Invitation to India

*This post is part of the Project Food Blog Competition. Voting opens on Monday, October 4th  for Challenge 3. Please vote here!*

To eat is a necessity.
To dine is a luxury.
And while this family feast wasn’t served with gold plated spoons by charming white coat waiters, it was exquisite, indeed.
And dine, we did!

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Challenge #3 Prompt: Celebrate! You’ve made it this far, and the next challenge is to hold a party for your friends and family (at least four guests, you can include yourself in the 4 person count). Whether you’re an experienced host or an entertaining newbie, get creative and host a luxurious dinner party where your guests will discover new tastes and exotic flavors.

Ah, new and exotic flavors. This I can do. The cuisine was the easiest thing to settle on. It was obvious in my mind.

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While in college, I spent a glorious 5 weeks tromping around India with a couple of my peers and we had an amazing time.

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I’ve always adored Indian cuisine and going there was such a treat. I’ve been blessed with the opportunity to be in the kitchen with beautiful Punjabi women on multiple occasions.

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Indian is how I will tantalize my guests! My family, Oma, my cousin Allissa and her boyfriend Alex, and my husband, Jodus – they’ve never had the opportunity to travel to India so it was my job to take them on an enchanting trip there this evening! I wish we could have had a bigger group but we just moved here a couple of months ago and haven’t developed a good network of friends yet.

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Besides cuisine, another thing I fell in love with was Bhangra – an upbeat traditional music, typically found in the northern region. Thanks to Pandora, we had a constant stream flowing through our surround sound.

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We listened to it this morning while prepping and it totally got me in the mood to dance!

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To play the part of the hostess with the mostest, I even pulled out garments I acquired on the trip.

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Complete with cute shoes and jewelry and all!

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Obviously, I had a shopping problem in India.

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Scattered around the abode were bowls of Indian munchies – basically their version of trail mix!

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It is quite flavorful!

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For our meal, I selected some of my very favorite Indian foods and made sure they were recipes I was comfortable with making for a crowd!

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Secret: the “placemats” are actually pillow covers I bought in India. They can also been seen plastered to the walls of my yoga room!

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Another secret: the “tablecloth” is actually just a piece of discounted fabric!

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We put our round 4-top table in the guest bedroom and pulled out the folding table we bought for hosting Thanksgiving dinner last year! It worked out nicely and gave us a bit more elbow room.

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The preparations began the night prior – first with a trip to the grocery store, then elbow deep in chicken thighs.

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Tandoori chicken is best when marinated over night. Yes, a couple hours can be sufficient but in my experience, the flavors don’t meld as nicely and the chicken isn’t as tender.

I enlisted the help of the husband to man the grill while I worked on the rest of the feast in the kitchen. It was a huge help.

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Obviously, the house is not equipped with a tandoori oven but we made do.

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Homemade green chutney is superior to store bought mango chutney.

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Mango lassi for all!

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(A mango cocktail would have been killer but my family isn’t one for cocktails – or underage drinking – so lassi it was!)

For the main course, I settled on Bhindi Masala, an okra dish, and Coconut Basmati.

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Bhindi is a dish I always order at Indian restaurants. It is typically how I gauge how good of a restaurant they are, actually! Some people can’t get over the slime factor of the lady fingers but I love it.

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I tried to keep the flavors on the tame side for my (*ahem*teenager*ahem*) guests that aren’t as accustomed to the Indian palate.

You can not eat Indian without naan! Store-bought because shortcuts have to be made when entertaining! (Just not too many!)

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And for the sake of authenticity, I also supplied raita, though I detest cucumber.

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It was appreciated by my Oma and cousin – the yogurt helps tame the spices in the dishes.

And to complete the meal, I finished it off with kheer, a rice pudding with a blend of coconut and soy milk, and chai spiced cookies, which were made earlier in the morning.

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This kheer was soooo good. I think it might need to make a semi-regular appearance in this kitchen!

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The final touch was a traditional chai tea, made with soymilk for our dairy sensitive tummies!

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I had an absolutely wonderful time catching up with my family! This was their first time seeing our new house and meeting our darling Pippin.

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The evening went off without a hitch! It’s easy to bite off more than you can chew but with a little planning, prep work done in advance, and a lot of help, dinner parties are a blast!

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Recipes

Raita

Modified from this recipe

Ingredients:

2 green cucumbers
Salt and black pepper to taste
2 tablespoons finely chopped green onion
2 Tbls lemon juice 
2 cups greek yogurt
1 tsp chopped mint
1 tsp chopped cilantro
1/2 teaspoons roasted cumin seeds (optional)

Directions

Peel the cucumbers, halve them lengthways and remove the seeds. Cut the cucumbers into small dice, sprinkle with salt and leave for 15 minutes, then drain away liquid and rinse the cucumbers quickly in cold water. Drain well. Combine the rest of the ingredients and taste to see if more salt is required. Roast the cumin seeds in a dry pan, shaking pan or stirring constantly, until brown. Bruise or crush seeds and sprinkle over yogurt. Serve chilled, garnished with mint or coriander.

***

Green Chutney

Modified from this recipe

Ingredients

1 bunch fresh cilantro
1 clove garlic
1 tablespoon minced fresh ginger root
1 minced anaheim chile pepper
1 tablespoon blanched almonds 
salt to taste 
3 tablespoons lemon juice
3 tablespoons water

Directions

Blend all ingredients in a food processor until smooth. Add more water if consistency is too thick.

***

Tandoori Chicken

Modified from this recipe

Ingredients

10 skinless chicken thighs 
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/2 cup chopped white onion
2 tablespoons chopped garlic
2 tablespoons chopped ginger
1 teaspoon finely chopped jalapeno pepper, stem and seeds removed
1 tablespoon paprika
11/2 teaspoons salt 
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon garam masala
1/2 teaspoon cayenne
1/2 cup plain greek yogurt
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Directions

With a fork, prick holes in the chicken pieces. Using a knife, cut diagonal slices 1-inch apart, and 1/2-inch deep into the larger pieces. Place the chicken in a baking dish.

In a blender, combine the oil, onion, garlic, ginger, pepper, and process on high speed to a paste. Add the paprika, salt, cumin, turmeric, coriander, garam masala, and cayenne, and process until well blended. Add the yogurt and lemon juice, and process to a smooth sauce, scraping down the sides to combine all the ingredients. Pour the marinade over the chicken. Turn to coat evenly, rubbing the marinade into the holes and slits. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, refrigerate for at least 4 hours, and up to 24 hours, turning occasionally.

Preheat a grill.

Remove the chicken from the marinade. Place on the grill and cook for 8 to 10 minutes on the first side. Turn, baste as needed, and cook on the second side for 8 to 10 minutes. Turn and continue cooking, as necessary until the chicken is cooked through, but still tender, about 25 to 30 minutes. (Alternately, bake in a preheated 425 degrees F oven on a baking sheet for 35 minutes.)

***

Coconut Basmati Rice

Modified from this recipe

Ingredients

2 1/2 cups water 
2 cups basmati rice
1 cup coconut milk
1 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 cup craisins

Directions

In a heavy saucepan with a tightly fitting lid, bring the water to a boil. While the water heats, rinse the rice well. When the water boils, stir in the rice and all of the remaining ingredients. Return to a boil. Stir, cover, reduce the heat to low, and simmer for 15 minutes.  Stir to fluff the rice and serve.

***

Bhindi Masala

Modified from this recipe

Ingredients

4 cups okra, cut into 1-inch pieces
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1/2 tsp coriander seeds
4 cloves 
1 1/2 large onion, chopped
4 tomatoes, diced
2 Tbls chopped cilantro
1 anaheim pepper, minced 
1 teaspoon curry powder
1 teaspoon salt

Directions

Place the okra in a large, microwave-safe dish; cook in microwave on High for 6 minutes.

Heat the olive oil and cumin seeds, coriander seeds, and cloves together in a large skillet over medium heat until the seeds swell and turn golden brown. Fry the onions in the heated oil for 3 minutes. Add the tomatoes to the mixture and cook another 3 minutes. Stir the okra into the mixture; season with the curry powder and salt. Cook and stir the mixture until hot, about 3 minutes more. Serve hot.

***

Kheer

Modified from this recipe

Ingredients

2 cups coconut milk
2 cups soymilk
3 tablespoons white sugar
1/2 cup Basmati rice
1/4 cup craisins
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
1/4 cup chopped pistachio nuts

Directions

Bring the coconut milk, milk and sugar to a boil in a large saucepan. Add basmati rice, and simmer over low heat until the mixture thickens and the rice is tender, about 30 minutes.

Stir in the craisins and cardamom, and cook for a few more minutes. Transfer to a bowl, cover, and chill in fridge for up to 24 hours. Ladle into serving bowls, and garnish with pistachios.

***

Gluten Free Chai Spiced Cookies

Inspired by this recipe

Ingredients

1 package of gluten-free Namaste cookie mix
1/2 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon ground cloves 
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom

Directions

Preheat oven to 350°F. Follow instructions on back of package for preparation. Add spices until just combined. Complete baking as instructed.

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19 Responses

  1. yummy, yum, yum, yummy!

  2. Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful post!! ;] Completely jealous of your Indian wares, all gorgeous.

  3. I want Indian food SO bad now. It intimates me to cook it…even though I have 95% of those spices already. This meal looks fantastic! Props.

  4. This meal was so awesome!! I hate spicy food, but I was stuffed before dessert! Best meal ever!!!

  5. Look awesome Leah!!!

  6. Leah, you really committed to this theme, and i love it! Congrats on a job well done!

    http://whitneysamusebouche.blogspot.com/

    Whit

  7. A great big VOTE for you. You followed the challenge prompts and presented a luxurious dinner with exotic tastes! Great job.

  8. Love that last picture of you and the fam!! I don’t know much about Indian cooking so it was really fun to see you use your experience in it! Obviously, I like the looks of dessert the best 😉

  9. Great post. I love the poetic introduction and all the Indian photos! Looks like you had great inspiration for this dinner party. Good luck!

  10. Beautifully done! Everything looks so delicious!

  11. Your menu looks great! Hope we both make it to the next round! 🙂 You have my vote!

  12. Loved the green salwar kameez and the food- You got my vote!

  13. You never cease to amaze me – Bravo on this entry. You have been blessed to have traveled so much! I think it is great that you dressed for the occasion – beautiful. The food looks delicious…Voted!
    – Butter
    (from Running On Butter)

  14. Love the back story behind choosing and Indian meal. You have a vote from me!

    My dinner party was designed to take the diner food from Gooch’s Diner, where my parents first met over 40 years ago, and elevate it to luxury for their 39th wedding anniversary. Come see if you’d like 🙂

  15. Thanks for sharing your photos from India, it looks like such a fun trip! Your menu looks flavorful and elegant, great job recreating Indian cuisine!

  16. Yum, and yum again. Love Indian food! Plus, your hostess outfit was the Best! Voting now:)

  17. they all seems great,i enjoy with indian foods and wish to visit there one day..

  18. Nice post..Good luck….

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