I love French food as much as the next person, but a girl can’t live on steak frites alone. When a crise de chili strikes, I’ve been known to hightail it over to the 10th, for a visit to Paris’s Indian neighborhood. Here, sari shops line the boulevard, spices scent the air and people scrum to purchase boxes of mangoes. In the Indian grocery store, the aisles are filled with unusual ingredients: chilies and other exotic vegetables, boxes of dosa or idli mix, bags of spices. But, what to buy and how to cook it? For a long time, I had no idea.
I first met Miss Masala — better known as Mallika Basu — when, spice-sick (that’s like homesick, but for heat), I searched for “aloo gobi” on the internets and discovered her extraordinary blog, Quick Indian Cooking. Now, that blog has become a book — and it’s full of simple, delicious recipes perfect for the home cook who’s eager to try Indian food, but intimidated by the long list of ingredients.
Armed with my copy of the book, I headed to the rue du Faubourg Saint Denis for a spice shopping spree. After all, I had promised my pals an Indian feast — and they were due chez moi in only a few hours.
In the VS & Co., Cash and Carry, I spotted some vegetables I knew, like these green finger chilies and shallots…
And many I didn’t…
I was astounded by the sheer quantity of spices available for purchase, like these giant, 1kg bags of turmeric.
This is asafoetida, a mysterious spice, which Mallika says “smells disgusting — you have been warned — but tastes amazing!” I bought some but haven’t tried it yet.
Rice is also very important.
And so, laden with cinnamon sticks, turmeric, garam masala, kala namak (black rock salt), asafoetida, moong dal, masoor dal, paneer cheese, and a box of mangoes (which four separate people encouraged me to buy), I staggered home and got to cooking.
On the menu (pictured clockwise): paneer butter masala (soft cheese in a rich and creamy curry), dal palak (lentils cooked with spinach and aromatic garlic), chicken pulao (fragrant rice cooked with chicken), and cucumber raita.
This photo makes it seem like we ate dainty portions of each dish in a polite and restrained manner. In truth, we ravaged the food. Now, I’m dreaming about cooking (and eating) more.
Are you ever spice-sick, mes amis? I have the perfect antidote! Thanks to Mallika’s lovely publisher, Collins, I’m giving away two copies of Miss Masala: Real Indian cooking for busy living! To win, leave a comment below with the answer to this question: What is asafoetida powder?
Two winners will be chosen from the correct responses at random, next Tuesday, May 25 (family members not eligible — sorry Dad and CK).
UPDATE: Camille and Dawn Maria are the winners! Thanks for playing, everyone!