Yesterday, I recommended the IKEA swedish grocery as a source of northern european soul food, and semi-jokingly referred to it as ethnic food. Since ethnic food is really just somebody else's everyday cuisine, and the wellspring for a lot of culinary creativity, I try to use that word in connection with food primarily in jest. So, today, let's talk about what more of us would consider a source of "ethnic" food - Indian groceries.
I LOVE Indian groceries, even though after years of going to them I am still deeply ignorant and have to ask questions about stuff all the time. In the Prudent Foodie context they are also sources of well priced, quality foods of all kinds that can save you money and bring variety into your kitchen. For example, basmati rice is available in 20 lb bags at half or less the price in the regular store. Saffron threads, bulk spices, dried legumes, ditto. And then there are the inexpensive convenience foods like ready made naan bread and pappadoms, not to mention curry, tikka masala, and biryani pastes that you can use to put together a quick tasty dinner, for not much money. Plus, recent research has shown that many of the curry spices, especially turmeric, cumin and cinnamon may be very beneficial to your health, so you are saving your life along with time and money.
But my original objective for this post was to get back those legumes I mentioned in passing - of which you can buy an amazing variety at Indian groceries for very low prices. All kinds of beans, peas, lentils, etc. are available. I used to joke with an Indian colleague that swedish cooking and indian cooking have more in common than you might think (I'll blog on that one day) and I want to point out that if you don't live near an IKEA you can get the yellow peas I recommended yesterday at the Indian grocery store too. Just look for the whole yellow peas - along with all the other different kinds of dal that they have. Another really yummy thing you will always find at Indian grocery stores is red lentils. They are inexpensive, highly nutritious, cook quickly and taste great. There are many things you can do with them but for starters here's an all american dish that comes via England (as the recipe is adapted from Nigella Lawson) that uses them.
Chili with Lentils
2 TB olive oil
2 onions and 2 cloves garlic finely diced
1 red bell pepper diced (I sometimes use fresh carrots instead - which are a lot cheaper, especially in the winter)
2 tsp dried red chili flakes - use more if your family likes their chili hot
2 tsp cumin seeds pounded in a mortar
1/2 tsp cardamom seeds pounded
1 tsp dried oregano
1 1/2 cups red lentils
In a large stew pot saute the onions, garlic, red peppers (or carrots) in the oil until they start to soften. Add in the spices and stir, then pour in the lentils and stir some more. Now add in:
1 28 oz. can (or fresh or frozen equivalent) crushed or diced tomatoes. I recommend Muir Glen organic fire roasted
3 cups water
3 cups of beans (black, navy, pinto, kidney, cannelini - any will work) You can use canned, or save some extra money by planning ahead and using dried, which you have soaked overnight.
1 small can tomato paste
1 very heaping TB unsweetened cocoa powder
Stir it all together and set to simmer 45 mins - 1 hr. Check seasoning and adjust with salt and pepper as needed. This is an excellent chili, to which the cocoa and cardamom give an extra depth of flavor. This recipe is vegetarian - what I do is take leftover beef or pork, dice it and add it to the bowls of meat loving family members while I enjoy this vegetarian dish. Also, a great way to do a vegetarian dinner a night or two a week! Dee Dee