Recently, one of my best friends, Patti, came over for lunch with one of her very good friends, Meeru Dhalwala. This was no ordinary lunch because Meeru isn’t just Patti’s friend, she is also a professional chef and co-owner of VIJ’s Indian Cuisine and Rangoli in Vancouver, BC. As if that wasn’t enough, she is co-author of two wonderful cookbooks, VIJ’s: Elegant and Inspired Indian Cuisine and VIJ’s at Home: Relax, Honey.
I don’t know about you, but although I love Indian food, I tend to find it’s preparation to be mysterious and intimidating. Meeru’s recipes are the opposite of all that.
Although I’ve never had the pleasure of dining there, those who have tell me that VIJ’s is not your typical Indian restaurant. As Meeru put it, she serves “morally and ethically” good food by serving locally sourced organic cuisine. They also don’t play by the typical Indian cuisine rulebook, combining spices from different regions and letting taste be their guide.
A couple of months ago, I borrowed the Canadian edition of VIJ’s at Home from Patti and, frankly, I don’t think she is getting it back. It is filled with recipes for the most fragrant, delicious and accessible Indian meals you can imagine. I start to salivate just thinking about it.
On the day of our lunch, Meeru arrived with a grocery bag filled with fresh Indian spices (that I got to keep, BTW. Thank you Meeru!) and proceeded to treat me to a personal lesson on how to make authentic Indian food from scratch.
As she cooked, Meeru shared so much information and so many tips about Indian cuisine that I couldn’t hope to retain it all, let alone reproduce it for you now. I can only hope that it will seep into my future Indian cooking endeavors subconsciously.
However, the number one lesson that I took away from this delectable lunch was that Indian food is tremendously versatile. This is 100% Meeru’s recipe, but it isn’t the recipe that appears in her cookbook. We didn’t have mild Mexican chili powder, so she substituted coriander and paprika. She had fenugreek and I wanted to try it, so in it went. Take comfort in the fact that it is easy, even expected, that you should modify the recipes to suit your taste and the ingredients you have on hand.
Variation on VIJ’s Chicken, Tomato & Green Bean Curry
Adapted by Meeru Dhalwala from VIJ’s at Home: Relax Honey
- 1/3 cup cooking oil
- 2 cups chopped red onion (1 large)
- 2 tablespoons chopped garlic (6 medium cloves)
- 3 cups chopped tomatoes (6 medium)
- 1 teaspoon turmeric
- 2 tablespoons ground cumin
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander
- 1 1/2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon fenugreek seeds, medium grind
- 2 whole chilis, broken (sub 1/2 to 1 teaspoon ground cayenne or leave out)
- 2 teaspoons kosher salt
- 3 pounds skinless and boneless chicken thighs, cut in 1-inch strips
- 1/2 cup water
- 1 pound green beans (or haricot verts), trimmed and cut in 1-inch pieces
In a large, heavy-bottomed pan, heat oil on medium-high for 1 minute. Add onion and sauté for about 8 minutes, or until light golden on the edges.
Add garlic and sauté for 2 to 3 minutes, then add tomatoes and stir well.
Process the fenugreek seeds with a spice grinder to a medium grind.
Add turmeric, cumin, coriander, paprika, ground fenugreek seeds, chilis and salt to the tomato mixture. NOTE: You can add more or less of these spices to suit your taste. If you are unsure, try adding part of the spices now and more after the tomatoes are cooked.
Sauté for 5 minutes. You will know it is done when the sauce starts to separate a little. The oil will be bubbling up around the tomatoes.
Stir in the chicken and water. Bring to a boil.
Reduce the heat to medium, cover and cook for 8-10 minutes. Remove the lid and stir in the green beans.
Recover and cook for about 5 more minutes or until the beans are just slightly crunchy and the chicken is cooked through. Season with salt to taste.
Thank you Meeru for your wonderful recipes and your delicious lesson!
See how easy that was? I hope you will try this soon. You won’t be disappointed.