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Tag Archives: daal

[LEARN TO COOK INDIAN] Simple South Indian Daal

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A lot of folks are interested in learning how to cook Indian food, but are intimated by the “exotic” ingredients or the perceived complicated nature of the cuisine. While both are true to a certain extent, I offer two counter-arguments: 1) It isn’t difficult to go a store and buy the required spices, and 2) Not all Indian dishes are super complicated. One such dish is the South Indian daal dish from the state of Andhra known as pappu pulsu.

Pappu pulsu is essentially a yellow lentil broth that is great for a cloudy, cold winter day. Don’t be intimated by the list of ingredients – you can get most of them at Super Store. The total cooking time is around an hour, but that takes into account the cooking time for the lentils. If you pre-cook the lentils, then this dish takes like 5 min. to make.

Ingredients

– 1 tbsp. vegetable oil

– 2 Thai or Indian green chillies (not jalapenos)

– 6-8 garlic whole garlic cloves

– 1 tsp mustard seeds

– 1 tsp cumin powder (or seeds)

– 1 tsp fresh ginger paste

– 6-10 dried curry leaves

– 1/4 tsp tamarind concentrate

– 1 cup split toor daal (pigeon peas)

– 3-4 cups water per cup of toor daal

– salt to taste

Preparation

Boil the toor daal covered over medium heat for 30-40 min. until lentils are fully cooked. Using a spoon or ladle, mash lentils to a paste.

– Alternatively, soak the toor daal in water the day before or cook in a pressure cooker if you have access to one.

Heat the tbsp. of vegetable oil over medium heat. Add the green chillies, garlic, mustard seeds, ginger paste, and curry leaves. Fry until mustard seeds pop and/or garlic starts slightly browning.

– Add the toor daal broth to the above. Careful, as mixing hot oil and water is always an interesting endeavour.

– Turn the heat to low. Add 1/4 tsp of tamarind concentrate and the cumin power to the broth. Add salt to taste. Mix well.

– Serve with rice or chapatti (aka roti)

Viola! You have now cooked your first Indian dish.

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In addition to being a relatively simple dish to cook, daal is also a great source of protein. A lot of people ask where I get my protein upon hearing that I am a vegetarian. This is it. Another great source of protein for aspiring vegetarians is chickpeas.

So, the next time you are looking for healthy, winter food, try this dish out. You will be surprised at how easy Indian cooking can be.

Happy eating!

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Quick Review of Pushpita Indian Restaurant

Summary: an adequate Indian restaurant that is best served as a quick fix to your Indian craving

After having spent a couple of days in the metropolis of Northern Alberta known as Peace River, I was ready to come back to good ol’ Calgary and savour the sights and sounds of a big city once again. I was super-hungry getting off the flight, so the first thing I did after dropping my bags off was to head out to Pushpita, which is only a few blocks from my place. I have been eyeing this restaurant for a while now, but hadn’t had a chance to patronize it. Today was going to be the day…

I didn’t want to hang around and have the full restaurant experience, so I decided to get a couple of items to go: paneer masala ($10.99), dal ($9.99), and garlic naan ($2.50). The items weren’t over-priced, but considering Pushpita isn’t in downtown central, I was expecting the prices to be a bit lower. Their take-out lunch buffet is also $10.99, so ordering items a la carte, unfortunately, is not going to be a an everyday occurrence.

Anyways, onto the food.  The paneer masala was the first item I wanted to try as paneer (Indian cottage cheese) in anything is one of my most favourite things. In this case, it was paneer cooked in a (watery) broth of bell peppers, onions, carrots, and Indian spices.

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I like to taste the broth first as it’s the part that’s exploding with flavour. I was a bit surprised and disappointed with the broth: surprised ‘cause the broth was spicier than I was expecting; disappointed ‘cause it tasted like the chef threw in a much of chilli powder just to spice things up. The paneer was also a bit uneven as there were some pieces that were soft and chewy whereas other pieces were harder – odd as both varieties tasted the same. Overall, I enjoyed the dish, but I have had better.

Next up was the daal, which was a perfect dish for a cloudy day. Daal is a simple dish that consists of lentils in a simple broth mix of mustard seeds, cumin, and red chillies. It’s one of the most basic of Indian dishes that you shouldn’t, nay, can’t screw up. In retrospect, I should have had it after the paneer masala as the more complex spice mix simply overwhelmed the simpler daal. It tasted alright, but I have nothing really to add apart from that.

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Where the naan in all this, you might ask? The naan served as the sponge to soak up all the spicy goodness in both dishes. Once again, the naan was nothing to write home about: although it was soft, it was also weirdly chewy. The end effect was that it felt like I was chewing on doughy naan. It was edible no doubt, but it’s nothing compared to buttery, flaky, soft naan served at more well-heeled establishments.

So, all-in-all, I wasn’t blown away by this little restaurant. I was really hoping to discover a hidden jewel, perhaps much like Canada Dosa Corner, but found instead, a mediocre restaurant that will serve as a temporary fix for my Indian craving from time to time.

The final saving grace is that they have a pretty extensive menu consisting of meat, poultry, seafood, and vegetarian dishes (that’s probably part of the reason for the mediocre food – spread too thin), so I just might get some other vegetarian options to taste. Stay tuned!

Pushpita Fine Indian Restaurant on Urbanspoon

Review of Southern Spice Restaurant (South Indian Cuisine)

Summary: An adequate restaurant with good value for money (and some pretty tasty offerings) that can be more than it is right now.

India is such a diverse country that evenIMG_0026 the cuisine varies from region to region. India can be roughly divided into the four corners of the compass, where each region has it’s own unique blend of spices and dishes.

Most people in Calgary are probably only familiar with North Indian cuisine, with restaurants serving up their standard fair of butter chicken, aloo gobi, mutter paneer, chana masala, etc. that taste oh-so-good but also are pretty rich.

Personally, I am originally from the south of India, so North Indian cuisine is always a treat for me. South Indian dishes tend to be heavily rice-based and plainer than their North Indian cousins. Geographically this makes sense as North India is drier and cooler (during winters), whereas southern India is pretty much a tropical paradise where rice grows abundant.

It’s great to see that Calgary is slowly developing an alternative to what’s typically offered at well-established stalwarts such as Glory of India and Namskar. We personally reviewed one such hidden-gem – Canada Dosa Corner – which became such an instant hit with all our friends that we had to seek out other similar restaurants and see if they matched up.

Walking into the restaurant is a bit discombobulating as the exterior doesn’t match the interior whatsoever. The place appears pretty unremarkable and drab from the outside, but on the inside, it’s actually quite dramatic. The high ceilings together with plenty of natural light gave the place a “tiffin hall” feel that is reminiscent of those in India. All in all, it actually worked quite well.

We had the option of either going for the buffet or a la carte. In the interests of checking out their entire offerings, we opted for the buffet, which also came with unlimited (!) dosas. We immediately went over to the buffet area to check out their offerings. I was pretty wowed by the number of the dishes in the buffet.

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The buffet had all the traditional South Indian dishes like rasam, sambar, medu veda, radish curry, and paysam, which all tasted pretty authentic, but also watered down. They were spicy, but almost spicy for the sake of being spicy – like they added a couple of tablespoons of chilli powder just to bring the heat up. There was a coconut-infused broccoli dish that tasted delicious, but is traditionally prepared with carrots. It was weird though, tasting an Indian dish made from non-traditional ingredients. There was also a chowmein noodle thrown in for good measure. it wasn’t too bad, but kinda felt like French fries at a Chinese buffet. It was all fairly generic.

The dosas were another story though. Hot off the pan, they were more soft than crispy, but the stuffing of masala potato was pretty amazing. The combination of the sambar and masala dosa was also pretty tasty. The most delectable part of the night was the potato fry. It was a bit greasy, but it was the perfect combination of sweet, salty, and spicy. It wasn’t as crispy as I would have liked it to be, but that’s just nitpicking.

Overall, I felt like this place doesn’t know what it wants to be. Part of me wants to break my own rule and revisit the restaurant to give it another chance (primarily cause a brown co-worker of mine loved it), but that remains to be seen. If you want another viewpoint, Foodosophy has a great review on Southern Spice that is also slightly mixed.

Richard’s Ruminations

For whatever reason, Indian food and buffets seem to be as common a pairing as wine and cheese, and Southern Spice is no exception.  However, their offering of freshly-made dosas as part of the buffet seemed to be a nice little addition that sets them apart from your everyday self-serve-curry line.

Unlike most Indian buffet places in Calgary, this place has a very sparse selection of non-vegetarian options – in this case, only fish or chicken curry, and they were all out of chicken.  I opted not to try the fish curry either as it had eggplant in it, which, unfortunately, I am allergic to (Hmm, I did not know that.  –Kiran)

One of the downsides of a buffet is that the food could have been sitting there for quite a while – and when we went, it sure seemed like that was the case.  This doesn’t matter for curries, really, but the pakoras were not very hot and were crunchy (instead of crispy) – kind of a shame, since they tasted pretty good and would likely have been pretty awesome hot out of the fryer.  Unlike Kiran, I thought the curry noodles was one of the better tasting dishes, despite being some kind of rip-off of Chinese cuisine Winking smile  (It’s hakka)

As for the dosas – the do have the huge-ass ones available, but not as part of the buffet – instead, the buffet dosas are the size of a side plate, and come out upon order from the kitchen.  Probably smart that they come out in that size, given that it’s all-you-can-eat!  I found the dosas to be kind of greasy, soft, and a little more sour than the ones at Dosa Corner – but the filling was still quite tasty.

South Indian food doesn’t rank among my favourite cuisines, so I didn’t eat until the point of gastro-intestinal rupture, but it still seemed like a reasonably valued buffet.

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Ranking

  Richard Kiran Kent
Ambiance 4/6 4/6 N/A
Service 1.5/3 4/6 N/A
Plating N/A N/A N/A
Taste 3/6 4/6 N/A
Authenticity 5/6 5/6 N/A
Value 4.5/6 5/6 N/A
Overall 18/27 = 66% 22/30 =73 %

 

Southern Spice on Urbanspoon

Review of The Himalayan (Nepalese Cuisine)

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Summary: A great date place / family restaurant for those looking to try a fusion of Indian/Chinese cuisines, friendly service, and more importantly, good food.

Calgary has a dearth of Nepalese cuisine, so when Kent found a Groupon for this restaurant, it was a no-brainer.The Himalayan is tucked away in a tiny strip mall in the west end of 17th Ave, but don’t let the location and outer facade fool you. It felt like we had stepped into another world as soon as we had walked in – the interior is in complete contrast to the exterior. The owners have clearly put a lot of thought and effort into tastefully decorating the place. The mood lighting, in addition to enhancing the ambiance, accentuates the Nepalese inspired artwork on the walls. Definitely a great date place, if you don’t mind the families.

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Upon seating, we were immediately greeted by our very friendly server. While shooting the shit with him, we found out out that his father was a former part-owner of the other Nepalese restaurant in town: Everest Kitchen. However, due to irreconcilable differences, they had decided to part ways. It will be interesting to cover Everest Kitchen as part of our next outing and compare the differences between the two establishments.

Nepali cuisine is a very interesting mix of Indian/Chinese fare and is reflective of Nepal’s geographic location nestled between the two Asian giants. The intermingling of these two ancient cuisines is clearly evident in their offerings and reminded me of Hakka cuisine, which is Indian/Chinese cuisine hailing from the East Bengal region of India. Our server, being related to the owners, was very knowledgeable about the menu and was able to steer us through the vast offerings.

Kent and I didn’t order anything to drink but decided to get the mouth-watering momos ($6) as appetizers (while waiting for the perennially late Richard). The latter are a traditional Nepali dumpling made from a mixture of vegetables, mozzarella cheese, and “Himalayan spices and herbs” all wrapped and steamed in shell made from flour dough. That is a lot of words to describe a delicious little appetizer – I could eat this sh*t all day and not feel satiated. The outer shell was moist but not too sticky. The vegetable filling was delicious but a tad salty. The tomato sauce was milder than I would have liked as the momo filling definitely overwhelmed the sauce. Overall though, highly recommended. Definitely, a “must try.’

I ordered the Himalayan Roasted Eggplant ($13) tarkari as my main course. Tarkari, of course, is the Nepali version of curry, but not as liquid-y. Richard ordered a thuk-pa and Kent went with an old standby dish, dal (lentils).The tarkari dishes came with a side of naan and rice. Our dishes took a long time to arrive so we were comp’d with a side of papad served with sweet yogurt and mango dipping sauces. The sauces were sweet and tangy and provided a great contrast to the savoury papad.

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Kiran’s Thoughts

Given the vastness of the vegetarian offerings at The Himalayan, I was hard-pressed to select just one dish to order. Now I know what most people feel like when they go to a restaurant. Ordering something off a menu is typically a simple affair for me, given that I usually have only one or two options. I was sorely tempted to order something I knew would taste good, but in the interests of expanding my mind and palate, decided to go with the roasted eggplant tarkari. It turned out to be not such a good call. The dish was flavourful with a sweet and sour finish, but in general, too salty. The eggplant was also unevenly cooked as some pieces were tough when chewing. The salad accompaniment was just a filler with the ingredients not being very fresh. In fact, I seem to have been so disappointed with this dish that I didn’t even bother to take any photos.

The dal, on the other hand, was an excellent call on Kent’s part. It was a perfect dish for a cold, rainy day like it was that particular evening. It was perfectly spiced, with just the right amount of salt and spices. You could tell it was clearly home-made from a family recipe. The combination of dal and naan, although not typical, was what I needed on that cold, clammy day.

The Himalayan didn’t seem to have much in the offering for desserts, but Kent and I decided to go with server-recommended cassava root cake. This turned out to be a delicious choice. The cake itself had the texture of oatmeal, but was spongy like, well, sponge cake. The drizzle of chocolate and raspberry sauces only served to enhance the dish overall. My only complaint was it was a bit too small: Kent and I managed to destroy the dish in two seconds. But it was worth it.

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Richard’s Ruminations

Namaste, b*tches. I wasn’t too sure what to expect from their place after seeing the questionable aesthetics of their website,(yeah, it’s pretty fucking terrible; crashed my browser once – Kiran) but it turned out to be quite a pleasant venue. After ordering drinks, I perused the menu looking to see if they served yak. Sadly (or happily?) no, but they did offer quite a large variety of Nepali dishes, including several with shrimp (which I found slightly amusing considering Nepal is rather landlocked). I had originally intended to try the mis-mas rice (a mixture of rice, saffron, raisins, and meat), however the waiter rather vehemently turned me away from it, stating that they were working on removing that from the menu (yikes!). Instead, I settled for a mutton thuk-pa, a noodle soup with carrots, cabbage, parsley, onions, chilli, and small chunks of mutton.

Mutton Thuk-paThe starters were pretty good in general, with the papad standing out in my mind as being particularly tantalizing. To me, it tasted like a mix of Indian-style lentil crackers and Chinese-style fried puffed-rice crackers. My main course (thuk-pa) was simple but decent, though the flavours/textures evoked thoughts of cheaper fare – the meat reminded me of cha siew (Chinese BBQ pork) and the vegetables in the soup made me think of instant-noodle ramen packs (though I imagine the vegetables in this soup were actually fresh and not reconstituted from dehydrated husks Winking smile). I also had a pineapple-coconut juice, which is a tropical-paradise-dream of a drink – I would definitely recommend this drink, and I’m not even much of a fan of coconut.

I was greatly impressed with the service and speed that the food came out, though we did arrive before it really got busy -  I’m not sure if they would have been quite as attentive with twice the crowd.

Kent’s Two Cents

I really enjoyed the Himalayan, and its a shame there aren’t more of these Nepali restaurants in the city. The service is exceptional in this family run restaurant, mostly staffed by native Nepali who can explain what’s on the menu. Ever since eating dal bhat (lentils & rice) everyday for a month in Nepal, I have considered it to be healthy and hearty comfort food. The Himalayan makes a good dal, but it wasn’t what I originally expected. Its consistency is on the watery side like a soup. I always thought it was supposed to be like a stew or porridge. Not really a bad thing, it still tasted great. Now if only I could make this stuff properly at home.

Summary

I am glad to see another ethnic eatery getting its sh*t together and share its culinary offerings with the rest of Calgary. Although I was disappointed with my own dish, I really enjoyed the two vegetarian options that Kent had ordered. There are far too many options to choose from to visit this place only once. Although this is contrary to my own personal philosophy, the Himalayan might just be the one place that I could see myself visiting again. The friendly and knowledgeable server also helped. In short, this is a great date or family outing place that shouldn’t be missed.

Peace out.

-Kiran

Ranking

  Kiran Kent Richard
Ambiance 4.5/6 5/6 5/6
Service 4.5/6 5/6 5.5/6
Plating 4/6 4.5/6 5/6
Authenticity 6/6 5.5/6 5/6
Taste 5/6 5.5/6 4.5/6
Value 5/6 4.5/6 4/6
Overall 29/36 = 80.5% 30/36 = 83.3% 29/36 = 80.5%

The Himalayan on Urbanspoon