Simply put, Indian cuisine presents some of the most satisfying meatless dishes of any in the world, which is why in my relatively short time as a vegetarian I’ve become something of a regular at Rasika West End. But I want to be just as comfortable making Indian dishes at home as I am ordering them out, so I’ve been studying up. As intimidating as Indian cooking can seem, given its beautiful layering of spices and sometimes hard-to-find ingredients, diving in doesn’t need to be difficult.
I started the way I usually do, with a seasonal vegetable — in this case, spring peas — and the desire to do something different with them. One of my favorite Indian dishes is the classic matar paneer, made with that creamy-chewy cheese (paneer) and green peas (matar) plus a pungent sauce of tomatoes, ginger and a raft of spices. But I don’t want to suggest making your own paneer, even though it’s as easy as ricotta, because on a weeknight, who’s going to do that? For that matter, who has time to track down paneer? Thankfully, it’s much more available than it used to be, and my neighborhood Whole Foods Market stocks tidy little packages of it in the dairy section. (In a pinch — or for vegans — extra-firm tofu subs nicely.)
What about those spices? A well-made blend can capture the essence of a culture’s cooking, so when I looked at a host of classic matar paneer recipes in developing my own, I kept the garam masala and jettisoned everything else. Garam masala, aromatic and complex (and also available in supermarkets), does the layering for you.
That left my goal of doing something different. As much as I love eating this and other Indian dishes with plain white basmati rice or nan, I wanted a more interesting starchy base — not a grain but another vegetable. Some matar paneer recipes include carrots and potatoes, but that wasn’t doing it for me. I decided on a sweet potato hash, which comes together quickly in a separate pan thanks to one of my standby kitchen tools: a box grater.
The result — Paneer and Pea Curry With Sweet Potato Hash — is nothing like I would get at Rasika, but that’s okay. I need an excuse to go back there, anyway.