Food has a way of bringing food people together whose paths may have never passed otherwise. Pat Hackney is one of those people for me.

We were introduced by my then-food photographer Kay Heritage (now the proprietress of Big Bon Pizza). Kay had volunteered with Pat at a Coastal Georgia Botanical Gardens fundraiser and later brought Pat and I together for another fundraiser. Pat and I have worked together many times over the years and I’m honored to call Pat and her husband, Howard, dear friends.

Pat is a retired county Extension agent with a wealth of knowledge about food. Howard was a pilot for Gulfstream at one time, has used his knowledge in his own businesses, and I guess you could say he is semi-retired. Pat and Howard have traveled all over the world for many years. While they travel, Howard documents his adventures with his friends almost daily. His emails include history and vivid descriptions of the places with professional photographs (one of his many talents) attached. For those of us who are still chained to the grinding stone, we can open a morning email and travel all over the world!

On Christmas Day last year, they left for a five-week tour of India. Howard’s images from India were spectacular. My favorites were of the Delhi spice market. Towers of fruits, nuts and spices would make any cook’s head swoon.

Another day, the pictures were of a cooking class they attended. The Jaipur Cooking School is in the home of Chef Lokesh and his lovely wife Geetika in the city of Jaipur. They opened the school six years ago and have had over 7,000 guests attend their cooking classes. From Howard’s email that day: “Our menu included fresh river Fish Tikka, Chicken Tikka, Rajasthani Laal Mass spicy lamb curry, Butter Chicken cooked in a butter tomato curry sauce, Vegetable Biryani, Naan garlic butter, and ending with the Gulab Jamun.” Howard added that Pat did all the classwork; he just photographed and enjoyed the fruits of her labor.

Shortly thereafter, I asked Pat to share some of the knowledge and recipes she enjoyed while on the trip and at the cooking school. She not only agreed to share, she also graciously invited us to a "Taste of India" dinner at her home. I have to admit being a wimp when it comes to heat in foods, which many of us associate with Indian cuisine, but I’m happy to report none of the dishes were too hot and, if needed, we had Cucumber Raita, which Pat said uses milk protein to bind the capsaicin in peppers and reduces the effect of the heat.

Indian recipes can be a bit daunting. The list of ingredients is usually very long, because of the spices. As Pat explained, the recipes are very diverse, based on the region, soil, culture and availability of spices and herbs. Reviewing the recipes, you will often find that the foods are basic (chicken, rice, lentils) but the spices are what give the dish the “Indian” flair.

I wish I could share all the knowledge Pat imparted during our meal, but I’ll let the food speak for itself. I can’t even put into words how wonderful all of these dishes were or how blessed I am to call Pat and Howard friends.

Teri Bell is co-owner of Miss Sophie’s Marketplace at the Mighty Eighth in Pooler. Go to sophiesmarketplace.com.

 

Chicken Tikka Masala

This recipe calls for Garam Masala, which can be found with the other spices. It isn’t a single spice, but a mixture of spices (masala). It can be used alone or individually. Ghee can be found in the ethnic section of most high-end grocery stores. Makes 6-8 servings.

 

Ingredients:

• 2 pounds skinless, boneless chicken breasts (about 3 breasts)

• 6 garlic cloves, finely grated

• 4 teaspoons ginger, peeled and finely grated

• 4 teaspoons ground turmeric

• 2 teaspoons Garam Masala

• 2 teaspoons ground coriander

• 2 teaspoons ground cumin

• 1 ½ cups whole-milk yogurt (not Greek)

• 1 tablespoon salt

• 3 tablespoons ghee (clarified butter) or vegetable oil

• 1 small yellow onion, thinly sliced

• ¼ cup tomato paste

• 6 cardamom pods, crushed

• ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

• 1 28-ounce can whole peeled tomatoes

• 2 cups heavy cream

• ¾ cup fresh cilantro, chopped

• Steamed basmati rice, for serving

 

Directions:

1. Combine garlic, ginger, turmeric, Garam Masala, coriander and cumin in a small bowl.

2. Cut chicken breasts into 2-inch chunks.

3. Whisk yogurt, salt and half of spice mixture in a medium bowl, add chicken chunks and turn to coat. Cover and refrigerate 4-6 hours. Cover and chill remaining spice mixture.

4. Heat ghee (clarified butter) in a large heavy pot over medium heat. Add onion, tomato paste, cardamom and pepper flakes and cook, stirring often until tomato paste has darkened and onion is soft (about 5 minutes). Add remaining spice mixture and cook, stirring often until bottom of pot begins to brown, about 4 minutes.

5. Add tomatoes with juices, crushing them with your hands as you add them. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, stirring often and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot, until sauce thickens, about 8-10 minutes.

6. Add cream and chopped cilantro. Simmer, stirring occasionally until sauce thickens, about 30-40 minutes.

7. Thread chicken chunks on metal skewers and place on hot grill. Cook for about 5 minutes, turn skewers and cook another 5 minutes. Chicken will not be cooked through.

8. Remove chicken from skewers and add to sauce. Simmer, stirring occasionally, until chicken is cooked through, about 8-10 minutes.

9. Serve with rice and garnish with cilantro sprigs. Note: Chicken can be made 2 days ahead, covered and chilled. Reheat before serving.

 

Vegetable Biryani

Biryani is sometimes called Elaborate Pilaf, Fragrant Pilaf, Spicy or Beautiful Rice.

 

Ingredients:

• 4 tablespoons butter

• 1 large yellow onion, diced small

• 2 Anaheim or poblano peppers, julienned

• 2 inches fresh ginger, grated

• 6 small cloves garlic, minced

Spices:

Measure the following spices into a small dish:

• 1 tablespoon chili powder

• 2 teaspoons ground cumin

• 2 teaspoons ground coriander

• 2 teaspoons ground turmeric

• 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper

• 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon

• 1 teaspoon ground nutmeg

• 1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Vegetable Sauce:

• 4 plum tomatoes, cored and diced small

• 2 tablespoons tomato puree

• ½ red onion, thinly sliced

• ¼ head of cauliflower, cut in bite-size pieces

• 3 large carrots, peeled, diced small or julienned

• 1 cup frozen peas, thawed

Rice:

• 1 cup Basmati rice

• 1 ¾ to 2 cups vegetable stock (homemade or purchased)

• ½ teaspoon salt

• ¼ teaspoon saffron (optional; crush into powder with back of spoon)

 

Directions:

For rice: Bring stock to boil, stir in rice, salt and saffron (if using). Cover and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes.

For Biryani: Preheat oven to 350 degrees.

1. Mix grated ginger and minced garlic to make 4 teaspoons ginger/garlic paste.

2. Melt butter in large sauté pan over medium heat and add yellow onion, peppers and garlic/ginger paste. Cook until tender and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Stir in measured spices and cook about 4 minutes. Add diced tomatoes and cook for 1-2 minutes longer. Stir in tomato puree and set sauce aside.

3. In a small deep sauce pot, heat 1 cup vegetable oil and fry sliced red onions until crisp and lightly browned, about 15 minutes. Drain onions and set aside. Use oil to lightly fry cauliflower and carrots. Add cauliflower, carrots and defrosted peas to tomato sauce.

4. Butter oven-safe deep 1 ½-2 quart baking dish and spoon a layer of rice, sauce and fried onions. Repeat layers, ending with fried onions. If mixture appears dry, add about ¼ cup vegetable stock. Cover baking dish with aluminum foil and bake about 20 minutes until heated through.

 

Cucumber Raita

This refreshing yogurt salad is served to cool the heat of peppers and some spices in Indian dishes. Recipe from Angie Stewart.

 

Ingredients:

• 1 cup plain yogurt

• ½ cup English cucumbers (about 1 cucumber), peeled, seeded and chopped

• 2 tablespoons fresh cilantro or mint, chopped

• 2 teaspoons green onions, chopped

• ¼ teaspoon ground coriander (see note)

• ¼ teaspoon ground cumin (see note)

 

Directions:

1. To remove excess water from cucumbers, place chopped cucumbers in a colander and sprinkle with generous amount of salt, toss and let sit in the colander for 15 minutes. Rinse briefly and squeeze dry in a kitchen towel.

2. Transfer cucumber to small bowl and mix with other ingredients. Refrigerate until serving. Garnish with cilantro or mint leaves, optional.

Note: Many Indian recipes suggest warming spices before adding to increase the aromatics. Coriander and cumin can be warmed in a non-stick pan over low heat for a few minutes.

 

Dal

Dal is a wonderful accompaniment to main dishes, vegetables and rice. Think of dal as similar to how southerners use gravy. Dal is eaten on rice, with flatbreads or with dry curries and vegetables. It is meant to be part of the meal and is actually the sentimental heart of the meal.

 

Ingredients:

• 1 cup yellow split lentils

• 4 cups water

• ½ teaspoon ground turmeric

• 1 teaspoon Kosher salt

Tarka

• 3 tablespoons butter (ghee)

• 1 ¼ teaspoon ground cumin

• ½ teaspoon fennel seeds

• 1 small onion, minced

• 3 garlic cloves, minced

• 1 teaspoon grated ginger

• 2 small tomatoes, diced

• 1 or 2 fresh red or green chile peppers, split lengthwise

• ½ cup cilantro leaves

 

Directions:

1. Bring water to boil and add lentils and salt. Simmer gently with lid tilted, stirring occasionally until desired tenderness, about 30-40 minutes. Remove from heat and use a wire whisk to lightly puree lentils. (Lentils may be refrigerated at this point for later use or set aside to prepare the Tarka.)

2. Melt 3 tablespoons butter (ghee) over low heat and add cumin seeds and fennel seeds. Fry for 1 minute.

3. Add minced onion and garlic and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often. Add grated ginger and cook 1 minute. Stir in diced tomatoes, peppers and ¼ cup cilantro leaves and cook until tomato starts to break up, 5-7 minutes.

4. Combine Tarka mixture with cooked lentils and simmer about 5 minutes to make Dal. Taste for seasoning.

5. Garnish with chopped cilantro and serve with grilled Naan bread (available in stores) spread with garlic butter.

 

Angie's Indian Style Banana Split

Angie Stewart, a friend of Pat and Howard, joined us for dinner. Angie and her husband love preparing and eating Indian food. She prepared a couple of dishes that night and graciously shared her recipes with us.

 

Ingredients:

• 1 tablespoon shelled raw pistachios

• 1 tablespoon blanched almond slivers

• 4-6 cardamom pods

• ¾ cup fresh strawberries, finely diced

• 3 ripe bananas, peeled and diced or sliced

• 3 tablespoons lemon or lime juice

• ¾ cup crushed pineapple

• ¼ gallon strawberry ice cream

• ¼ gallon vanilla ice cream

• Additional pistachios and almonds, coarsely chopped, for garnish

• Fresh mint, for garnish

• Chocolate Sauce (see recipe below)

 

Directions:

1. Put pistachios, almonds and cardamom pods in a small nonstick skillet and toast lightly, shaking the pan, over moderate heat until golden and fragrant, 1 ½ to 2 minutes. Cool slightly and grind in a small spice or coffee grinder into a fine powder. Set aside for garnish.

2. Chop strawberries and set aside for 15-20 minutes or refrigerate for 6-8 hours. In a separate bowl, combine sliced bananas and lemon juice and set aside at room temperature for up to 3 hours. (This is not necessary if you cut the bananas just prior to serving.)

3. Drain out most of the juice and place the pineapple in a third bowl.

4. Just prior to serving, place rounded scoops of strawberry and vanilla ice cream on a large platter. Top with the prepared fruits, then drizzle the chocolate sauce over them. Garnish with ground nut/spice powder and additional chopped nuts and mint sprigs, if desired.

 

Chocolate Sauce

Recipe from my late friend Jane Philbrick. Yield: 1 cup sauce.

 

Ingredients:

• ¼ cup butter

• 2 squares baking chocolate or 3 tablespoons semi-sweet chocolate morsels

• 2 tablespoons cocoa

• ¾ cup granulated sugar

• 1/3 cup light cream (evaporated milk)

• ½ teaspoon vanilla

 

Directions:

1. Melt butter and baking chocolate on low heat. Add the cocoa and sugar and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in the cream and vanilla and simmer until blended.

2. Serve over ice cream, brownies or banana splits.