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The Saratoga Falcon

The Saratoga Falcon

Cook Indian food by ourselves? Game on.



I admit I was disappointed when sophomore Shreya Tumu and I received third place out of five groups in the the cultural cook off hosted by the Lifestyles section of the newspaper. Each group was assigned a culture, and needed to prepare a dish from that culture to the best of our ability. Shreya and I were assigned to cook an Indian meal.
With both of us being Indian, we had a head start with a the general knowledge of Indian food and decided to make one North Indian dish and one South Indian dish to provide some variety. North Indian food tends to be less spicy and uses more bread than rice, and South Indian dishes use more coconut based sauces while North Indian dishes use more cream based sauces.
I, being the North Indian, decided to prepare saag paneer, which is sauteed cottage cheese in a spinach sauce, and rotis, an Indian flatbread. 
At first, I thought that preparing an Indian dish would be complicated, composing of an array of hundreds different spices all mixed together. I had seen my grandmother and mother make Indian food many times, and to me, it looked like an Indian food version of taking a Chemistry Honors test.  But thankfully, my mom was there to help me out with determining ingredients and taught me the step-by-step process of how to make the dishes. 
We set out our ingredients for the spinach portion, which included spinach, tomato paste, onions, broccoli, oil, salt, pepper and turmeric. I was surprised to find out that tomato paste was used in this dish; I had always assumed the dish contained just spinach and spices, but I guess there’s more than what meets the eye with Indian food. 
Next, we pressure-cooked the spinach and broccoli with the salt, and in a separate dish we sauteed the tomato paste and onions along with the spices. After letting the spinach and broccoli cool, we pureed it in a blender, then poured the puree together with the onion and tomato paste mix. 
Next, I chopped up the cheese, or paneer as we Indians call it, to put in with the spinach, which was feasible enough for me. We sauteed the paneer along with salt and pepper, mixed the cottage cheese with the spinach sauce. As we finished up the dish, I was beginning to feel much more confident about my cooking skills than when I started out.
The next item of order was to make the rotis. Now this I could do, because my grandmother had engrained the process in my mind since I was 5 years old, and I had helped her make them countless times before for dinner. It only required three ingredients: flour, water and butter. 
To make the dough, I mixed the flour and water together, and I separated the dough into balls about the size you would make with cookie dough. I got a baking roller to flatten the dough, and my mom helped put them on the stove to cook. In all, we made about 20 rotis.
My co-chef, Shreya, chose to prepare a rice pilaf using assorted vegetables and basic spices, and raita, an Indian side dish mainly composed of yogurt. Just like me, she also was intimidated by what “a few basic spices” entitled, but luckily had a little bit more experience than I did, so that made the process much easier for her. To make the raita, the yogurt side dish, Shreya combined yogurt, cucumber and tomato together, and gradually added in the spices needed to add more flavor.     
We delivered our dishes to nine judges, who tried our food and assessed our cooking skills, saying that it was really tasty. We were competing against Italian, Korean, American and Chinese food; from what the other chefs were preparing, I could see we were against tough competition. 
Our overall score was a 56.5, which was much lower than we expected to get. Then again, with both of us being beginners at the art of making Indian food, I guess I can say that our score was reasonable.  
Putting the score aside, I had a great time learning more about the process it takes to prepare a quality Indian meal. Once I got the hang of which spices went where and when to mix the dish, it didn’t seem so much like one of my Chemistry Honors tests after all. All in all, this was a great experience to share my newfound love for cooking Indian food to my fellow classmates.
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