American Masala

by Jeanne


I leave in 3 days for India. The task at hand for the last few  months has been to build a foundation in the essentials of Indian cookery. (Note to self: you seem to be adopting a distinctly British orientation to your spellings and vocabulary.)  In my research, and additions to my cookbook library, is American Masala by Suvir Saran. Also the author of Indian Home Cooking Chef Saran is co-executive chef at the 2007 1* Michelin restaurant Dévi in New York. 

The two cookbooks are approachable, fun and more than likely if you cook on a fairly regular basis your spice pantry will suffice. American Masala isn’t about traditional Indian food—it’s about adding new flavors to the great American melting pot, using spices to liven up the old standbys—from meatloaf to macaroni and cheese—and enjoying dishes that are exciting and diverse yet as familiar as your own mom’s cooking.  It’s a fresh take on contemporary Indian cuisine. 

Sambhaar is a spice blend that is the southern Indian equivalent to Garam Masala, a spice blend used often in northern India, which is to herbes de Provence or Chinese five-spice powder– a foundational, essence of the cuisine spice blend.  The nutty flavor of a sambhaar comes from the addition of channa dal (yellow split peas) and urad dal (small white lentils).  If you are unfamiliar with the Indian cooking, you may think this  blend is bitter tasting.  If making it at home, and you want a more traditional taste–double the amount of fenugreek seeds.   I have found over the last few months that preparing these blends in generous portions allows for quick prep during the week.

Chef Saran seems to be somewhat less strict than his peer Floyd Cardoz of Tabla when it comes to curry powder.  He taught a session at the Gourmet Institute two years ago and what I vividly recall was his distaste over curry powder.  While I understand the plea if it means making the dish or not after work or when pinched for time well he’s all about eating at home.

Other recipes that were tasty include the very quick Double-Basil Mussels with pasta shells–double basil as the herb is added twice in a tempering oil method–a central technique in Indian cooking which adds depth and intensifies the ingredients’ flavors. And once it gets cooler Tamarid-Glazed Meat Loaf takes a standard America comfort food in another direction.

Stock Image: Goa coast, India


Goan-Syle Shrimp Curry

Serves 8

For the marinade

  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon ground peppercorns
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice (from about 1/2 lemon)
  • 1 pound large or extra-large shrimp, peeled and deveined

For the sauce

  • 1 cup water
  • 1/4 cup canola oil
  • 24 curry leaves, roughly torn (optional)
  • 4 dried red chiles
  • 1 teaspoon ground peppercorns
  • A 3-inch piece ginger, peeled and minced
  • 1 medium red onion, finely chopped
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 garlic cloves, peeled and chopped
  • 2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 2 cups canned chopped tomatoes
  • 1 teaspoon Sambhaar, or 1/2 teaspoon curry powder
  • 1 1/2 cups coconut milk
  • 1 cup chopped fresh cilantro

To make the marinade, place all of the ingredients in a gallon-sized resealable plastic bag. Add the shrimp, toss to coat, and refrigerate.

Set 1/2 cup of water next to the stovetop. Heat the oil with the curry leaves (if using) and chiles in a medium pot over medium-high heat until the curry leaves start to sizzle, 1 to 2 minutes. Add the ground peppercorns and cook for 1 minute longer. Stir in the ginger, onion, and salt and cook, stirring often, until the onion is browned, about 8 minutes, sprinkling with water and stirring whenever the onion and ginger begin to stick to the bottom of the pot.

Add the garlic, coriander, and turmeric and cook until the garlic is fragrant, about 1 minute. Reduce the heat to medium-low and add the tomatoes to the pot. Cook, stirring and scraping the browned bits up from the sides and bottom of the pot, for 1 minute. Increase the heat to medium-high and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring often. Stir in the Sambhaar (see below) and cook for 1 minute, and then pour in the coconut milk and 1/2 cup of water. Bring to a boil and add the shrimp and any accumulated juices. Bring to a simmer and cook until the shrimp are curled and opaque, about 2 minutes. Stir in the cilantro and serve.

Sambhaar (makes about 3/4 cup)

  • 3 dried red chiles
  • 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons mustard seeds
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon white lentils (urad dal)
  • 1 tablespoon yellow split peas (channa dal)
  • 2 teaspoons fenugreek seeds
  • 2 teaspoons ground peppercorns
  • 40 curry leaves (optional)

Place all of the spices in a medium skillet over medium-high heat. Toast until the mustard seeds begin to pop and the skillet starts to smoke, stirring often, 3 1/2 to 5 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder or coffee mill and grind until powder fine. Store in an airtight glass jar for up to 4 months.