'The Indian Slow Cooker'

October 5, 2010

She says it's easy and affordable, especially if you use her secret weapon: a crock pot. After having two children, Anupy became interested in reconnecting her family--especially her two young daughters--with their Indian roots. She was determined to learn how to make every Indian recipe she ate while growing up. But it wasn't easy for the busy mom to find the time necessary to prepare traditional Indian dishes. So she started experimenting with her crock pot and some recipes from her mother and grandmother. The result was her first cookbook The Indian Slow Cooker: 50 Healthy, Easy, Authentic Recipes.

Anupy's book show how to prepare healthy, crock pot versions of the best of Indian cuisine for families on the go. Trying one of the recipes might be a good way to introduce your children to ethnic food, she adds. You can make a party of it, celebrating Indian New Year, Diwali, on November 4, she suggests.

For those who love Indian food--or who are interested in starting to explore it-- Anupy show how to prepare the classic dishes in healthful versions that use far less oil and saturated fat than traditional recipes. The Indian Slow Cooker shows the busy family cook that preparing healthy meals can be simple, and that cooking Indian is just a matter of understanding a few key spices. Anupy introduces the mainstay spices of an Indian kitchen, and how to store, prepare, and combine them in different preparations. Among the 50 recipes in her cookbook are the classics of Indian cooking: mostly vegetarian specialties like dal (of every variety), palak paneer, and gobi aloo. There are also meat dishes like butter chicken, keema, and lamb biryani.

You can visit www.IndianAsApplepie.com to read her blog about Indian cooking. You can also try one of her recipes she's shared with us: Chicken Curry, Rajmah, Aloo Gobi, and a simple Raita.

Q&A with Anupy Singla, Author of The Indian Slow Cooker

What inspired you to write a cookbook?
I've dreamed of writing a cookbook ever since I was little, toiling away in my mother's kitchen under the watchful eye of my grandfather when he visited from India. It just never seemed it could be a reality--especially with two little girls, a husband, and a job that required me to be at work by 3 a.m. I decided to take a break from daily reporting to cook more for my family, and that's when I was finally able to start the book.

How did your family influence your cooking?
My paternal grandfather was the first to teach me how to cook Indian food the way it's cooked and eaten in his village in Punjab: hot, spicy, and flavorful. The first recipe I ever learned was curried eggplant with potatoes. My grandfather taught me to use the green, woody stems of the eggplant as well--insisting they protected the juiciest morsels, which could eventually be sucked out as you ate the dish.

How were you introduced to the slow cooker?
Back in the 1970s, when my mother was an immigrant to this country struggling to balance cooking with her job and raising a young family, she first came across the slow cooker as a way to prepare stews and soups. Eventually, she started to make basic dals and then rajmah (kidney beans) in the slow cooker. She would experiment and then write these recipes down on little 3 x 5 note cards, which my brother and I eventually used as we went off to school and then our careers. In all honestly, I probably lost more of these cards than I held onto--but my persistent, patient mother kept writing those recipes down.

Eventually, I created many of my own, too, and thus created this book. I think of it as a tribute to my mother and to other Indian mothers like her, who clung to tradition over so many years so their children could enjoy the legacy of traditional cooking without sacrificing their identities as successful, professional women.

How do you make healthy meals without sacrificing flavor?
The beauty of slow cooking is that spices have the time to break down and infuse your dish with tons of flavor, essentially eliminating the need for too much oil or even cream. It's truly amazing that with a cuisine like Indian--where so much emphasis is placed on heating up oil, onions, garlic, ginger, and other spices just so--you can eliminate this step entirely and produce a dish that is as complex and layered with flavor as you would have made by traditional means. And this ability to virtually forego the cream and fat (without sacrificing flavor) means more people can benefit from these recipes.

What is your most requested recipe at home?
Hands down, it's rajmah, the Punjabi equivalent of red beans with rice. The nice thing is that my kids love it as much as my husband and I do.

Traditional Chicken Curry
Slow cooker size: 5-quart, Cooking time: 8 hours on low, Yield: 6-8 servings

When most people think of Indian food, the first dish that comes to mind is a good chicken curry. Because I never ate this dish growing up, I relied on my husband's childhood version for this recipe. He says the best chicken curry is made with a rich sauce and no vegetables. Though many recipes call for chopped cauliflower or carrots, I've tried to remain true to his tastes for this recipe.

  • 3 pounds (1.36 kg) skinless chicken cut up into 8 pieces including breast, wings and legs (boneless can also be used)
  • 1 large or 2 medium yellow or red onions, peeled and chopped into 8 pieces
  • 2 medium tomatoes, quartered
  • 1 (4-inch [10 cm]) piece ginger, peeled and chopped into 1-inch (2.5 cm) pieces
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) salt
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) garam masala
  • 1/4 cup (59 mL) vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 cup (237 mL) plain yogurt
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) red chili powder
  • 1 cup (237 mL) dried methi leaves
  • 1 (2-4 inch [5–10 cm]) cinnamon stick
  • 4 green cardamom pods
  • 4 cloves
  • 4-6 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chilies, stems removed, halved lengthwise
  • 1/2 cup (118 mL) boiling water (optional)
  • 1/2 cup (100g) fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Put the chicken in the slow cooker. (If the meat was frozen, make sure it is thoroughly defrosted. Never use frozen foods in a slow cooker, because it takes too long to raise the heat to an appropriate level for safe, bacteria-free cooking.)

2. In a food processor, grind the onion, tomato, ginger, and garlic until smooth. This may take a few minutes, so be patient. You want the paste to be as smooth as possible.

3. Transfer the paste to a bowl. Whisk in the salt, turmeric, garam masala, oil, yogurt, red chili powder, and methi. Pour this mixture over the chicken.

4. Add the cinnamon stick, cardamom pods, cloves, and green chilies. Mix gently.

5. Cook on low for 8 hours. If you want more broth with your chicken add the water toward the end of the cooking time. Remove the whole spices.

6. Garnish with cilantro and serve over bed of basmati or brown rice or with roti or naan.

Try This! For you vegetarians out there, substitute seitan for the chicken and follow the same steps. Although seitan does not need to cook as long as the chicken would, stick to the cooking time given. The masala still needs to cook thoroughly. If you are concerned that the seitan may get tough, add it in after four hours of cooking.

To make this dish in a 31/2-quart slow cooker, halve all the ingredients and proceed with the recipe. A half recipe makes 3-5 servings.

Punjabi Curried Kidney Beans (Rajmah)
Slow cooker size: 5-quart, cooking time : 11 hours on high, Yield: 10 cups (2.37 L)

Rajmah, a North Indian version of chili or red beans and rice, is the quintessential comfort food for Punjabis. Ask anyone from that region, and she'll tell you she grew up eating these hearty beans over rice in her home as a quick Sunday lunch or in her college hostel. It's not a dish that's usually considered refined enough to be served in a restaurant, but it is a classic. It's even better when served over a bed of rice with some savory, tangy yogurt on the side.

I remember one buddy in graduate school at the University of Hawaii who had just arrived from India and was so desperate to eat rajmah that he substituted ketchup for tomatoes. I wouldn't recommend such shortcuts, nor would I recommend using canned beans or cream, as some recipes suggest. Keep it simple, and I guarantee you'll make this dish over and over again.

  • 3 cups (603 g) dried red kidney beans, cleaned and washed thoroughly
  • 1 medium yellow or red onion, peeled and roughly chopped
  • 2 medium tomatoes, diced
  • 1 (2-inch [5 cm]) piece ginger, peeled and chopped or grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped or grated
  • 4 -6 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chilies, stems removed, chopped
  • 3 whole cloves
  • 1 (2-4 inch [5-10 cm]) cinnamon stick
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) whole cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) red chili powder
  • 2 tablespoons (30 mL) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) turmeric powder
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) garam masala
  • 9 cups (2.13 L) water
  • 1/2 cup (100g) chopped fresh cilantro

1. Put the kidney beans, onion, tomatoes, ginger, garlic, green chilies, cloves, cinnamon stick, cumin seed, red chili powder, salt, turmeric, garam masala, and water in the slow cooker.

2. Cook on high for 11 hours, until the beans break down and become somewhat creamy.

3. Remove and discard the cloves (if you can find them!) and cinnamon stick. If the rajmah is not creamy enough, take an immersion blender and press it two or three times to break up some of the beans. If using a blender, take out about 1 cup (237 mL) and process in the blender, then return it to the slow cooker. Be careful not to process all of the beans; most of them should remain whole.

4. Stir in the cilantro. Serve over a bed of basmati or brown rice with a side of raita and an Indian salad.

Try This! After cooking, turn off the slow cooker and add 1 cup (237 mL) plain yogurt. Stir well and let the slow cooker sit with the lid on for about 10 minutes. This adds a unique tang.

To make this dish in a 31/2 quart slow cooker, halve all the ingredients and proceed with the recipe. A half recipe makes 5 cups (1.18 L

Spiced Cauliflower and Potatoes (Aloo Gobi)
Slow cooker size: 4- or 5-quart, Cooking time: 3 hours on low, Yield: 7 cups (1.66 L)

Until I made this myself in the slow cooker, I refused to believe my mother-in-law when she said it was possible. I also wondered why I wouldn't just make this dish on the stovetop, where it could sit for less time. After trying it once, I realized the answer: because I can now stick it in my slow cooker and go about my day. I don't think twice about the kids near the stove or anything burning.

My father--the real foodie of the family--also wouldn't believe this dish could be made well in the slow cooker, so he just had to try it himself. He had me on the phone in excitement for half an hour after trying it for the first time. He insists on the tomato. I like it better without. You be the judge.

  • 1 large head cauliflower, washed and cut into 1-inch pieces (about 8 cups/1.89 L)
  • 1 large potato (russet or yellow), peeled and diced (about 2 cups/473 mL)
  • 1 medium yellow or red onion, peeled and coarsely chopped
  • 1 medium tomato, diced (optional)
  • 1 (2-inch [5 cm]) piece ginger, grated
  • 3 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped, minced or grated
  • 3-4 green Thai, serrano, or cayenne chilies, stems removed, chopped or sliced lengthwise
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) cumin seed
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) red chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon (15 mL) salt
  • 1 teaspoon (5 mL) turmeric powder
  • 3 tablespoons (50 mL) vegetable or canola oil
  • 1 heaping tablespoon (20 mL) fresh cilantro, chopped

1. Put all the ingredients except the cilantro in the slow cooker. Mix well.

2. Cook on low for 3 hours. Mix once or twice during cooking, especially in the beginning. Eventually the cauliflower will release enough liquid to prevent anything from sticking to the sides of the slow cooker.

3. Add cilantro. Mix well but gently so as not to break up the cauliflower. Serve with roti or naan and a side of onion and cucumber salad.

To make this dish in a 31/2-quart slow cooker, halve all the ingredients and proceed with the recipe. A half recipe makes 4 cups (946 mL).

Raita (Savory Yogurt)

6 - 8 servings

  • 1 container plain, unsweetened yogurt, 32 oz. (fat/non-fat/low-fat)
  • 1 tablespoon ground, roasted cumin
  • 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 teaspoons black salt
  • 1 teaspoon red chili powder (optional)

Mix all together and serve alongside rice and main dish.

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