Monday, April 21, 2008

Field Trip to the Indian Grocery: Boxed Dinner and Sweets!

Have I mentioned that neither D nor I have ever put on a Seder? It's always been at his family's, or a giant dorm event or, if you go far enough back, it was simply a date on the calendar. This leaves us in the slightly intimidating position of figuring it out on our own (gasp!), with some help from the internet, cookbooks, and vague memories. This is what our breakfast table looked like Saturday morning:

You see Gil Marks' "World of Jewish Cooking" open to a page on Sephardic Roast Lamb and Ashkenaz Sweet-and-Sour Meatballs, recipe clippings from last month's Gourmet article on Passover (including Matzah ball soup), and a shopping list. You also see our not-so-nutritious (sorry Mom!) breakfast of tea and Indian sweets. After taking this picture, I realized that I have not yet shared our glorious trip to the Indian grocery store last week. So I'm putting Passover blogging on the back burner, and moving over to our Indian food finds!

In search of mustard oil to fuel his dal kick, my Dad scoped out Indian grocery stores when he was here a few weeks ago. He found a wonderful one right off Rockville Pike (12213 Nebel St., Rockville MD), owned by a lovely entrepreneurial family that has just opened a Halal meat store next door. From what we could gather, the Dad runs the grocery and the daughter serves as the butcher. I took D there for kicks and tourism last weekend and we indulged in a lot of goodies, including samosas and stuffed buns, a boxed Tandoori Chicken spice mix, and three boxes of Indian sweets. And had a lot of fun chitchatting with the gentleman behind the counter... a misleading phrase, because he promptly left the counter and followed us around the store to describe all the products and insisted on carrying our selections for us. A slightly overwhelming but charming display of pride in his own establishment.

It's not exactly clear to me what is in these Indian sweets. The silver foil covered ones in the red box contain "Kaju, Sugar, and Desi Ghee" and the Nutritional Information is reported in grams. Extremely not helpful. A quick google search for "Kaju" reveals "Kaju Katli is an Indian sweet made from cashews, sugar, cardamom powder, and ghee. Typically cut into Rhombus pieces and covered with edible silver foil Varakh."

Um, and it's addictive. For reals. The pieces are so cute and little and tiny and not overwhelming that, before D knows what is what, I've scarfed down half a layer in a sitting. (D inserts: "HALF a Layer! More like half the box!") They go especially well with tea the morning before Passover. Or eaten in bed while reading Jane Austin. Or a mid-afternoon snack.... :) We opened this box on Disasterous Dinner night (Thursday), and the photo to the left was taken on Saturday morning. This cannot be good for my arteries (I should take a photo of the ghee in my fridge sometime. It looks like jarred cholesterol), but oh man. Oh man. I'll take some of these over corn syrup-laden candy bars or mediocre American chocolate any day of the week. And, though the powers that be certainly won't agree with me, Kaju Katli is kosher for Passover! Did YOU see any yeast or flour products on that ingredient list? I think not!

[Passes the talking stick to D.]

Well, while Neen was busy eying up all of the sweets, I went shopping around for some boxed food. I know, I know, boxed food is the sign of the ultimate fall into depravity. It is one step forward and half a step back and to the right from Ramen, but when faced in the inexorable complexity of Indian food I tend to freeze. So, being a well trained Foodie, when I can't produce myself, I cheat. Besides, boxed exotic food doesn't really count as boxed food at all, right...

Well, based on the huge selection of box preparations that existed at this store, I am clearly not the only person out there who is buying boxed foods. They had a huge array of different kinds of chicken and curry dishes. I was actually very impressed with the selection. Of course, as soon as I saw a chicken dish that had that spicy red look that I associate with tandoori - well, I had to have it. Of course, it wasn't tandoori (and only a heathen as ignorant as myself would be thinking of tandoori when faced with a box of Dum Ka Chicken Masala).

The deal maker in this case was that the box contained just the spice mix I needed to marinate the meat. I purchased the chicken, cilantro, hot peppers, onions, and yogurt for cooking. They had a very simple recipe, straightforward except for having to deep-fry the onion (which I just wasn't prepared to do). The chicken had to marinate for two hours, or so the box said. I let it marinate for an hour and the flavor seemed full and balanced to me, but I won't claim to be an expert on how the dish was supposed to taste. I will claim, however, that it was delicious. Extremely spicy, but delicious. The chicken wasn't as tender as it should have been (I think this is a fault in my preparation), but the flavor was a nice balance of smoke, strong Indian spices, a little richness from yogurt, and a lot of heat.

Of course, once Neen had picked out two boxes of sweets, it seemed only fair that I should get to pick one too. The box I picked was packed full of what looked like Indian donuts. On the bottom you could see the thick layer of golden viscous fluid. I am going to pretend that it was honey and not a sweetened oil (or industrial syrup). The donuts themselves were all very good. The flavors were varied, but the texture was predominantly a thick cake-y texture, completely saturated with that viscous "honey". I loved them all. Well, not quite all. I don't really enjoy the flavor of coconut in my sweets. So there are three oblong shaped sweets that I am avoiding for the time being. I may get around to them before they go bad, or I may try to pawn them off on Neen...

[Neen grabs the talking stick back]

Okay, so D told you my secret: I did get two boxes of sweets. To SHARE. Of course. I would never, ever, hoard them or keep them to myself. Right. My second choice was the "Mixed Sweets" box (on the right), which contains a mix of disturbingly pastel-colored goodies. Most have a crumbly, grainy texture like Halva (which I far prefer to D's syrupy donuts) but without any of Halva's sesame flavor. They are sweet (very) and nutty (a little) and maybe coconut-y. Really, the coolest part was the texture: crumbly, grainy, but it dissolves in your mouth... mmm. So cool! And so not something I know how to make myself!

Okay, back to Passover, celebration. :)


Kate said...

We have a ton of different grocery stores, but no India grocer - I'm very jealous.

Psychgrad said...

I like the tag-team blogging. I've tried different ready-made Indian mixes and have found them to be hit or miss. But, I wouldn't feel bad for going with a boxed mix since making it yourself would probably require purchasing a lot of ingredients, which would be a hell of a lot more work than prepping the onions.

I'm going to post my handy-dandy measurement converter magnet in a couple of days. I'm always converting from ounces to grams.

Cookie baker Lynn said...

The mixed sweets look really intriguing with their pastel colors. I'd try one!

Lisa said...

I can still remember my very first visit to an Indian grocery store. All of those smells, spices, tempting treats unavailable elsewhere in the city ... it was pure bliss. I've since visited Indian grocery stores many many times, but each and every time I still get excited.

Anonymous said...

You can buy from Indian Grocery from

Like, Snacks, Chutneys, Sauces, Pickles, Papad, Sweets, Canned foods, Instant Foods, Biscuits, Bakery Products, Jaggery, Mukhwas, Beverages, Dry Fruits, Tea, Coffee, Beans, Spices, Masalas, Flours, Rice, Health & Beauty, Household Items, Incense & Pooja Supplies.