Spring Cooking Class Recipes: Flavours of India, Foods of Nova Scotia

Last night we hosted one of our most popular cooking workshops to date: Indian Food!

Satya Ramen was our intrepid instructor.  Satya explained the differences between dals, how to make clarified butter and ghee, and then led us through 3 main dishes, a salad, raita, and dessert!

The menu:

Potato Masala
Palak Paneer
Dal Fry
Carrot and Apple Salad
Semolina Pudding

We found all of the vegetables for the meal at the farmers’ market, as well as the yogurt (from Fox Hill Cheese House).  You can get local paneer at the Seaport Farmers’ Market from Ran-Cher Acres.  Unfortunately, I forgot to pick some up when I was at the market on Saturday, and that’s the only day of the week they are there.  Ran-Cher Acres gave me advice over the phone on how to make my own paneer, but because we needed a lot and I wasn’t ready to test out my cheese making abilities on a brand new group, I ended up buying non-local paneer from the Indian Grocery store down the street.  However, expect a blog post soon on making paneer!

Don’t be scared by the number of different spices in the recipes.  Satya advised buying small quantities from the bulk section of your favourite shop, so that you can get a sense of the flavours you like.  Also, nothing is sacred.  Play with the quantities and spice combinations.  There are numerous versions of all of these dishes, so if you don’t like a given recipe, try a new one.

The recipes, as well as the instructions for making ghee and facts on dal are below.  Happy Cooking!


5 medium potatoes
1-2 tablespoon vegetable oil (avoid olive or other strong tasting oils)
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
2-3 teaspoons black sesame seeds
1 teaspoon fresh ginger (finely cut)
1 tablespoon dried chilies or 2 fresh, hot green chilies
4-5 dried or fresh curry leaves
¼ teaspoon turmeric
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1-2 tablespoon organic, fair trade cane sugar
1 tablespoon fresh coriander (chopped)
2 teaspoon lemon juice

•    Cut potatoes into 1 inch squares and boil until cooked and firm.  You can leave the peel on, if they are organic and washed well. Don’t let them get mushy, or you’ll have fried, mashed potatoes.
•    Heat oil and add mustard seeds on a medium-high heat (until they pop; if they start to smoke, they smell awful) in a large saucepan (you’ll be adding the potatoes to this pan shortly).
•    Add sesame seeds.  Reduce heat and add ginger, chilies, and curry leaves
•    Stir to mix and then add turmeric, cayenne pepper, ground coriander, and sugar.  The spice mixture should be moist with oil, but not swimming in it.
•    Add the potato to the spice mixture in the same pot and coat until crispy on all sides.  You might have to add a tiny bit more oil, so it doesn’t stick.
•    Sprinkle coriander leaves & lemon juice, then serve


1 package paneer, cut into cubes
2 bunches spinach (wash well, and if the stems are tough, cut off the bottom of the stem)
1 large onion, finely diced
6 tablespoons of vegetable oil (avoid olive oil – use an oil that withstands higher heats) or ghee
salt to taste
2 large tomatoes, chop into large chunks
1 teaspoon dried red chilies
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon ground coriander
½ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon garam masala
pinch of ground nutmeg

•    Heat about half the vegetable oil in a large frying pan or saucepan on a medium-high heat.  Once hot, add the paneer cubes and turn them, so they brown on all sides.  This should lightly fry them (not deep fry).  Remove the paneer cubes and set aside for later.
•    Heat the remaining oil in pan and add cumin seeds (they should sizzle when added). Stir them until they are coated in the oil, and then them sauté 1-2 minutes, until you can smell the cumin.
•    Add onion and cook until softened.
•    Add remaining spices.
•    Add tomato; cook for 6 mins or until onions are soft.  After you’ve added the tomatoes, you can also add 1-2 tablespoons of water, if you need to make the onions soften faster.
•    Add spinach and cook until well wilted (the spinach should be very soft).
•    Puree this mixture (short pulses if you’re using a blender).  Return the mixture to the pan and add paneer & cook for 5 minutes.


½ cups red split lentil
½ cups yellow split lentil (toor dal)
3 cups water
3 tablespoon vegetable oil or ghee
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 small onion, chopped finely
1-2 teaspoon dried red chilies
1 large tomato, diced
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
2 tablespoon lime
handful, chopped coriander

•    Wash lentils in several changes of water, using your fingers to stir the starch out of the lentils.
•    Put lentils in the pot, add water & let boil for 20 mins (med heat).  Check to make sure they don’t burn the pan or turn to mush.  If they are cooked, but there is still water, then drain them like pasta with a very fine sieve mesh.
•    Heat oil in heavy saucepan, add cumin, onion and cook until golden brown
•    Add spices and let cook for a few minutes.
•    Add tomato – cook for 5-7 mins
•    Add fried masala to the lentil
•    Add lime juice
•    Serve with fresh coriander


1 cup yogurt (nonfat yogurt will have a slightly sour taste; I prefer at least 2%).  If the yogurt is very thick, stir it well, before you add the remaining ingredients – it should be smooth, like a sauce.
½ a cucumber, peeled and grated or chopped very finely (almost julienne)
¼ onion – VERY finely chopped (if you don’t like raw onion, you can skip this easily)
salt & pepper to taste
freshly chopped coriander for garnish

Mix it all together and serve chilled as a cooling condiment and counterpoint to spicy foods.


3-4 medium or large carrots (washed & peeled, grated)
1 -2 large apple – grated (choose a firm, crisp red apple – e.g., spartan, spy, etc., but not macintosh)
1 tablespoon lemon juice
salt to taste
2 tablespoons fresh, chopped coriander

•    Mix apple and carrots together
•    Add salt
•    Add lemon juice (the lemon juice will help prevent the apple from turning brown)
•    Chill and serve cold


¼ cup ghee or unsalted butter
1 cup semolina
1.5-2 cups boiling water
¾ – 1 cup organic, fair trade cane sugar
6 whole cardamoms – crushed
a few saffron threads
cashew and almonds (sliced and toasted, if possible)
1 tablespoon raisins (optional – soak them in a little bit of hot water to soften them)

•    Heat ghee / butter in saucepan (medium heat – don’t let it sizzle)
•    Add semolina and sauté until golden in colour, stirring constantly (about 1-2 minutes)
•    Add 1.5 -2 cups of boiling water to the semolina – cook for 2-3 minutes
•    The semolina is similar to polenta – it will pop and look like lava in the pot and it is very hot.  Stir constantly or it will burn and stick to the bottom of the pan. Add more water for a creamier consistency, or less water for a slightly lumpier (but still tasty) consistency.  It’s more like a cream of wheat texture.
•    Add sugar, crushed cardamoms & saffron immediately after
•    Continue stirring until everything is blended
•    Add nuts and raisins to garnish the pudding.

How to Make Clarified Butter and / or Ghee
Clarified Butter:
Also called drawn butter. Regular butter is made up of butterfat, milk solids, and water. Clarified butter is the translucent golden butterfat left over after the milk solids and water are removed. In short, clarified butter is just butter that contains only pure butterfat. It has a higher smoke point than regular butter, thus allowing you to be able to cook at higher temperatures, and won’t spoil as quickly.

Butter Ghee:
Clarified butter and ghee are not the same. Ghee is clarified butter that has been cooked longer to remove all the moisture, and the milk solids are browned (caramelized) in the fat and then strained out. This gives a rich nutty taste. Ghee has a longer shelf life, both refrigerated and at room temperature. It is traditionally used in Indian cuisine. 

Making Clarified Butter and Ghee Tips and Hints:
Always use unsalted butter. Use organic butter or the best butter you can buy. Cheap butter contains lots of water and chemicals, plus it burns much faster.  When making clarified butter always start with at least 25% more unsalted butter than the amount of clarified butter needed, as the volume is reduced during the melting and straining process.
1 pound of butter = about 1 1/2 cups clarified butter or ghee.
•    Use a heavy bottomed and deep stainless steel pan. Make sure the pan you will be using is clean and dry. Ideally, use a double boiler. This lets you safely clarify your butter while busy elsewhere in the kitchen.
•    Use low heat so the butter will not burn. Yes, turning up the heat will melt the butter faster, but the milk solids may begin to burn. For fast melting, cut the unsalted butter into pieces and melt slowly in a heavy saucepan for approximately 30 minutes.
•    Never cover the pan during the whole cooking process.

Storing clarified butter and ghee – They can both be stored, covered, without refrigeration in a glass or earthen jar for about six (6) months. At room temperature, they become semi-sold. With refrigeration, they both harden and can be stored, covered, for about one (1) year. Do not let any water get into your clarified butter or ghee jar. A drop of water can easily promote bacteria and spoil them.

Using clarified butter and ghee – Clarified butter and ghee are great for sautéing because they don’t burn as easily as ordinary butter. They are useful in all kinds of sauce making, especially the butter-based sauces like Hollandaise and Béarnaise. They are also a delicious accompaniment for lobster or crab. Use them in place of regular butter in your cooking.
The only difference in making both clarified butter and ghee, is the length of the cooking time. The additional Ghee directions are below.
•    Place one (1) pound of unsalted butter in your pan. Over low heat, melt the butter. When the butter has completely melted, continue to heat it over low heat.
•    When the melted butter starts boiling, it will begin to foam and sputter a lot at first as the water boils off. Continue boiling the butter, uncovered.
•    As the butter melts, it will slowly separate into three (3) layers:
o    The top layer is a thin layer of foam (this is the butter’s water content boiling off).
o    The middle layer contains the liquid.
o    The bottom layer is where most of the milk solids are.
•    Slowly the liquid on top becomes more and more transparent. When the clarified butter has a golden transparent color, there is very little foam left on the surface, and the solids have settled on the bottom, the clarified butter is ready. The cooking time is approximately 30 minutes, depending on the heat source and the kind of pot that you use.
•    Remove from heat immediately as it can burn easily at this point.
Ghee:  Continue to slowly cook over low heat, watching carefully and stirring occasionally, until solids on the bottom of the pan turn light brown and the liquid deepens to golden and turns translucent and fragrant. Also a rich aroma (aroma smells like popcorn) arises in the air. Immediately remove from the heat.
Important – If you leave it on the heat too long, you will burn the residue and all of the ghee will have a burnt taste.

Ways to remove the foam and solids:
•    Skim off the foam after removing from heat. Let the butter cool awhile to let more of the solids settle, and then pour or spoon out the clarified butter, leaving the remaining milk solids in the pan.
•    Pour the hot melted butter through cheesecloth, fine-mesh skimmer, or tea strainer to filter out the foam and solids that have settled, letting the clarified butter flow into a jar.
•    My favorite way – Pour the hot melted butter into a container and allow it to separate on its own while cooling, and then refrigerate. After it has solidified, you can easily scrape off the hardened foam on top.
•    Use a gravy or fat separator to make the skimming easier.
•    Strain the melted butter through a typical coffee filter.

The advantages of making your own clarified butter and/or ghee:
•    You can choose the quality of butter used.
•    Home clarified butter and ghee tastes better.
•    Making your own is much cheaper than purchasing it.
•    No splatter or burning during sautéing.
•    High smoke point of 375 degrees F.
•    Long shelf life (refrigerated or room temperature).
•    Is well tolerated by those with lactose intolerance.
Accessed: 25 April 2011.  http://whatscookingamerica.net/Q-A/ButterGhee.htm

Lentils or Dal
Like other legumes, lentils are low in fat and high in protein and fiber, but they have the added advantage of cooking quickly.  Indian markets also carry a wide variety of split lentils, called dal.   Before cooking, always rinse lentils and pick out stones and other debris.  Unlike dried beans and peas, there’s no need to soak them.  Lentils cook more slowly if they’re combined with salt or acidic ingredients, so add these last.  Bigger or older lentils take longer to cook.  Store dried lentils for up to a year in a cool, dry place.

dal = dhaal = dhal = dhall = daal  
Notes:   Dal is the Indian term for peas, beans, or lentils that have been split and often skinned, but the name is sometimes used for all lentils, peas, or beans, or to cooked dishes made with them.  Split lentils don’t hold their shape well, so they’re often cooked into soups or purées.  Always check if you need the whole lentil / bean / pea or if you need the split version.  There are MANY types of dal.  Here are some common ones.

Brown lentil = Indian brown lentil = German lentil = green lentil = continental lentil = Egyptian
These are the standard khaki-colored lentils you see on grocery shelves everywhere.  They tend to get mushy if overcooked.  If you want them to be firm, add oil to the cooking water and cook the lentils just a short while, say 15 minutes.   Substitutes:  French green lentils (considered better) OR yellow lentils OR red lentils (smaller, take less time to cook)

Channa dal = chana dal = gram dal
With their sweet and nutty flavor, these are the most popular dal in India.  They’re made from splitting a small relative of the chickpea in half.  They’re a dull yellow and are renown for causing flatulence, which Indians try to counter by adding asafoetida to the dish.  Sometimes the whole chickpea is used, even if it’s called a “dal.” Substitutes:  toor dal (a bit smaller, but similar) OR yellow split peas.  Some recipes call for “gram” flour, which is ground chickpeas.

Masoor = masar = mussoor   
When whole, this bean is greenish-brown, but recipes often call for the skinned and split masoor, which is called masoor dal.   These are skinned and split masoor lentils.  They’re salmon-colored, cook quickly, and turn golden and mushy when cooked.    Substitutes:  red lentils OR yellow lentils OR green lentils (hold their shape better when cooked)

Moong or mung dal
These are mung beans that have been skinned and split, so that they’re flat, yellow, and quick-cooking.  They’re relatively easy to digest.   Substitutes:  split peas

Red lentil
The most common type of red lentil is the Red Chief.  It’s a lovely salmon pink in its dried form, but it turns golden when cooked.  These lentils cook faster than others.  They’re best in purées or soups.   Substitutes:  masoor dal OR yellow lentils OR green lentils (These hold their shapes better when cooked.) OR brown lentils

Toor = tuvar = arhar = tur
These lentils are tan when whole, but they’re usually sold skinned and split, which reveals their yellow interiors.  They’re popular in Southern and Western India.   Look for them in Indian markets. Whole toor lentils are yellow with tan jackets, but they’re usually sold skinned and split.  They have a mild, nutty flavor, and they’re often cooked as a side dish or ground into flour.  They’re sometimes sold with an oily coating, which you should rinse off.  Look for them at Indian markets.  Substitutes:  channa dal OR yellow split peas OR pigeon peas

Urad dal = black dal = black gram = kali dal = chilke urad
These lentil-like beans have black skins covering creamy white interiors.  Whole urad dal derive their strong, earthy flavor from the black skins and are often used in curries.  Split urad dal retain the skins and also have a strong flavor.  Skinned and split urad dal are creamy white and somewhat bland.  Substitutes:  mung beans OR azuki beans OR pigeon peas

Accessed & adapted: 25 April 2011. http://www.foodsubs.com/Lentils.html

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