Local cookbook author and culinary expert Suneeta Vaswani gave a verbal tour of Indian gastronomy last week at the Museum of Fine Arts, Houston, a talk that included a few ideas to try at home.
Vaswani, a Mumbai native, past president of the Houston Culinary Guild and the author of the Complete Book of Indian Cooking (2007) and Easy Indian Cooking (2004) covered a lot of interesting ground.
She said many Indian spices are natural healers. Turmeric combined with flour, salt and water is slapped on wounds in rural India, acting as an anti-inflammatory and antiseptic bandage.
Foul-smelling asafetida (more familiar to Western diners as Beano) is paired with many lentil dishes to make them easier to digest. The odor is neutralized during cooking, Vaswani said; a half-teaspoon for a pot of bean soup is plenty.
It was refreshing to be reminded that Spain was looking for a piece of the black pepper market when it sent Christopher Columbus looking for India in 1492. He miscalculated a bit. Vasco da Gama, sailing for Portugal six years later, didn't, landing at Goa on India's west coast. Logically enough, chorizo remains a staple in Goa.
A few takeaways for use in your own kitchen:
Tips from Suneeta Vaswani:
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As for local Indian food suggestions, Vaswani mentioned Indika and Madras Pavilion.
"We are quite fortunate," she said. "Go on an exploration, and I think your palate will be very happy."
Vaswani teaches a monthly cooking class at Central Market; her next offering will be March 9 from 6:30 to 9 p.m. and costs $65.