Jen and El’s Indian masala

We love Indian food; I especially love a good mango lassie. In grad school, we used to go a to hole-in-the-wall Indian restaurant called Kurry Xpress in Omaha (sadly, this restaurant is now closed). It’s name was a bit of a misnomer. The food was delicious, but it always took forever for the food to be made and served. It was always worth the wait.

One of the other grad students in my department taught us how to make Indian food, and her secret to making Indian food quickly included a stovetop pressure cooker and a good masala, or base sauce, for cooking all of the Indian food that you were making at the same time.

Over the years, we’ve adapted it for the Instant Pot (I am still scared of the stovetop pressure cooker) and adjusted the spices to our preferences.

Here’s how we make Indian food at our house:

1/4 cup canola oil
2 Tbsp cumin seeds
3 Tbsp minced garlic (we use the prechopped bottled garlic)
1 Tbsp minced ginger root (best if you can find the bottled ginger paste)
1 Tbsp coriander powder
3 Tbsp cumin powder
1 Tbsp garam masala powder
2 red onions, chopped
1/2 Tbsp turmeric powder
1 Tbsp salt
2x 14.5 oz cans of crushed tomatoes
1-2 Tbsp tomato paste
smallest pinch of asafoetida powder (aka hing) for lentils
2 cups of yukon gold potatoes, chopped
2 cups of cauliflower florets
1 cup of frozen peas, rinsed
1 lb chicken, chopped
2 cups red lentils, thoroughly rinsed

What we make:
Aloo gobi matar (not a real dish you’ll find in restaurants; potatoes + cauliflower + peas)
Dal (red lentils – a thick creamy sauce)
Curry chicken

To make the masala (base sauce):
1. Heat the oil in a large nonstick skillet on medium heat.
2. Add the cumin seeds and heat until fragrant (about 1-2 minutes).
3. Add the garlic, ginger root, coriander powder, cumin powder, and garam masala powder. Stir and heat for 1-2 minutes.
4. Add the onions. Cook for 4-5 minutes.
5. Add the turmeric powder, salt, crushed tomatoes, and tomato paste.
6. Cook on medium-high until the sauce reduces by about half.
7. Divide the masala base equally into 2-3 different pans (in our case: 1 Instant Pot and 2 skillets)

For the Instant Pot: Add 1 cup of rinsed red lentils + 1/3 of the masala base + 2 cups of water + dash of hing to the Instant Pot, then cook on high pressure for 3 minutes with a 5-minute natural release — these lentils come out as a thick sauce.

For one of the large skillets: add 2 cups of chopped potatoes, 1/3 of the masala base, and 1 cup of water. Cover with a lid and boil on medium-high heat until the potatoes are almost fork tender. Remember to occasionally stir. When the potatoes are fork tender, add the 2 cups of cauliflower and 1 cup of frozen (rinsed) peas and cook for 2-3 minutes. Once the cauliflower and potatoes are cooked, remove the lid and cook down the sauce to the desired consistency.

For the other large skillet: add 4 chicken breasts (about 1 lb — chopped), 1/3 of the masala base, and 1 cup of water. Cover with lid and cook on medium heat until the chicken is thoroughly cooked. When the chicken is cooked, remove the lid and cook down the sauce to the desire consistency.

Obviously, this is not going to win any awards or be true Indian cuisine. However, this is the curry that we enjoy making at home and sharing with our kids. It is a crowd pleaser in our family.

We serve with basmati rice and naan that we pick up from the grocery store (packaged and heated up in the oven).

An enlightening first vocabulary lesson

On the top level of my workplace, there is a wonderful cafeteria. The food they sell is what I would consider to be fairly multicultural, especially in comparison to most American cafeterias. Every day, there are sandwich, soup, and salad options in addition to the hot meal specials. Each week, there are some expected foods: Curry Thursday!? (a choice of three different curries, one always vegetarian). Yes, please!

Every Friday afternoon, the cafeteria posts a menu for the following week in the lifts (elevators). I find this to be really helpful for planning what days I should bring my lunch. Recently, I had a wonderfully amusing vocabulary lesson based on the Monday cafeteria hot meal: pasties.

I was slightly confused and embarrassed to read this. Clearly, the Monday hot meal was not American pasties. I had to ask. And then explain my confusion while turning bright red in the face. I’m happy to make my co-workers chuckle at my limited UK vocabulary. A pasty (pasties) in the UK (excluding Northern Ireland*) is a savory, half-moon-shaped, baked pastry. Sometimes known as a Cornish pasty, which has Protected Geographical Indication (PGI) status in Europe and must be filled with beef, sliced or diced potato, swede (turnip), and onion. If the pasty isn’t specified as Cornish, then the filling can vary. But always, the flat circle has the fillings place in the center and it is folded in half, crimping the edge to seal the pastry. The final baked good results in a semicircular food item.

A tray of UK pasties.

A tray of UK pasties.

I heard the description from my co-workers and declared it to be like a wellington or a calzone. I had first ran across a wellington at a cute pub called The Walnut Tree in Worlington. Another military spouse had taken me out to lunch, and I ordered a wellington filled with root vegetables, which was quite delightful! Thankfully, all of my co-workers are foodies. The differences between pasties, wellingtons, and calzones are subtle to me. A pasty is made with dough, a wellington is made with puff pastry, and a calzone is what makes pizza more portable. To me, I think they are all pretty much the same – unless you’re talking about the¬†adhesive coverings applied to cover a person’s nipples (Americans pasties)!

*In Northern Ireland, a pastie looks to be a deep fried burger that can be served on a “bap” (bun) as a pastie bap. Alternatively, if served with “chips” (thick steak fries), then it is a pastie supper.