Posts from — July 2009
Last week I finally learned why I get a sour face every time I ask an Indian person what restaurant in town serves good Indian food: There aren’t any, at least not compared to home-cooked food. It seems that there aren’t any places in town that go the extra mile with concern to the integrity of the dishes. That, or they are probably pandering to white people who don’t like “spicy food.” Regardless of the reason, it seems that there aren’t many–if any–good Indian eateries in town. You just have to make it yourself. Since I have had a hard time finding an Indian cookbook that wasn’t watered down, I had to get professional help: I learned how to cook several dishes the correct way from a private cooking class with Chaya Rao at her Austin home recently.
She teaches classes at Whole Foods and Central Market, as well as private cooking lessons. This class was held in her kitchen with ten people seated around her kitchen island as she prepared a cilantro & mint chutney, date and tamarind chutney, batata vada (fried potato balls), a carrot salad, saag paneer, dhal soup, and rabdi (a milk based dessert) served with mangos.
The night started out with the batata vada that were so fluffy and crisp that I don’t know if I can ever eat another samosa because it will just make me crave a batata vada. Then she prepared a delicious cardamom mojito. At this point I knew that I was going to continue begging for seconds and leave miserably full, which was fine by me since everything easily fell into the category of best Indian food I’ve ever had. This trend continued with the dhal soup she prepared. It was comforting and light tasting at the same time. I was lucky that it ran out quickly because it was sticking to my ribs.
She went on to cook the Saag Paneer and carrot salad while answering every question we threw at her. Chaya’s teaching ease comes from years spent training others in the tech industry. These skills carried over into her new occupation of cooking instruction. The fact that she was at ease translated well to the participants and we readily felt at home.
What set her dishes apart from anything else I’ve had in Austin was a sense of freshness in every element. The saag paneer was so green that it glowed and didn’t darken after it had been sitting in the pot for a while. The cilantro served with the dhal soup retained its punch and wasn’t smothered by the soup. The other distinguishing characteristic was the spice level of the food. Nothing is spicy enough for me, but her dishes made my nose run and my water become scarce. It was just what I had been craving, but to say that fresh spinach and serrano peppers made the dishes what they were is too reductive and ignores the skills and care that went into everything. They were just simple, authentic recipes that you would find on the table of any Indian Family in town.
If you’re dissatisfied with Indian food or any other food in town, just learn to make it yourself. If you need a little help with Indian cuisine, look Chaya Rao up at www.vegicurean.com
July 14, 2009 3 Comments