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Simmering Shortcuts to Suppertime

By Stephanie Witt Sedgwick
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, August 2, 2006

We're all looking for the same thing: fast, flavorful foods with no fuss. Guess what? One solution is right in front of us. Every time you grabbed a jar of salsa or picked up some sesame oil, there it's been, hidden in plain sight in the same aisle. Go one section further, to the shelves of Indian foods, and there they are: simmer sauces. They will change the way you think about Indian cooking.

Masala, rogan josh, curry, korma and vindaloo are some of the sauces available in jars, bottles and cans. All you have to do is heat them and add your choice of protein and vegetables. Their ingredient lists sound like a recipe you might make -- if you had a day to devote to the grinding and cooking of spices and aromatics.

Or you could just pick up one of those jars. Which is exactly what Vijai and Jyoti Gupta had in mind 27 years ago when they decided people needed a quick route to Indian cooking. "We wanted to bring convenience without Americanizing or Anglici zing Indian flavors," says Vijai Gupta. Gupt a and his wife, Jyoti, developed three sauces using natural ingredients under the Jyoti Indian Cuisine name.

The Guptas have company -- Patak's, Tiger Tiger and Ethnic Gourmet are a few of them, as well as Trader Joe's. All offer many choices, and more are coming. Patak's, which currently sells five cooking sauces in the United States, plans to bring three additional sauces to the American supermarket. Mango chicken, butter chicken and a mild curry sauce, designed just for the American palate, will soon be available. As Dana Nelson, product manager for Patak's, explains, "We've developed the mild curry sauce as an entry product, a way to introduce our products to the market."

Indian flavors may need an introduction. Though many American cooks now feel comfortable using sauces and ingredients of China, Thailand and Vietnam and employing the chili peppers and salsas of Latin American dishes, few feel at ease preparing Indian food. The complicated spice combinations can be daunting, and many Indian dishes require hours of preparation. These sauces provide a shortcut to Indian flavors. Among the sauces used here, the tomato-based sauces are seasoned with spices, aromatic vegetables and lemon; some contain cream. They range from mild curry to fiery vindaloo.

The sauces also fill another need. Faced with the greatest array of food choices ever seen, we're still not sure what to make for dinner. Simmer sauces, with their promise of ease, can be an accommodating muse. As Dorothy Atherton, a 41-year-old technology consultant and mother who lives in Vienna, says, "I never know what to make for dinner, but when I look at the jars, soon I'm seeing a quick vegetable stew or a fish dish. They inspire me."

Stephanie Witt Sedgwick, a former Food section recipe editor, is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America.

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