The Forum - 08/29/2001

Spice up your table with Indian cooking
by Sarah Coomber

Sherbanoo 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 recipes.

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) 280-0875.

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)," Aziz said.

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:

Appetizers

  • samosa (vegetable or meat-filled turnovers)
  • chutney (dip)
  • gajar halwa (a sweet carrot treat)

Main course

  • kabobs and raita (yogurt salad)
  • puri (deep-fried flat bread)
  • yellow potatoes

Dessert

  • gulab jaam (milk balls in syrup)

Here are Aziz's recipes for puri and yellow potatoes, which can be served together as a main dish.

Puri

2 cups whole wheat flour (If Indian whole wheat flour is not available, use the wheat flour from the regular grocery store and sift to remove the husk. Add 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour.)

  • 1 cup all-purpose flour
  • 3 tablespoons cooking oil
  • 1 cup water
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups cooking oil for frying

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 oil.

Puri may be served with yellow potatoes among other dishes.

Makes 30 puri 10 servings.

Yellow Potatoes

  • 1 pound potatoes
  • 1/3 cup cooking oil
  • * teaspoon black mustard seeds
  • * teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • 1 hot green chili pepper (more to taste), chopped using rubber gloves
  • 1 clove garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 medium onion, finely sliced
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon salt (more or less to taste)
  • 2 tablespoons lime and or lemon juice
  • * cup water
  • Crushed walnuts and raisins for garnish.

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.

Serves 6-8.


 

Readers can reach Forum reporter

Sarah Coomber at (701) 241-5531, copyright 2001 Forum Communications by kind permission.

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