Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Samosas and Singharas: Learning Indian Food

I want to learn how to make good Indian food.  I want to have a few solid, delicious vegan Indian dishes that I can make off the top of my head, almost unconsciously.  I want to one day be sitting there, on my couch, in my house clothes, and casually turn to my guest and say, "hey, I'm going to whip up some samosas."

I began my (possibly lifelong) journey toward Indian food mastery at my small library of cookbooks, intent on making kick-ass samosas.  After flipping through all of their indexes, I found the word "samosa" in only two: Vegan with a Vengeance's Potato-Edamame Samosas with Coconut-Mint Chutney, and Veganomicon's Samosa Stuffed Baked Potatoes.  I'd made the latter a couple times in the past, and loved them, but they were far more "baked potato" than they were "samosa," so the first recipe won.

An important word absent from the VwaV recipe's title is "baked."  Yes, baked samosas, which contain edamame.  Not exactly the authentic Indian cuisine I was aiming for, but the spice list added up to something close, so I gave it a shot.

After a mildly labor-intensive hour-and-a-half, I created a mound of soft, yellow pastries containing a samosa-like filling.  When dunked into the mint chutney (which, sadly, lacked cilantro due to local scarcity), they tasted more like savory cupcakes than kick-ass samosas.  Edible, yes. "Good Indian food," sorta.  Satisfying? No.

At least I had defined, hopefully, the nadir of my journey.

About a week later I was at a bookstore with my friend Promnesiac and wandered over to the ethnic cuisine section to see what vegetarian Indian stuff they had.  Turned out they had the bible of vegetarian Indian cooking: Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking. Holy crap.  About 800 pages, weighing in at around 4 pounds.  Not a photograph in the entire book, just illustrations. A section titled "Deep Fried Breads."  Three different samosa recipes in the section titled, "Deep Fried Savory Stuffed Pastries."  I returned the drool-swollen tome to the shelf, purchased a clean, dry copy, and dragged it home.

It was immediately clear that making the samosas in this book was going to be a challenge.  Making the dough, filling, and accompanying chutney was going to be a demanding but manageable trial. Forming perfect samosas with all these components, however, was going to take a lot of practice. I didn't want to fail immediately,  so I opted for a compromise: Tangy Potato Coconut Singhara Logs, (a.k.a. Aloo Nariyal Singhara). They're basically rolled-up samosas.

It took a mere three hours to make these and their accompanying Toasted Coconut and Tomato Chutney.  Three very clumsy, messy hours that were punctuated with geysers of hot oil and the jarring sound of food processor abuse.  But it was worth it!  That is, until I had eaten all of them, which is far too many to eat and remain comfortable.

I think I'll pick something from the "Dal Soups" section next time.


  1. Ah, delicious. I had planned to make samosas this weekend, with the VWaV recipe. I have similar experience with Indian food. Shortly after I graduated from college I became good friends with an Indian-American whose mom invited me over for dinner & taught me the basics of ayurveda (I'm pure pitta). In the years since it's always been little funny being this chubby Southerner who makes amazing Indian food... but so it goes. Yet, I haven't mastered samosas--or even tried, really. Thanks for the honest assessment of the VWaV recipe, and for the tip about Lord Krishna's cuisine. Since I don't have the money to spare right now, I'll look to some of my reliable Indian blog friends.

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