I recently went to see Talvin Singh, a tabla player from England who mixes traditional Indian music with modern dance tunes. His music is not only fun to dance to, it's also very close to what we do at Vij's - bringing a modern twist to traditional spicing, cooking old-world style with smart presentation.
I believe this is the way time-honoured cuisines are heading. But traditionalists sometimes have a problem with this approach. They feel it's a bastardization.
I say to them, how will cuisine evolve if you do not experiment? People who live in this part of the world did not grow up eating traditional Indian food and they may not be used to the spices. If we want to bridge the gap, we have to do a better job of meeting them halfway.
The Punjabi women in our kitchen - who may be accustomed to cooking more traditionally - respect the restaurant's approach to Indian cuisine because they see how many people come up to them and say that the food is delicious. Of course, once people have had a great experience at a restaurant, they will make an effort to cook at home and experience the country. But not many people have the time to experiment and heavily research a cuisine.
Here are two places to start: I just reviewed My Bombay Kitchen by Niloufer Ichaporia King, a Parsi living in California. Her book is a great example of how Parsis have adapted themselves to other cultures inside and outside India.
Another traditional Indian cookbook is Grains, Greens, and Grated Coconuts by Ammini Ramachandran. The book shows a deep-rooted passion for cooking and tradition. When you read the book - or cook one of its recipes - you are transported to hot and humid India.
Cuisines are only fads when there is no depth to them. The osmosis of cultures and cuisines is healthy - in this way, we build tolerance and respect.
SEMOLINA NOODLES WITH VEGETABLES AND LENTILS
For this recipe, we use vermicelli noodles from Indian grocers. Even in India they are called vermicelli noodles on the packet. They are made from semolina and are very thin. You can buy these noodles the length of spaghetti and break them up or you can buy the smaller 1- or 2-inch-long noodles. Make sure you sauté them until they darken a bit; otherwise, they will stick together. If you can't find Indian-style semolina noodles, you can use the superthin egg noodles that are used in Chinese soups. Do not use spaghetti or other pasta noodles.
WHAT YOU NEED
½ cup canola oil
½ tablespoon black mustard seeds
2½ cups finely chopped onions
1/3 cup chopped tomatoes
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 teaspoon turmeric
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon chopped jalapeno pepper
12 ounces green beans, strings removed, chopped
¾ cup split moong dal (lentils)
2 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
5 ounces semolina noodles, 2-inches long
5 cups water
1 teaspoon salt
WHAT YOU DO
Heat oil in a medium frying pan over high heat for 1 minute. Add mustard seeds,
reduce heat to medium, stir the seeds once and wait until you hear the first popping sound. Add onions and stir well to make sure the seeds don't burn at the bottom of the pan. When onions are golden, add tomatoes, salt, turmeric, coriander and jalapeno pepper. Cook for 2 or 3 minutes. Add green beans and cook, stirring regularly, for 5 minutes. If you prefer softer vegetables, cook for another few minutes. Turn off the heat and set aside.
Sift through the lentils to make sure there are no tiny stones or other debris. Wash and drain moong dal 2 or 3 times. Place lentils, water and salt in a pot and bring to a boil over medium heat. Boil gently for about 10 minutes or until tender. Drain lentils in a large colander. Run cold water over lentils for 30 seconds, then drain for 5 minutes. Transfer to a small bowl and set aside. Rinse out the colander.
Heat oil in a medium pot over medium heat for 2 or 3 minutes. Add noodles and sauté for 3 to 4 minutes. When the edges of the noodles are browning and they look darker overall, add water and salt. Stir occasionally for another 5 minutes or until much of the water has evaporated and the noodles are soft. Drain noodles in a large colander and run cold water over them for 30 seconds. Gently separate noodles with a fork and drain for 5 minutes.
Add lentils and noodles to
masala. Stir gently with a
fork to ensure that every- thing is mixed well. Before serving, heat mixture over
low heat, stirring gently but regularly, for 5 minutes. If the noodles start to stick to the pan, sprinkle 2 tablespoons of water into the pan. Ladle noodles into bowls. Serve piping hot.
Serves 6 as a main course, 8 as a side dish
Vikram Vij is chef and owner of Vij's restaurant in Vancouver.
Beppi's wine matches
Look for wines with plenty of fruit and good acidity to counterbalance the spice and wet texture. Good choices include chenin blanc, viognier, riesling or gamay (a.k.a. Beaujolais).
In B.C. stores, consider Inniskillin Discovery Series Chenin Blanc from the Okanagan ($16.99), Ken Forrester Petit Chenin from South Africa ($17.99) or Viognier Cono Sur from Chile ($10.99). In Ontario, try Cave Spring Riesling Dry from Niagara ($14.15). In Nova Scotia, good choices include Dr. Loosen Riesling from Germany ($15.80) or Duboeuf Beaujolais-Villages from France ($15.11).