Hosting a Hindi-Bindi Dinner Party

By Danielle Girard

One thing Monica and I have in common is that neither of us is an especially avid cook. Oh, we love food. Don’t get me wrong. But the process of making it? Not so much. So when she told me she was putting recipes in THE HINDI-BINDI CLUB, I was impressed. But when she said she wanted *me* to test them, I thought she might have lost her mind. And when she sent me the recipes, loaded with words like mince and simmer and sauté, I nearly fell over. Add to that the fact that most of them had more than three ingredients, which is normally outside my limit. AND on top of all that, the ingredients were things I’d never even heard of: tamarind, ajowan seeds, anardana powder, garam masala…. Well, you get the drift. “Sure, Monica,” I told her, thinking NO WAY! I sort of filed the recipes pages between some cookbooks I’d gotten for my wedding, a decade ago, never cracked, and forgot about it.

Danielle Girard
Danielle at Monica’s house in Toronto. During this visit, the two attended the 2006 Toronto International Film Festival where they cried all their makeup off at the world premiere of The Namesake (Mira Nair’s adaptation of Jhumpa Lahiri’s novel).

A month or so later, my husband and I were talking about food. At the time, we were staying in a small town where an exotic meal meant a taco from the little stand downtown, and where when something on the menu said “spicy,” it meant they’d added more Worcester sauce than normal or that the cook had fought with his wife that morning and gone a little nuts with the cayenne in the barbeque blend. It had been months since I’d eaten something really ethnic.

Then we started talking about Indian food, the curries, the coconut milk, the cumin, and the flat bread. “I’ll make some,” I said, and my husband, who knows better after fifteen years than to laugh outright in my face, said, “Sounds great, honey,” thinking NO WAY! The challenge was on. Within an hour, I was on the internet to get the ingredients. A week later, I cooked not one (as my husband suggested), not two (as Monica thought might be wise to start with), not three (as my girlfriend swore would be plenty for the six people I was feeding), but five separate dishes: Saroj’s famous samosas with mint-cilantro chutney for appetizers then for dinner Meenal’s chicken curry, Preity’s Goan shrimp curry, along with a tomato koshimbir salad and Uma’s ghee bhat (rice pilaf with clarified butter).

Danielle Ingredients
Ingredients for just one of the dishes. The chocolate chip cookies next to the toaster? Those were for energy. It’s a lot of work, this cooking stuff!

I started on Wednesday, chopping onions in one of those tiny Cuisinarts that would only hold half an onion at a time. Something like thirty onions. Then, cilantro and parsley and ginger and garlic and on and on. On Thursday, I made the stuffing for the samosas; on Friday I cooked the chicken curry and on Saturday, I made the rest. And when I was done, the house smelled like onion and curry so that my mouth watered every time I came in the door. I had to beat off my husband with a wooden spoon and my kids wanted to know if we were having another book party. (The only time we entertain more than six or eight people is at the launch of a new book.)

“Arrive hungry,” I told the friends who were coming. “Very hungry.” And when the table was set, the food didn’t all fit. We had to keep passing platters and bowls back to the island. But passing we did. For two hours, we sat there and ate. We ate it ALL. I swear, you have never seen six averaged-sized people eat this much. Gone. I watched four days of work vanish, secretly hoping there would be enough for leftovers. At first, I was hoping a week’s worth. Then a couple days. By the end, not even enough for a lunch. Gone.

A perfect meal and now that I know what I’m doing, that I know the difference between simmer and sauté, that I can identify garam masala, I think I could do it again. There is a down side, something to carefully consider before attempting this feat. Whenever our friends call about getting together for dinner, they always ask, “What do you think about making some more of that amazing Indian food?”

I sometimes think of asking, “Is it me you want? Or the food?” But I’m afraid of the answer…

Danielle Cooking
Getting close to the end, Danielle is making Uma’s ghee bhat (rice pilaf with clarified butter).

Suspense author Danielle Girard is one of Monica’s oldest and dearest writer friends. The two met at work, both freshly minted stockbrokers with dreams of becoming full-time novelists.

Saroj’s Murgh Mahkni (Butter Chicken)

Serves: 4

  • 1 lb. boneless, skinless chicken breast, washed and cubed
  • 4 tablespoons vegetable oil, divided
  • 1 tablespoon fresh gingerroot,
    peeled and grated
  • 1 teaspoon ground coriander
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
    (adjust to hot-spicy preference)
  • ⅓ teaspoon ground cumin
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon turmeric
  • ⅓ teaspoon black pepper
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup yellow onion, chopped
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 cloves
  • ½ cup tomato, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon kasuri methi leaves (fenugreek)
  • 2 tablespoons bell pepper, grated
  • 5 cashews
  • 1 tablespoon poppy seeds
  • ¼ cup water
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala
  • 1 cup milk, divided into 3
  1. Marinade: In a large glass bowl, mix chicken cubes with 2 tablespoons vegetable oil, gingerroot, cayenne, coriander, cumin, garlic, turmeric, pepper, and salt. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for 1 hour minimum, 24 hours maximum.
  2. Paste: In a wok or deep 12-inch skillet, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add yellow onion, bay leaf, and cloves. Stir-fry until onion is golden brown. Reduce heat to medium. Add tomato. Stir-fry for 3-4 minutes. Stir in 2 tablespoons of water, cover, and reduce heat to medium low. Simmer for 2-4 minutes. Stir in kasuri methi and bell pepper. Remove from heat. Allow to cool for 5 minutes. Scrape mixture into a blender. Add cashews, poppy seeds, and ¼ cup water. Whirl to a smooth paste. Set aside.
  3. Combine: Set the same wok or skillet over medium heat. Add marinated chicken and stir-fry until no longer pink on the surface, about 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in paste, garam masala, and ⅓ cup of milk. Cover and simmer until milk evaporates, about 3 minutes. Stir in another ⅓ cup of milk. Cover and simmer about 3 minutes. Stir in remaining ⅓ cup of milk. Cover and simmer to desired consistency.
  4. Eat with chappati or poured over basmati rice.

MOM’S NOTES:

  • You may need more salt. Salt to taste.
  • Turmeric is bright yellow and stains counters, clothes, plastic, etc. Be very careful when handling and clean spills immediately.
  • Use “Kitchen King” brand garam masala if you can find it.