Throw a little Indian in your diet

Published 12:58 am Saturday, November 28, 2015

I decided I was somewhat tired of all the Thanksgiving leftovers (although they were very good) and would try some good, simple Indian dishes.

I always go back to Indian when I want fresh but spicy meals. I got out my old Ismail Merchant cookbook, Passionate Meals, and found what I was looking for. Even though the big name in Indian cooking is Madhur Jaffrey, Ismail Merchant does a very good job of breaking down Indian cooking into easy and workable meals.

Ismail Merchant was a producer of films, and with director James Ivory produced such great films as ‘A Room with a View’,’ Howard’s End’, and ‘The Remains of the Day’. Merchant was also a creative and inventive cook. When his first collection of recipes, Ismail Merchant’s Indian Cuisine, was published in 1986, Merchant was hailed as a “kitchen virtuoso” by the Los Angeles times, which as well as the New York Times named that book one of the ten best cookbooks of the year.

This cookbook, Passionate Meals, offers more than 100 recipes that are rich with the flavors of Merchant’s native India. Merchant believed that the touchtone for all his cooking is taste; a savor that guarantees diners a sense of excitement and adventure. I go back to this cookbook over and over again. I am always amazed how he can take ordinary ingredients such as chicken, turkey, or lamb and bring it to new heights. These recipes are so good and easy. These are good for after the turkey—day one.


From Ismail Merchant’s Passionate Meals published in 1994.

Murgh Jeera

Chicken with Cumin

This recipe can also be used to make hors d’oeuvres. Use boneless chicken breast cut into bite-size pieces, or use winglets or drumsticks.

Serves 4-6

¼ cup vegetable oil

2 teaspoons cumin seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds, roasted and crushed

1 chicken (about 3 pounds), skinned and cut into serving pieces

2 ½ teaspoons salt

½ teaspoon ground red pepper

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

Juice of 2 lemons

¼ teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons garam masala

Heat the oil in a heavy pot and add both kinds of cumin seeds. Let them sizzle for a few minutes, then add the chicken, salt, red pepper, black pepper, lemon juice, turmeric, and garam masala. Stir to coat the chicken with the spices. Cover and cook over medium heat for 25-30 minutes, or until the chicken is cooked through. This can also be cooked in a covered baking dish in the over at 350°F for about 45 minutes.

If using bite-size pieces the cooking time is only 5-10 minutes.


I love fried cheese and it is on many restaurant menus these days. This recipe uses paneer (which can be found in most markets) and spinach and a few spices to make a special dish. It is one of my favorite recipes.

Palak Paneer

Spinach with Cheese

Serves 6-8

1 ½ pounds of fresh spinach

Paneer (1 package of cheese about 16 ounces)

Vegetable oil for frying

6 tablespoons butter

1 small onion, peeled and finely chopped

½ teaspoon cumin seeds

2 garlic cloves, peeled and crushed

1-inch piece fresh ginger root, peeled and grated

¼ teaspoon ground red pepper

½ teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt (or to taste)

Pinch of turmeric

Wash the spinach well. Cook it in a saucepan with 1/3 cup of water for 2 or 3 minutes. When tender, drain and chop. (I use frozen and it is fine). Just thaw, drain, and chop.

Cut the paneer into 1-inch cubes. Heat 2 inches of oil to 375°F in a deep heavy pan. Fry the cubes of paneer in batches, turning over once or twice, until they ae light brown. Remove the paneer with a slotted spoon. Drain on paper towels.

In a large skillet, melt the butter with 1 tablespoon of oil over medium heat and cook the onion until just beginning to turn brown. Add the cumin seeds and garlic and cook for 2 minutes. Add the ginger, spinach, red and black pepper, salt, and turmeric, and stir well. Add the paneer and simmer, covered for 10 minutes. Serve hot.