Spice up your table with Indian cooking
by Sarah Coomber
Aziz's table shimmers in her elegant south Fargo apartment.
Traditional stainless steel plates and serving dishes
she brought from India years ago are filled with the bright colors of
her homeland's cuisine: yellow potatoes glow with turmeric, gajar halwa
"carrot delight" radiates orange, and chunks of green cucumber sit
in the yogurt haze of a raita.
Their spicy aromas fill the room.
Aziz, 67, grew up in India, where as a girl she learned
to cook by observing and helping the women in her family who used no
As an adult, Aziz began experimenting in the kitchen
for family and friends, and later turned her skill into a business.
Aziz wrote down the recipes her cuisine is a mix of
north and south Indian flavors and is self-publishing them in a cookbook
called "Sherbanoo's Indian Cuisine: Tantalizing Tastes of the Indian
Subcontinent." She expects it to be in print Sept. 10 and available
in Fargo at Tochi Products and the Spirit Room, or from Aziz at (701)
From India to Fargo
After a childhood spent in Bombay now called Mumbai
in northwestern India, Aziz moved to Madras now Chennai in southeastern
India. That is where she began experimenting in the kitchen. Working
with the U.S. Foreign Service, she became acquainted with Peace Corps
volunteers who regarded her home as a haven. They brought her ingredients
like macaroni, and she tried incorporating them into Indian cuisine.
In 1973, Aziz and her sons moved to Washington, D.C.,
where she had a job with the World Bank. She found her boys did not
like the sandwiches she made for their school lunches, so she began
getting up at 4 a.m. to fix rice and curry for them to eat after school.
"The dinner was gone by 4, and I had to start cooking
all over again," she recalled.
She also shared her food with colleagues. When Aziz was
ready to leave the World Bank, she read in a small business book: "Start
with doing something you do easily." She recalled how people enjoyed
her food at potlucks, and how friends invited her home to cook for them.
Word of her cooking spread, and soon she began charging for her demonstrations.
Aziz moved to Fargo four years ago to work at North Dakota
State University with the U.S. Department of Agriculture. She continued
cooking at fund-raisers and teaching classes.
She also began to work on her cookbook, which includes
information on the use of spices for cooking and health, the backgrounds
and explanations of different types of foods, and vegetarian and non-vegetarian
recipes for everything from appetizers to desserts. Her recipes are
pleasing to a palate unaccustomed to Indian food and include suggestions
for heating them up, spice-wise, if desired.
Food as cure
"Sherbanoo's Indian Cuisine" includes a list of spices
she grew up using for common health problems. Among them are cardamom
chewed for stomach disorders and as mouth freshener, and fenugreek seeds
soaked in water and taken as tea to treat diabetes, skin irritation
and reproductive problems.
"The number of times we go to the doctor here is mind
boggling," she said.
As a child, Aziz had asthma episodes that started with
a cough. At that first sign, her mother would give her ginger root ground
up with honey, and that helped prevent the attacks. To heal wounds,
her mother spread a warm turmeric-and-water paste on them. For upset
stomachs, she offered peppercorns and salt followed by club soda.
"There was something magical about seven (peppercorns),"
The curry myth
Readers of Aziz's cookbook might notice that her recipes
do not call for curry powder. She suspects that kitchen item originated
when some cook produced a spice mix for British people living in India,
where curries vary from region to region and cook to cook.
"Curry in the Indian language means gravy," Aziz said.
"It's always a different quantity of different spices."
Common curry components include cumin, coriander, turmeric
and red chili powder.
An Indian menu
Traditionally, Indian meals are eaten with the right
hand. A full meal could include the following:
In a large mixing bowl, combine flour, salt and oil.
Mix together by hand or food processor. Add water slowly and knead until
it binds together in a smooth ball. If the dough is flaky, add 1 teaspoon
water at a time and continue kneading until it forms a smooth ball.
Knead for another 2-3 minutes.
Divide into 30 equal parts and cover with a slightly
damp kitchen towel. Between two palms, roll each piece into a smooth
ball. Take one ball at a time and flatten between the palms. Grease
the rolling surface and the rolling pin, and roll out lightly, about
5 inches in diameter. Set aside on a cookie sheet and cover with waxed
paper or a dry kitchen towel.
Pour the frying oil in a wok or medium skillet. Heat
on high and when hot reduce to medium. Slide in 2-3 puri at a time,
ensuring they remain separate. As soon as they rise, turn over gently
with spatula or tongs. Turn again after about a half minute. Remove
when golden brown, drain excess oil back into the skillet and place
in a platter covered with paper towel to further drain the remaining
Puri may be served with yellow potatoes among other dishes.
Makes 30 puri 10 servings.
Boil potatoes. Let them cool. Peel and dice into *-inch
squares. Set aside.
Heat oil in medium saucepan. Throw in mustard and fenugreek
seeds. As they sputter, throw in green chili peppers, garlic and onion.
Fry on medium for about 3 minutes. Add salt, ground turmeric, potatoes
and mix for 2 minutes. Add lime juice and water, and cover and cook
on low for 5 minutes. Potatoes will be a mushy bright yellow. Garnish
with walnuts and raisins. Serve with puri or dosai, or like potato salad.
Readers can reach Forum reporter
Sarah Coomber at (701) 241-5531, copyright 2001 Forum
Communications by kind permission.