Remember To Make Memories At The Table

Remember To Make Memories At The Table

Nonna used To Say...

Got Agita? It's Not What You Eat; It's What Eats You

Monday, February 8, 2010

Indian Cuisine: A Feast For The Senses

My Grandfather Joseph and Nana Florence lived in an apartment building in the Bronx (NY). What I remember so clearly is the smell of the halls when we visited after Mass on a Sunday. You see, my other grandparents had their own house and the scent of their home smelled..well....Italian. It was familiar to me, the rich tomato sauce, the onions and garlic, roasted lamb or fried zeppole (dough). But at Grandpa Joe's...kielbasa, Hungarian goulash, or chicken soup from Mrs. Goldberg's assaulted my senses. It wasn't offensive... just different. My mother was an incredible teacher to her students as well as to her children. I remember holding her white gloved hand as we walked the halls of Grandpa's building. "Mmmmm. Do you smell that Nanette?" She breathed deeply of the air around us. "Moussaka, I think. Eggplant, ground beef, tomato." And she would smile down at me with a look that meant we would have Moussaka within the next few weeks.
It was in those young, informative years that my love affair with food began. Thanks Mom. I recall her in an apron, eyeglasses at the end of her nose, peering into a cookbook. Polish, Greek, German, whatever caught her fancy she'd try. The cupboards were as magical as Mary Poppin's carpetbag. Out of them came spices, seasonings, different kinds of flour, baking chocolates, and exotic ingredients I couldn't pronounce. Is there any wonder that I have adventurous tastes? This was to serve me in good stead as I grew into adulthood and created meals on my own.
One of my first attempts at the "unusual" was curried tuna molded in the shape of a fish! It didn't go over very well. I realize now that I had to go through all the "in" ethnic cuisines before my world was ready for Indian/Middle Eastern cooking. So, I blazed through Mexican making Tacos the way my aunt Mim, from Arizona prepared hers...fried in lard, Oh, My! Next was Asian...Happy Walnut Shrimp and a zillion Stir-Frys. And there was German Sauerbraten and tons of Polish Kielbasa meals. Then it happened, curried foods and recipes from India and the Middle East weren't so odd any longer. Restaurants offering this fare were popping up everywhere and little "Bombay" markets could be found in our upstate county. I thought I'd died and gone to heaven! My palate adjusted to the heat and spices of this cuisine even quicker than the heat from a dish of Mexican food. I adore Indian cuisine.
When in Rome do what the Romans they say. My test of this theory came when the summer replacement priest at the church I work for arrived from India. The rectory cook found several Indian recipes and honed her skills to accommodate Fr. Jacob's tastes. She even bought a rice cooker. The fragrant scent of cumin, cardamon, turmeric, coriander and ginger simmering in a pot with chunks of lamb delighted my senses.
It so happened that a group of visiting priests and nuns were getting together at a near-by church and I was invited to their Indian luncheon. When I arrived, the nuns greeted me like an old friend and chatted as they bustled about the kitchen sprinkling a spice in this pot and stirring the meats in another. They worked quickly and expertly always laughing and bantering with each other. A priest would poke his head in the kitchen, make a comment then disappear. I felt right at home as I asked questions about the different ingredients and cooking techniques. The atmosphere was as joyful and amicable as any of my Italian gatherings had ever been.
Finally, the many dishes were finished and set upon the long dining room table. They insisted that I sit in a place of honor and fussed over me, being sure that my plate was heaped high with food. It was not only the most fragrant meal I ever had but a feast for the eyes. Yellow Curry Shrimp, Chicken Tikka with bits of coconut, Lamb Biryani an aromatic yogurt sauce seasoned with garam masala, garlic, ginger over saffron rice, warm Naan bread and puffy samosa (peas and potato in a pastry) even the cauliflower had a unique taste. Did I mention that I thought I'd died and gone to heaven?
Not forgetting to give thanks, we bowed our head and said grace, then I reached for my silverware. There wasn't any. I looked around....not a spoon or fork or knife in sight. To my surprise, all were eating with their fingers. I would have received a slap in the back of my head had I tried that at home... Picking up a fried chicken leg was one thing, but scooping up rice and meat with a sauce was something all together different. I tried not to stare. Should I do what was their custom? I, I, I...didn't know if I could.  A lovely young Sister looked up from her plate. Her large, doe eyes caught mine. She smiled and rose, padding back with a set of cutlery. Respectful as always, no one commented or made me feel uncomfortable. I picked up my fork and just as quickly set it down. Why not, I thought, and dug in, scooping the food into my mouth like the others. It felt right...just like chopsticks at an Asian meal. It made the food taste better. After my first initiation, I must confess, I resorted to using a spoon. I didn't want to waste one grain of rice.
It was a wonderful, unforgettable meal. I made new friends, enjoyed a new dining experience and it was confirmed that food brings everyone together no matter the culture..and that we are all God's children.

Coconut Curry Shrimp Made Easy (UPDATED 2013)
*I begin my base cooking sauce by using most of a jar of  either of these sauces or whatever is your favorite. Tiger Tiger (brand) Chicken Tikka or Trader Joe or Kikkoman (brand) Thai Yellow Curry Sauce or Patak's (brand) Korma Curry.  If you want a good "from scratch" chicken recipe visit and try Chicken Chicken Curry by Madhu.

also coconut flakes & curry powder
8 jumbo shrimp, cleaned
1 tablespoon honey
1 teaspoon curry powder
1/4 cup coconut flakes, unsweetened
1 tablespoon golden raisins (optional)
1 tablespoon walnuts or cashews
1/2 cup of peas or more
1 Tblspoon sesame seeds
1/4 cup coconut milk, cream, or 1/2 & 1/2
Rice noodles, thin
*In this recipe I used, Thai Yellow Curry Sauce
Prepare noodles or rice according to directions
1. Pour Curry Sauce or whatever cooking sauce chosen in a skillet. Heat on low. Add honey, curry, coconut flakes. Sir and simmer. Add raisins & walnuts. Simmer for a few minutes.
2. Add shrimp to sauce. Stir and cook shrimp until pink. Add peas then stir in coconut milk & sesame seeds. Cook through.
3. Serve over rice noodles or basmati rice with Naan bread. Serves 2
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Remember To Make Memories At The Table


  1. OMG, I remember that wonderful smell when I walked through the front entry with the two lions on each side.
    I love Indian food. I had my first taste of it about 4 years ago. Took, Mom, Judey, Jean and Vincent to lunch at a nearby restaurant. Needless to say, Vincent was the only one to go back with me. Can you believe, Vincent of all people :)

  2. Yes, those lions, remember? Didn't know you loved Indian food, too...guess where we're going next time I visit! N

  3. Nice post! Good to know your are Catholic too. Like your header, very homely.

  4. Thanks Shirley...glad you appreciated the story. Looking forward to trying your authentic recipes. I love Indian food! And yes, a devout Catholic. The print in my header was my grandfather's. N