by Debra Caffrey

As much as I’ve always loved food and cooking, there has been one type of cuisine that has eluded me. For most of my life, I had never tried Indian food. It was just something I figured I wouldn’t like, as I’m not one for too much spice or curry flavor. I never gave this exclusion of mine much thought until my husband got into Indian cuisine and begged me to try it, claiming I would love every single thing I would try. He became obsessed with this idea, not understanding why I was so resistant. The thing about me (if you haven’t figured it out by now) is that if I’m going to spend money, I don’t want to waste it! What if I paid for my Indian lunch and didn’t like a thing? That’s not something this frugal girl likes to take a chance on. But one hungry day, I found myself giving in and alas, we headed to my husband’s favorite new spot for some Indian for a spontaneous lunch buffet.

Not to sound dramatic or anything (and another thing to know about me is that I do not like to exaggerate at all), but if I had to describe what Indian cuisine is like for someone that has never tried it before, I would simply say this: It is like your taste buds are truly tasting food for the first time. It feels like the culinary equivalent of those with hearing loss who receive cochlear implants and can suddenly hear. As if the world was black and white for your whole life and now you can see in color. OK, you get the point. But that’s truly what happened to me. I slopped a bunch of items I wasn’t sure of onto my plate, tasted them all without exactly knowing what I was eating, and I thought to myself, “So that’s what flavor is.” Truly, it was a transformative meal and experience for me. I also felt like a fool for waiting so long to try this amazing, complex cuisine.

Since that day, I’ve not only eaten more than my fair share of Indian lunches with my husband, but I’ve found a new appreciation for the complexity, diversity and skill of the cuisine. And, like with anything when it comes to food, I’ve tried to replicate the flavors and dishes at home. Much of it continues to baffle me when I’m trying to make it in my own kitchen, including how in the world our favorite Indian restaurant can make cabbage—CABBAGE!—so utterly and insatiably delicious, but I like to keep trying. If you’ve never had Indian before, I’d encourage you to give it a try and see how flavor, spice and comprehensiveness can really be achieved with simple ingredients. If you’re a beginner like I was, here are some simple and approachable recipes to get you started at home. It’s only just the beginning of such a respectably developed cuisine, so get out there and don’t be afraid to give more a try!

Easy Chicken Tandoori

Serves 4
• 1 lb. chicken, cut into pieces (such as breasts, legs, etc.)
• 1 cup plain yogurt
• 1 lemon, juiced
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 1 onion, finely chopped
• 1 clove garlic, pressed
• 1 teaspoon fresh ginger, grated
• 2 teaspoons garam masala
• 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper
• 1 tablespoon minced cilantro, if desired

Remove skin from chicken pieces. Place in a shallow dish. Sprinkle both sides of chicken with salt and lemon juice.

In a medium bowl, combine yogurt, onion, garlic, ginger, garam masala and cayenne pepper. Mix until smooth. Spread yogurt mixture over chicken. Cover, and refrigerate for at least six hours or overnight.

Preheat an outdoor grill for medium high heat, and lightly oil grate.

Cook chicken on grill until no longer pink and juices run clear. Garnish with cilantro. Serve over basmati rice and naan bread.

Spiced Cabbage with Peas

Serves 4

• 1 medium green cabbage, chopped
• ¼ cup frozen peas
• 1 onion, chopped
• ½ teaspoon mustard seeds
• 1 teaspoon turmeric
• ¾ teaspoon coriander powder
• ¼ teaspoon red chili powder
• 1 teaspoon garam masala
• salt and pepper, to taste
• 1 tablespoon vegetable oil

Heat oil in large skillet. Add mustard seeds and sauté for one minute.

Add the onion and sauté for a few minutes until translucent, stirring.

Add the chopped cabbage, stirring consistently.

Add in peas, salt, pepper, turmeric, coriander, red chili powder and garam masala. Mix to combine, make sure all the cabbage is coated with the spices. Cover and allow the cabbage to cook through until soft, stirring occasionally, about five minutes.

Serve hot with naan bread. Enjoy!