Nandita Godbole wants to make Indian cooking easy and accessible for beginners, and she’s designed a clear, systematic way of teaching it. According to Godbole, the author of “Crack the Code: Cook Any Indian Meal With Confidence,” anyone can master Indian cooking by learning just a few simple steps (hence “cracking the code”).
Godbole, a third-generation chef and and entrepreneur, learned the basic techniques of Indian cooking from her grandfather, a self-taught chef. In her book, she illustrates the basic building blocks of Indian cuisine, which is really quite simple when you look at all of the parts broken down.
According to Godbole, there are six distinct tiers in Indian cooking:
Tier 1 is the basic flavor triangle – butter or oil, medium, whole dry spices, and fresh flavors – that are basic ingredients to begin preparing a dish. Tier 2 is special ingredients – additional whole spices – that withstand high temperatures and/or extended cooking. Tier 3 is salts or powdered ingredients that may burn easily. Tier 4 is binding agents and ingredients that allow the flavors from the spices to infuse with the main ingredients, or may be used to create a sauce or base, such as stocks, milks, cream, or other liquids. Tier 5 is the main ingredient or protein. Tier 6 is the garnish, which can be added for flavor or color.
Godbole also has a rule that some would consider unusual for her kitchen: No curry powder. Ever. Why would she make such a rule (especially since she blogs under the name “Curry Cravings“)? Godbole says that Indian food calls for the blending of specific spices that impart a custom flavor to any given dish. “If you use ‘curry powder’ you get the same flavor for every meal,” says Godbole, who tends not to mince words. “That does not constitute a meal, it constitutes prison food.”
We recently enjoyed a meal prepared by Godbole at Melissa’s Produce, and our main reaction (and the reaction of our friends around us) was, “Hey, this doesn’t really taste like what we think of as Indian food.” Indeed, the food was flavorful but simple and light: grilled chicken, baby potatoes tossed with mustard seeds, a very fragrant rice and pea dish, and mango lassi (a sweet yogurt drink).
Godbole notes that what we know of as “Indian” food from Indian restaurants in the U.S. (heavy sauces and curries) is far from most authentic Indian food. Hence the book – and an effort to educate more Americans about the beauty of true Indian food.
And truly, you can put together an amazing Indian meal with common ingredients that you probably have on hand – chicken, chicken stock, potatoes, lentils, peppers, and a few basic whole spices – which Melissa’s demonstrated to us through their produce and spice assortment (many of which are labeled/sold as Mexican spices, but you can use them for Indian food too).
We decided to put one of Godbole’s simple recipes to the test in our own kitchen, with the added degree of difficulty of satisfying two young tweens who can be suspicious of new foods. We tried this Chatpatta Warm Nut Mix (actually from Godbole’s book “A Dozen Ways to Celebrate: Twelve Decadent Indian Feasts for the Culinary Indulgent“) and it was an enormous hit. We changed the recipe around just a little bit to accommodate the ingredients we had available but overall, it was the spicy, nutty flavor that won over the boys.
Chatpatta Warm Nut Mix
- 2 tsp. butter
- 2 tsp. black cumin seeds we used regular whole cumin seeds
- 1 serrano pepper finely chopped (optional - we did not use)
- 1/2 tsp. garlic powder optional
- 1 tsp. cayenne pepper powder
- Salt to taste
- 1 tsp. lemon juice
- 1 cup raw unsalted peanuts
- 1 cup raw unsalted almonds
- 1 can garbanzo beans rinsed, drained, and patted dry
- 1/2 cup store bought besan sev Indian crunchy snacks, optional
- 1 cup puffed rice or Rice Krispies cereal
Melt the butter in a small saucepan on very low heat. Add the black cumin seeds, serrano pepper, garlic powder, and cayenne pepper powder, and allow the flavors to combine for about 30 seconds. Remove from heat and add salt and lemon juice, mix well.
Preheat the oven to 200 degrees. In a large mixing bowl, combine the nuts and chickpeas with the spiced butter. Place them in a single layer on a shallow cookie sheet, and bake for 20 minutes or until toasty.
Place the puffed rice on another cookie sheet, and bake for about 8 minutes, or until warm and toasty. Combine the roasted puffed rice with the nuts and cover to keep the mixture warm. Serve immediately. (Note: Godbole serves these in paper cone cups.)
They both decided that it was the perfect after-school snack because it has protein and crunch, and it has a great little “kick” at the end, which gave them both a boost doing their math homework. Oh, and they’re both proud of themselves for expanding their horizons a little bit.
Blogger disclosure: I did not receive compensation to write this post, although I received a complimentary copy of two of Nandita Godbole’s books for review and an assortment of spices and produce from Melissa’s. All opinions expressed are my own.