Lynne Hewitt, chair of the Department of Communication Sciences and Disorders at Bowling Green State University, grew up in a small town near Buffalo, an all-American girl who consumed her fair share of hamburgers, fries and pizza.
|Lynne Hewitt, of Bowling Green, is seen with a selection of Indian dishes. (Photos: Enoch Wu/Sentinel-Tribune)
But as an adult she has morphed into an amateur expert in Indian cuisine, able to go head to head with most typical home cooks in Delhi, Patna or Jaipur.
There are two people primarily responsible for that fact — both of whom she met while an undergrad at Cornell University.
“I had a good friend, Anju, who was from India. She moved into the dorm my freshman year” and the two later became roommates.
“She always cooked for herself” because Anju was not used to American food and not a fan of it. “The first time I tasted it, I was like ‘That’s the food for me.’
“That was the late ’70s and there wasn’t Indian food, much; certainly not in northern New York. So I realized I was going to have to learn to make it.”
As it turns out, she fell in love not only with Indian food but also with a man from India, Shashi Singh. He was a graduate student in linguistics at Cornell at the same time Hewitt was working on her bachelor’s degree.
“Ultimately, I ended up getting married in India” and the couple lived there for a year and a half, before returning to the States.
“We had a cook,” which is normal for the middle-class in India, “and he didn’t really like me being in ‘his’ kitchen. But he could talk to me about the food” and the cooking techniques he was using.
Add to all this the fact that Hewitt had previously spent a year’s study abroad in India.
She was keeping her eyes and ears open the entire time.
Very early, she learned that “curry,” that staple of Indian food, is a pretty open-ended concept.
Hewitt offers American barbecue as a cross-cultural parallel.
“BBQ could mean a lot of different things — a dry-rub, a sweet sauce, really hot with mustard” depending upon the region and whose recipe we’re talking about.
“Curry is like that, but more so. There are lots of different spice blends and it can vary from region to region. So if you say something is curried, that doesn’t mean much to someone from India.”
Hewitt’s own chicken curry reflects the flavors of the northeast India state of Bihar, where her husband grew up.
The recipes she’s sharing in today’s Cook’s Corner “aren’t gospel,” she cautioned. “Other Indians might look at it and say ‘well, I would never do it that way.’”
She developed them herself, but they are authentic for the curry, raisa (a yogurt-based cucumber dip), and rice pilaf one would encounter in Bihar.
The three are not recipes for beginners, but they shouldn’t overwhelm ethnically curious Cook’s Corner readers either.
Hewitt eagerly offer extra preparation hints.
• “American cooks are really impatient with cooking onions,” she’s noticed. Instead, “do take that patient time. You’ll never get that authentic Indian flavor otherwise.”’
• It is important to really mince the garlic, to get the flavor out.
• Ginger root: “I always peel it. Some people don’t, but I always do. And use a smaller, more fine grater.”
• For the raisa, “make sure people use plain yogurt, not flavored yogurt. That would really be disgusting.”
• Chicken curry can be made “much, much faster if you have a pressure cooker,” although it’s not a requirement.
Prep time for the dishes “depends on your knife skills, and if you use frozen vegetables in the rice,” for example. The chicken curry will take 30 to 45 minutes to prepare, and the pullao — 20 minutes to get the ingredients together.
Indian cooking calls for special ingredients, of course, but these days, that’s no insurmountable problem for northwest Ohioans.
“Kroger’s in BG has an Indian food section.” While small, “it’s grown every year I’ve been here.”
There you’ll likely be able to find garam masala (the word masala means spice), a very common ingredient in northeast Indian cooking, and whole cumin seeds. The latter is an ingredient in all three of Hewitt’s recipes.
For what can’t be found locally, there are at least three Indian grocery stores in Toledo.
Hewitt likes Reddy’s Indian Grocery, off Central Avenue, “and two others close by, including one that has a carry-out/cafe with it.”
Ingredients bought at the Indian store, she added, will be “much fresher, and cheaper.”
Hewitt has never stopped trying to learn more about Indian cooking. She has a group of Indian friends in Bowling Green “who show me things” and “I do like to buy Indian cookbooks and read them.
“My sister-in-law is a really fabulous cook, my mother-in-law likes to talk about food, and my (late) father-in-law also loved to cook.”
1 whole chicken cut up and skinned OR 2-3 lbs. skinned drumsticks and thighs (do not use boneless chicken breast)
1 large or 2 medium red onions, diced
4-5 cloves garlic, pressed, or smashed and diced
1 Tblsp. grated fresh ginger
(Above three ingredients may be combined and chopped in food processor)
2 Tblsp. vegetable oil (do not use olive oil)
1 tsp. black mustard seeds
1 tsp. whole cumin seeds
1 2-inch piece cinnamon stick, broken into 3-4 pieces
1-2 bay leaves
2-3 green cardamom pods, whole
4 whole cloves
1 tsp. turmeric
Freshly ground black pepper
1 ½ tsp. salt
1 cup diced fresh tomatoes or canned crushed (do not use tomato puree/sauce/paste)
½ cup water
2-3 Tblsps. chopped fresh cilantro (for garnish)
1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
2. Heat oil in heavy-bottomed oven-safe non-reactive lidded pan (stainless steel or enameled cast iron Dutch oven would be best).
3. Add whole spices and sauté briefly till fragrant.
4. Add onions, ginger, and garlic and cook on medium to low heat, stirring frequently and adjusting heat as needed, for 15 minutes, until golden to dark golden brown.
5. Add turmeric, black pepper, and salt, and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes.
6. Add chicken, turn up heat to medium or medium-high, and brown with the onion mixture, 5 to 10 minutes.
7. Add tomatoes and water and blend well. Bring to a boil.
8. Cover and bake in preheated oven for 1 hour; check doneness and stir after 30 to 45 minutes.
9. Garnish with chopped cilantro, if desired.
Pullao (North Indian style rice pilaf)
2 cups basmati* rice, soaked for about 20 minutes, then rinsed and drained
2 tbsp butter
1 tsp whole cumin seeds
3-4 whole cloves
1-2 green cardamom pods
½ small onion, cut from pole-to-pole and sliced into thin wedges
freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp salt
1 cup fresh or frozen vegetables such as carrots, green beans, peas, cauliflower, chopped
4 cups water
1. Melt butter in heavy bottomed pan with tight fitting lid
2. Add whole spices and sauté for 1 to 2 minutes, until fragrant
3. Add onions and sauté for 5 to 10 minutes, until golden brown
4. Add salt and pepper and stir briefly
5. Add rice and stir thoroughly to blend and coat with butter, around 1 min.
6. Add vegetables and stir well to combine
7. Add water, and bring to boil with lid off.
8. Let boil for 2 or 3 minutes on high, then stir well, turn heat to lowest setting, cover and cook for 20 to 25 minutes.
9. May serve garnished with cilantro.
* Do not substitute parboiled or instant rice; do not use short grain rice. Long grain rice or jasmine may be substituted, but basmati will give the authentic taste.
1 to 1 ½ cups plain yogurt
1 small cucumber, peeled and grated
1 small or 1/2 larger tomato, diced
1 tablespoon onion, minced
1 small jalapeño or Serrano chili, seeded and diced
1-2 tablespoons diced cilantro OR fresh mint
¼ - ½ tsp. salt (to taste)
freshly ground black pepper
1/8 tsp. cayenne, or to taste (may omit or substitute paprika for garnish)
½ tsp. roasted cumin powder*, and a bit more for garnish
Blend well and, if desired, garnish with sprinkling of cayenne or paprika, roasted cumin powder, coriander and/or mint leaves.
* To make roasted cumin powder, take whole cumin seeds, place in heavy bottomed pan on medium heat on stovetop, roast tending constantly until seeds brown somewhat. Grind in a spice grinder, or in a mortar and pestle, or put between two sheets of waxed paper and roll with a rolling pin. Can make this ahead and keep in fridge in small glass jar, to preserve flavor.