real secret ;)! Outside of the US, Okra is commonly known as Lady's fingers or Bhindi and it is one of my favorite vegetables. It is time consuming to cut and I would often use the frozen variety when putting together a meal in a hurry.
You will need about 1 pound okra - washed and chopped into small pieces. 1 large onion or 2 medium sized onions thinly sliced. Spices as required.
1. In a large wok add 2-3 tablespoons of oil (any oil will do). Add cumin seeds if you have them or skip to step 2.
2. Add the onions and sprinkle with a little salt and saute.
3. When the onions are soft add the chopped okra. Add salt, turmeric, paprika and coriander powder. Stir well and cover.
4. This vegetable tends to stick to the bottom of the work easily - so you have to keep stirring it. If it is burning - add 1-2 tablespoon more oil (yeah it's not as healthy as the other vegetables)
5. You cannot add water to this recipe. Keep stirring till okra is cooked (softened) and serve as a side or main dish with tortillas or Indian flat bread.
They are other ways to cook okra which is much easier and tastier but uses up a lot of oil is - Okra Fry
Cut the Okra lengthwise into pieces about half the size of your finger. Add turmeric and paprika to this and mix well. Now heat oil in a work and fry the okra in batches. After it is deep fried - remove, add salt, mix well and enjoy!
I hope this tempts you to try a new side for your dinner table or next party and if not you can ask me any amount of questions about it before you decide to experiment! These are must haves for any vegetarian as it gives a new twist to the vegetables!
For my Indian readers.. I am sure your mom's have different ways of making the same recipes and would love to hear about any innovative techniques they use while cooking to save time!