If you think your local curry house - with its neon sauces and mushy spinach - is the essence of Indian food, get ready to have your mind blown.
Sodha’s mission is to introduce the world to the fresh, homemade Gujarati specialties she she grew up eating, like cauliflower, cashew, pea and coconut curry, which she’ll be serving over cinnamon and clove rice. Did we mention the event is free and open to the public?
We caught up with Sodha before her appearance to chat about must-have spices, veggie dishes, and the regionality of Indian food, which we hope to witness when Nirmal's opens in Pioneer Square later this month. The modern Indian restaurant topped Eater's list of most anticipated restaurant openings for fall 2015.
I'm intimidated by beetroot. What are your favorite ways to prepare it?
I love to use them as a mixture in samosas. The easiest way to prepare them is to boil them in water until tender (for up to an hour) then slip the skins off. After that, you can mash them easily with a potato masher with spices like cumin, black pepper, a bit of cheese, garlic and fresh herbs, like cilantro – all of which go really well with the earthy sweetness of the beetroot. Or else, I’ll peel and grate a couple of big beetroots and fry them in coconut oil with black mustard seeds, curry leaves and coconut and yoghurt. That’s a dish called ‘beetroot pachadi’ from Kerala and it’s on my kitchen table on a very regular basis.
How do you feel about the way mainstream America has adapted Indian food?
This is the first time I’m coming to America with a lens on Indian food….but in general I think it’s important for cuisines to adapt to local produce and tastes to remain relevant, fresh and exciting. Indian food in the main is more a set of principles and techniques which are applied to what grows locally, so if mainstream America is using Indian spices to cook American produce, that’s great!
What are the most critical ingredients every home chef needs to make Indian dishes?
A basic toolkit of spices are: are black mustard seeds, chilli, turmeric, cumin, coriander. There is an extraordinary amount of things you can do with just those five spices.
What is your favorite ingredient right now?
I live on a market street in London packed full of fruit and vegetable stalls. Squash season has hit and we have everything from pumpkins to spaghetti squash on the market. I can’t get enough of them because they work so well with spices, green chilli, coconut milk and sweet caramelized onions. In my pantry, my favorite ingredient is cold pressed coconut oil. Indians use ordinary coconut oil everyday in their cooking but the quality and the intensity of the flavour of the cold pressed oil is really something.
How do you help people grasp the vast regionality of Indian food?
Indian food is as regional as Italian food and getting people to think beyond pasta and pizza to Tuscan or Sicilian cuisine took a long time as it will with Indian food. We’re in the early stages of that discovery at the moment in Europe and America and so it’s a really exciting time to be in Indian food. In terms of how I help people to understand a little more: behind each dish there is a story and I try to use the introduction to a recipe to paint a little picture of what it is, where it came from. For example, vindaloo which people the world over know as a blow-your-head-off-hot curry is actually only regional to Goa on the west coast and even then it’s a garbled version of the Portuguese ‘vinha de alhos’ a wine and garlic stew which was brought over to India in the 1500’s by Portuguese explorers….You probably wouldn’t find that out at your local Indian curry house.
Have you been to the Pacific Northwest before? Any favorite spots for food?
This is my first time here. I did a bit of research online and the photos of the Pacific Northwest: the lakes mountains and forests are absolutely breath taking on my computer so I can only imagine how beautiful they are in person. I’m going to have to come back to check out both the scenery and the food.