Thursday, March 25, 2010

A Little To The East of Italy

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Those of you who read this blog regularly know that Italy is my muse and Italian cuisine is highlighted here. That doesn’t mean I don’t like food from other countries. I’m an equal opportunity eater, even if Italian food is my comfort food of choice. When I had the opportunity last week to attend an Indian cooking class, I jumped at it. Again, thanks go to my photographer friend Paul who not only lent me his camera for a couple of weeks, but also asked me to take his place when he had to miss the first night of his Indian cooking class.

A group of about ten people gathered around Ritu, our charming teacher who explained a lot about the cuisine as she cooked, including the various spices and ingredients used. The above photograph is the selection of spices Ritu used that night, starting from the bright orange chili powder on top. Going clockwise, you will find ground cumin, a tin with cinnamon sticks, green cardamom and cloves, then more tins containing cumin seeds, turmeric and coriander. Fenugreek is in the center.

Since most people were arriving from work, Ritu wanted to have something ready for people to eat as soon as they got there. She had already prepared these little potato and cilantro chutney pinwheels ahead of time, baking them as everyone was seated. They are really a snap to make, using packaged crescent rolls from the refrigerated section of the supermarket. The filling contains boiled and mashed potatoes, cilantro leaves and a mixture of spices. It’s spread on the dough, rolled up and baked.

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Next, she prepared Aloo Gobi – or potatoes and cauliflower – as we stood around the stove, taking turns stirring when she needed an extra hand. Lots of different spices were tossed in, including ginger, green chilis, cumin seeds, chili powder, turmeric and coriander. Ritu also added some asafetida and fenugreek powder, not only for the flavor, but to help cut down on the gassy effects from the cauliflower. Who knew? It was garnished with more cilantro leaves.

March 2010 500 Ritu prepared a boondi raita next. Raitas are made with yogurt and other ingredients, including other spices. Even with the addition of the spices, the yogurt adds a cooling effect to counter accompanying, more spicy dishes. For this raita, Ritu added some boondi, small chick pea fritters that resemble little Kix cereal pieces. When all the ingredients were mixed together, she decorated it with cumin, chili powder and fresh cilantro.

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A mutter paneer dish was next, using Ritu’s homemade paneer, a type of freshly made cheese similar to farmer’s cheese. But before adding the paneer, Ritu fried some onions, with ginger, poppy seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cashews and raisins, then added turmeric, chili powder and coriander. After that tomatoes, tomato paste and ghee (clarified butter) were added and cooked for about 15 minutes. Finally came the green peas and the paneer and more fresh cilantro leaves for garnish. 

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The dishes were served with poori, a deep fried Indian bread. – recipe at the end of this post. But the food didn’t stop there. Ritu had a dessert up her sleeve, called Sooji Halva, made with a semolina flour, sugar, ghee, cashews, raisins and slivered almonds, with a little cardamom and saffron thrown in too.

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Everything was truly delicious and Ritu had a relaxed and friendly teaching style that put everyone at home. She encouraged us all to participate if we wanted, or to sit back and watch if we chose not to. The most fun part, aside from the eating, was watching the poori puff up in the hot oil.

Although Ritu handed out recipes for all the dishes, most of them require ingredients that I don’t normally stock in my pantry. But these poori don’t require anything esoteric – just whole wheat flour, salt and water.  Refrigerate the dough for a while to make it easier to handle, then heat some oil in a frying pan. Pinch off a small portion of the dough (about the size of a large walnut) and roll it out.

March 2010 505 When it’s about four inches in diameter, it’s about the right size.

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Push it down into the hot oil and start swishing some of the hot oil over the top. It will start to puff up instantly.

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Carefully flip it over.

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The poori puffs up nicely when it’s made properly and the temperature is just right. If the oil is too hot, the bread will brown too quickly and won’t be fully cooked. You’ll know as you go along whether you need to adjust the oil temperature.

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Here’s our lovely teacher Ritu, with a perfectly formed and cooked poori. Thanks Ritu (and Paul) for a fun evening.

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Pooris  or puri (deep fried Indian bread)

Printable Recipe Here:


  • Whole wheat flour  (chapatti flour)            2 cups
  • Water                                                                      2/3 cup or less (enough to knead a stiff dough)
  • Salt to taste and oil for deep frying


  • Put flour in a large bowl and make a well in the center. 
  • Pour water slowly in the center and mix with your hand from the center of the bowl outward until you can gather the dough into a ball.
  • Continue kneading until the sides of the bowl is clean and the dough is not sticky anymore. 
  • Cover with a damp cloth and allow it to rest for about 20 - 30 minutes.
  • Knead again.  Cover and refrigerate.
  • Heat enough oil in a frying pan.
  • Make a small ball and dip the side of the ball in oil and roll out the dough to about 4 inches.  Repeat the same for the rest of the dough.
  • Slip the rolled out dough against the side of the pan and gently into the oil.  The poori should puff up.  Flip once and cook until the other side is light brown.
  • Serve hot with any Indian dish.


poori, aloo gobi, mutter paneer, boondi raita, indian food


  1. Beautiful presentation.
    I don't know Indian food at all, however, I made the alo gobi the other day and it came out great!
    The potato/chutney/cilantro rollups look fabulous!
    Love all the spices, I can smell them from here!

  2. I have often enjoyed Indian food at my friends Nira and Ram, I even had a go at a few things as they prepare dinner with their guests, but reading your recipes and having the pictures is precious. The puri picture is impressive; I always regret that it flattens out before you bring it to the table.

  3. How fun and delicious. I'm always amazed to learn about flavor combinations and techniques that make miracles happen. Thanks for sharing.

  4. Anch'io sono molto legata alla cucina italiana, in particolare a quella veneta, ma sono anche curiosa e mi piacerebbe conoscere le cucine degli altri paesi. Grazie per questo bellissimo reportage, Ciao Daniela.

  5. che meravigliose ricette e le spezie... le adoro! ciao Ely

  6. What fun! Makes me want to make that cauliflower dish and the paneer. I love those flavors.

  7. What a gorgeous post! It must have been a fabulous evening. The roll-ups are a nice addition to my bag of kitchen tricks. I also love the bread. It's different enough that it must be tried, if only to see if it can be done in a home kitchen.

  8. Everything looks so fabulous. I need to add more Indian recipes to my cooking repertoire.

  9. I really enjoy the flavors of Indian cuisine. I would love to attend one of these classes.

    Your photos are just great!

  10. Love Indian food. My mother held an Indian feast every New Year's Eve for years - courtesy of recipes from an aunt and uncle who lived in India in the 60's. Now that cheese dish is something I've always wanted to try. Lovely, enticing (making me hungry) photos.

  11. Absolutely beautiful! I love Indian food. The flavors are complex and delicious. Thanks for sharing your cooking class with your foodie friends.

  12. How lucky you were, Linda, to get a cooking lesson from an expert. That cauliflower and potato dish looks soooo good. This is a terrific post.

  13. Everything looks fabulous Linda...
    wonderful pics...
    You must have had a great time at the class...

  14. What a wonderful cooking class and meal! I love Indian food..the spicier the better! My son makes a great aloo gobi.

    Turmeric is supposed to be one of the healthiest spices, full of antioxidants. I try to incorporate it in many of my recipes and I am a big fan of the garam marsala combination of spices.

  15. I'm with Stacey, I don't know much Indian food, but I could tell you I'd love the cauliflower, the rollups and that bread! Love the photo of all the spices Linda!

  16. What a fantastic experience..anything involving learning new techniques and creating "new to me" flavours is alright in my books.

  17. I'm unfamiliar with Indian food. I don't think I've ever even tried it, but it sure looks good.

    The poori is beautiful! I love how puffy it is.

  18. Linda, as if there was any doubt that you would/could stretch your wings beyond Cucina Italiana.

  19. Oh, how I love Indian food, Linda. Your photos are making my mouth water. I have one of those little "thali" tins in which I keep my spices for Indian cooking; they are quite handy.