Category Archives: Homemade

Indian Cooking 101 from a Non-Indian

I’m still an amateur, but I used to find Indian spices to be really intimidating.  I was your typical NYC Indian food enthusiast who’d spend $16 on an entree plus the $4/5 breads or rice (YIKES).  Just like my last arepas post, I started to realize how I probably overestimated the basic Indian dishes.  Also, that Saag Paneer you’ve been ordering is really full of oil and grease which I didn’t even think of before.  Have you seen it leftover the next day with that thick yellow layer on top? EEK!

Work from Taste, not a Recipe!
If you read your basic recipes online a lot of them won’t give you enough information.  Many will say just to have garam masala added to the other contents of your dish, but that would be your first mistake!  Garam masala is essentially just a blend of spices that you can either have a prepped special house blend of, grind as needed, or purchased from your grocer (though this is not recommended because the spices lose flavors).  First thing wrong with only having garam masala is that you can’t really tweak your recipe further if you don’t have the spices individually, and second is that it is meant as a finishing powder–mostly added at the end.  At first, I didn’t believe my friends telling me that because I was always taught to roast your spices in oil before cooking with them to bring out the flavor, but it makes sense after you look at the ingredients inside with things like cinnamon, nutmeg, and star anise.

So the way I started was without a true recipe, but a general understanding that I needed spices, ghee, the solid veggies I wanted in my dish, and the protein.  One of my friends recommended the box spices from MDH, so I just grabbed a Kitchen King blend (which he added to all his dishes…haha), and bought individual packets of all the spices listed.  Basically, I was winging it.  I started with cardamom (green pods, not the powder), cumin seeds (not powder), tumeric (the stuff that makes everything yellow-beware of potential stains, including your teeth!), mustard seeds, cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, coriander powder, red chili powder, and amchur powder (not included on the box, but highly recommended).

It can be pretty pricey, so I recommend passing by a Patel Bros in Jersey or CT to buy your spices (and veggies if you are ready to cook them!).  Everything is about 30% cheaper than the Manhattan stores, if not 50%.  I would definitely avoid getting any of these ingredients in a fancy shop or regular grocery store, and try to find an Indian grocer.

What happens after you have all your spices?  You have to know what you are working with.  I think tasting each spice by itself at least once is key (tips in my next post), but smelling works once you are familiar with the taste.  You can grind things or put them in whole, but of all the ingredients I only really grind up are the more fragrant ones since the flavor isn’t really sitting and developing: cardamom, cinnamon, nutmeg, and cloves.

Basic Cooking
I think the most basic and best advice is to cook to taste.  I would start with some heated ghee in a pan, with some cumin seeds, mustard seeds, and tumeric. At first, I wouldn’t be very generous with these, maybe half a tablespoon of each cumin seeds and tumeric, and a tablespoon of mustard seeds. I’m not an expert, but from there I’d cook your veggies (a 4 person serving) and add in your mixture (the same way when you stir-fry Chinese food, you’d cook up your broccoli, then add the sauce).  After that, add in anything else you want–especially the chili powder, and a generous amount of coriander powder (maybe 3 tablespoons even).  Finally, add in the more fragrant spices like the cinnamon, cardamum, cloves, and nutmeg.  I realized the first time I tried to cook with these spices that something was missing from my dish, so I started adding more coriander powder, and cardamom.  It took a while, but eventually  I added in amchur powder which gave it a nice tangy bite–and brought everything together.

Another sidenote tip I have is if you want your sauce to be thicker, consider pureeing some of your vegetables, like cauliflower or broccoli.  If you want a creamier texture, use cream, milk, or yogurt.

Homemade Arepas

I love food and am ready to fork up my hard earned money on crazy meals that blow my mind, but feel really uncomfortable paying a premium for things that I know I can easily make very cheaply and easily.  Caracas is one of my favorite restaurants, yet every time I pay 8-9 dollars on an arepas and eat a ton of them, I feel a lot of guilt.

So I decided to make my own!

At first it was a bit tricky sourcing the masarepa flour.  Of course I was being stingy and tried to find it in the Wal Mart in Clifton, but mistakenly bought the wrong one and was severely disappointed when the corn flour didn’t stick to make a dough!  It has to be masarepa flour! hehe (duh on me) because it is precooked.

I finally got a pack that makes 24 arepas from my upstate Wal-Mart for .38, but you can definitely find it somewhere in the city.

First step, just mix up the flour with hot water (the instructions will be on your masarepa flour bag) and it will look like this:


Next I would start prepping what you want to put inside the arepa.  I sauteed some bananas (since I didn’t have sweet plantains), then mushrooms and onions, and cut up some mozzarella, scallions, and onions.  I also prepped some fresh salsa with cara cara oranges, tomatoes, balsamic, olive oil, onions, scallions, and cilantro, and also some vinegar with pureed raw onions, and sugar as a side sauce. It sounds like a lot of work, but that’s because I made a ton of different stuffings!

After the stuffings are prepped, heat up a large pan with oil.  You want a large pan to make sure you can cook a few of the shells at the same time.  I read a few recipes with butter and tried it, but butter burns a lot faster than oil… so it was more difficult!  Basically you press the dough into a flat patty the size and thickness you want your arepas.  If they are too think it’ll take too long to cook them through, and if you don’t cook them through you won’t be able to cut them open.

YUM.  This is what it finally looked like:

Finished Arepa

Another Finished Arepa

Favorite Sandwich

Favorite Sandwich

Andy's Favorite Sandwich

This is by far my favorite sandwich–simple but a mix of spicy, sweet, tangy, and salty with the best textures and color!

Bread: Balthazaar whole wheat, toasted
Cheese: truffle cheese from Eataly (or any strong cheese that you love).  I find that DiPaolo’s is a bit cheaper with a more homey feel to the service.
Onions: (spicy or sweet–you decide!)
Peach Jam (or substitute this for whatever you like–tangy or sweet)
Something Green: Cilantro, Watercress, or Spinach!  I normally just use whatever is leftover in the fridge to give some color and flavor, but I prefer watercress.

Toad in a Hole – Grilled Cheese w/Egg

I thought I’d share this with you guys because I assume since I didn’t know what it was there has to be other sheltered people missing out!

It’s called “Toad in a Hole” or “Egg in a Basket” and extremely easy and straightforward.

Ingredients: 2 slices of bread, cheese (sliced or shredded), butter, one egg

1. Lightly coat a pan with butter
2. Cut a hole in one of the pieces of bread, 2-2.5 inch diameter
3. Drop the two pieces of the bread in the pan to lightly toast
4.  Crack the egg into the hole, or if you are shell prone, into a bowl then into the hole :-).
5. Let the egg cook through as you see the transparent whites turn…white
6. Carefully flip both pieces of toast
7. Put the cheese on the piece without the egg
8. Let the cheese melt a bit, then put the two sides together :-).