Star-Bulletin Features

Wednesday, March 31, 1999

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Above, Kusuma Cooray rolls out dough for chapati bread
while student James Tawarahara observes..

More than curry

Kapiolani Community College's
'A Night in India' is designed to
put an end to curry abuse

By Betty Shimabukuro


CURRY. Understand it. Then get past it. The mistake most Americans make about Indian food is thinking it begins and ends with curry. Then when they cook, they misuse curry flavoring.

"They depend on one bottle, Westerners -- Spice Island," says chef Kusuma Cooray. "They don't know there's a world of spices."

There lies the key to Indian cooking. Coriander, turmeric, cloves, fennel, fenugreek, peppercorns, mustard seed, cumin, cardamom, cinnamon, saffron, nutmeg. Most in whole seed form, ground fresh in the kitchen for each meal. And when it comes to curry, different combinations for vegetable dishes, seafood or beef.

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Tawarahara tries his hand at plating a tandoori dish
under Cooray's and Wilson Choi's watchful eyes.

Dependence on one curry mix for every occasion is what Cooray calls "this misuse of curry flavor."

"It should be in harmony with what you're doing. It should balance, it should match, complement."

By Craig T. Kojima, Star-Bulletin
Tandoori-Style Dish will be among the specialties on the menu at
"A Night in India" April 8 and 9 at Kapiolani Community College.

Beyond curry, Indian cooking embraces culinary styles of the country's many regions: marinated grilled and braised meats from the north; fiery vegetarian dishes flavored with coconut milk from the south; seafood and red lentils from the Bengal area; flavored breads, beans and peas from the dry west. Not to mention the influences of Hindu, Buddhist, Muslim and other religious groups.

Cookbook author Julie Sahni, in her "Introduction to Indian Cooking" (Ten Speed Press, 1998, $16.95), calls Indian cooking "the most complexly flavored and the most aromatic of the world's cuisines." Combinations of herbs and spices are the foundation of Indian cooking, she says.

"While other cuisines use ingredients such as cornstarch, cream and vinegar to thicken, enrich and lend a sour taste, Indian cooking uses spices to do all these jobs, plus more."

Every year, Cooray does her part to educate, coaching her culinary students at Kapiolani Community College in the preparation of a banquet, "A Night in India," this year on April 8 and 9.

On the menu: curried eggplant, yes, but also fritters, minted potatoes, Chicken Korma, several chutneys and garnishes, and a tandoori platter, the last replicating the northern technique of roasting in a tandoor, or clay oven. Here, the tandoori cooking will be done in the KCC ovens. Cooray recommends a clay baking tile to simulate the tandoor.

The word on Indian cooking

Bullet Chapati: Flour made from whole wheat, with germ and husk intact. Used to make an everyday grilled bread.
Bullet Curry: Primary blend of spices, mainly coriander. Mixed various ways for different dishes.
Bullet Dal: Lentils, split peas and chickpeas. A staple.
Bullet Dahi: Yogurt, used in sauces, desserts, salads and drinks. Cools down spicy tastes.
Bullet Garam masala: Second main blend of spices, used in northern dishes. Mainly cumin, coriander, cardamom and pepper.
Bullet Narial: Coconut, used extensively in grated, milk, cream and powdered forms.
Bullet Tandoor: Clay oven used to bake nan, a bread served in restaurants, and to grill-marinated meats and vegetables.
Bullet Usli ghee: Melted and browned butter with a concentrated flavor used in many dishes. If made from vegetable oil it is called banaspati.

Source: "Introduction to Indian Cooking"

With Indian cooking there is room to improvise and simplify, and in doing so incorporate these distinctive flavors into everyday cooking.

Prepackaged spice combinations -- Cooray markets her own through kitchen specialty shops and R. Field Wine Co. -- offer ground, mixed spices suited to specific dishes and in small packages so the flavors are fresh.

"It's cumbersome for some people to grind their own," Cooray says, "although people who enjoy spending time in the kitchen enjoy doing it."

Her own favorite spices: fenugreek -- "so aromatic, it gives a lot of flavor, it's very exotic" -- and black mustard seeds. She sprouts her own to keep herself in seeds, and encourages their use outside Indian cooking.

Fry black mustard seeds with garlic and use it to flavor asparagus instead of a butter saute, she suggests. "I don't see why you can't serve a nice portion of potatoes with black mustard seeds with your grilled steak.

"I wish people would use more spices in foods. ... It's a whole wide world that can be incorporated."

Here are Cooray's recipes for the Tandoori Platter, to be served at "A Night in India":


Tandoori-Style Fish

6 snapper fillets, 4-1/2 ounces each
6 large shrimp, peeled and de-veined
Freshly ground pepper and salt to taste
4 tablespoons melted butter

Bullet Marinade:
1/2 cup plain yogurt
2 teaspoons each minced garlic and ginger
1 teaspoon each ground cumin and coriander
1/4 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and nutmeg
1/2 teaspoon each cayenne pepper and paprika
2 teaspoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/16 teaspoon tandoori coloring (see note)

Bullet Garnish:
1 small red onion, thinly sliced
1 small tomato, thinly sliced
1/2 teaspoon lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon salt or to taste
6 sprigs Chinese parsley

Season seafood with salt and pepper. Mix marinade ingredients and pour over seafood. Refrigerate 2 to 3 hours.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Place seafood on a baking sheet or clay baking tile, drizzle half the melted butter over it and cook 4 minutes.

Drizzle more melted butter over the seafood and run under a broiler a few seconds or until a crust forms with some dark brown specks.

Mix onion and tomatoes with lemon juice and salt. Place a portion of fish and a shrimp on a plate and top with garnish. Serves 6.

Note: Tandoori coloring provides spiciness and a bright red color. It is available at Down to Earth and other markets that carry Indian foods.

Approximate nutritional analysis, per serving: 230 calories, 10 g total fat, 6 g saturated fat, 80 mg cholesterol, 630 mg sodium.*


Lentils and Spinach

3/4 cup red lentils
2 cups water
1 teaspoon minced ginger
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon Kosher salt
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 tablespoon sliced onion
4 cloves sliced garlic
1 cup milk
1 pound spinach leaves (about 8 cups), trimmed and washed

Wash lentils in water four times. Place in a pan, add water, ginger and turmeric. Cook over moderate heat, 15 to 20 minutes or until soft. Stir often to keep lentils from lumping together. Season with salt.

Heat oil in another in another pan; add onion and garlic and fry 1 to 2 minutes until light brown. Stir in lentils, milk and spinach. Simmer 2 minutes or until spinach just wilts. Serves 6.

Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 150 calories, 4 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 260 mg sodium.*


Cucumber Raita

2 medium cucumbers (about 1 pound)
1 green chile, seeded and sliced
2 tablespoons each chopped mint and cilantro
1 cup plain yogurt
1 teaspoon dry-roasted cumin seed, coarsely crushed
1 teaspoon sugar
1/4 teaspoon each freshly ground pepper, lemon juice and salt

Peel cucumber and grate, put in strainer and squeeze out excess liquid.

Mix with chili and herbs. In another bowl, whisk together remaining ingredients, add to cucumbers and mix. Serve cold. Serves 6.

Approximate nutritional analysis serving: 45 calories, 1.5 g total fat, 1 g saturated fat, 5 mg cholesterol, 250 mg sodium.*


A Night in India

Bullet Dinner: 6 p.m. April 8 and 9
Bullet Place: Ka 'Ikena Dining Room, Kapiolani Community College
Bullet Tickets: $40
Bullet Call: 734-9715 or 734-9398

On the menu

Bullet Moghul Kebabs (lamb with raisin stuffing)
Bullet Vegetable Fritters with Tamarind Chutney
Bullet Alu Podina Chat (Cold Minted Potatoes)

Tandoori Platter
Bullet Tandoori Fish Fillet with Shrimp Garnish
Bullet Raita
Bullet Dal (lentil) and Shrimp Curry
Bullet Lemon Pickle
Bullet Chapati bread

Bullet Chicken Korma
Bullet Saffron Rice
Bullet Cauliflower with Black Mustard Seed
Bullet Curried Eggplant
Bullet Chutney

Bullet Cardamom Ice Cream
Bullet Fruit Compote
Bullet Berries and Fruit Coulis

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