“Don’t go and cook Indian food if you never cooked Indian food, you know?”
Those who can’t do, write. The pan is mightier than the pen. Pick your aphorism. When it comes to cooking Indian food, both certainly apply in my case. Every effort to prepare even the most basic of Indian dishes is a painful reminiscence of the Chemistry courses which confounded, confused and frustrated me in equal measure. Sure, covalent bonds made sense (because they were easy), but the math-based system of writing complex chemical equations may as well have been Klingonese. So, too, are most recipes for Indian dishes.
Yes, a passable phalanx of premixed “instant” Indian food exists, but what’s the fun in preparing that? Aspiring Indian food cooks (and masochists like me) prefer to prepare everything from scratch. That includes grinding and roasting ingredients for our own garam masala, an essential Indian spice mix which Epicurious considers “the Indian equivalent of French herbes de Provence or Chinese five-spice powder.” Somehow, my mix always has the taste appeal of a lethal bleach and ammonia combination. After years of trial and failure, I’ve arrived at the painful realization that I may never be able to cook Indian food.
For every chemophobic simpleton (like me) who will never “get” Chemistry, there’s a brainiac like my friend Schuyler who could probably figure out the formula for eternal youth but as a bona fide cerevisaphile, would rather pursue the formula for the perfect home-brewed beer. For every inept and incompetent kitchen bumbler like me who can’t figure out Indian cooking, there’s someone like Alonna Smith who’s not only mastered it, but believes it’s simple enough for even someone like me.
Some of you might recognize Alonna’s name from the thoughtful and insightful comments she contributes to Gil’s Thrilling… Some of you might even know that in September, 2019, Alonna launched a wonderful blog called My Indian Stove. If you didn’t know that, let me tell you what you’re missing. My Indian Stove is the gentle hand-holding those of us need who believe cooking Indian food is too complicated and calls for too many ingredients. There’s love and respect in Alonna’s writing, an easy flow that inspires you to read further. Her detailed, easy-to-follow instructions may inspire even me to attempt Indian cooking again.
Alonna isn’t some corporate ink-slinger in New York City or Los Angeles. She’s an Albuquerque resident who shops the same stores we do and dines at the same restaurants. I’ve come to trust her restaurant recommendations and have even had the great pleasure of breaking bread (though not yet naan) with her. When she’s not preparing something delicious for her husband Eric (a brilliant technologist who probably understands Chemistry) and their two Chinese Crested hairless children Heidi and Emma, she’s visiting her favorite Indian restaurants Curry Leaf and Taste of India.
Taste of India is the Duke City’s newest Indian restaurant having launched in 2017 on Juan Tabo just north of Indian School. It’s situated in the same shopping center which houses Rutilio’s New Mexican Foods. As with just about every Indian restaurant in the city, its specialty is the cuisine of Northern India which the marquee subtitles “Cuisine From the Heart of India.” The east-facing eatery is more colorful, maybe more beckoning than other Indian restaurants. You might not even notice understated ambiance considering the dining room’s cynosure is the very popular buffet.
Those of us who prefer ordering from the menu might even find some heretofore unknown items. There are plenty of the “usual suspects” too: the vibrantly-colored tandoori-oven-roasted chicken, lamb, shrimp and fish dishes we all love; traditional vegetarian and non-vegetarian curry dishes that explode with flavor; delicate, irresistible breads; fluffy rice and mixed rice biryani dishes; soups that are not only fun to say (mulligatawny), but soulful and deeply satisfying; and some of the most unique and tempting desserts offered by any culinary culture.
My Kim laughed at my lack of currency with contemporary pop culture when I asked “Isn’t Josh Rogan some Hollywood actor?” as I pointed out a dish called “Rogan Josh.” “That’s Seth Rogan,” she corrected me. At any regard, it was a dish neither of us had seen at any Indian restaurant. That was reason enough for me to order the Lamb Rogan Josh (braised lamb chunks cooked with a gravy of browned onions, yogurt, garlic, ginger and aromatic spices such as cardamom and cloves). Translating roughly to “red lamb,” this delectable stew is an amazing revelation. More than most Indian dishes, the tanginess of the yogurt comes through, giving the gravy a slightly sour but absolutely delightful profile. The lamb is unbelievably tender, the result of slow cooking. Ladle it over the light, fluffy rice and you’re sure to be transported to swoon city in short order.
If you’ve never explored Indian breads beyond the de rigueur naan, you’re probably not alone. It’s a challenge to get past the leavened, tandoor oven-baked flatbread. My excuse is that there are so many different types of naan (Taste of India offers four) that you can find enough diversity within just the naan offerings. Besides, why would you ever want to deprive yourself of something as absolutely mouth-watering as the keema naan (stuffed with minced lamb meat and spices). It’s among the very best naan we’ve ever had. The lamb is akin to the shaved lamb you usually find in gyros–not so much in flavor profile, but in how thin it’s sliced. Naan remains my favorite bread of any culinary culture, even over New Mexican flour tortillas. Yes, that’s heresy, but you’ll understand if you have the keema naan.
There are only a few desserts on the menu including a delightful mango pudding studded with pineapple chunks on the buffet. My very favorite of all Indian desserts has long been halwa, a traditional post-prandial delight composed of grated cooked carrots, shaved almonds sauteed in butter and boiled milk. Taste of India’s version is terrific, a sweet dish that accentuates the brightness and intrinsic deliciousness of carrots. It’s thick and rich, a rare dessert that inspires long lingering rather than making quick work out of it.
Because some of us might never be able to prepare edible (much less delicious) Indian food, we’re grateful to have restaurants such as Taste of India to show us how it’s done. Taste of India is a tremendous find, one of the city’s best Indian restaurants. Don’t just take my word for it. Alonna Smith sent me and she certainly knows her way around an Indian stove.
Taste of India
1605 Juan Tabo, N.E.
Albuquerque, New Mexico
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LATEST VISIT: 4 January 2019
# OF VISITS: 1
BEST BET: Lamb Rogan Josh, Halwa, Keema Naan