Parivar Chat

P1040374

Ah, Parivar. One of my favorite casual spots for a quick dinner. No need for reservations, and you can pick up ingredients from the grocery store part of the store on your way out. Pista Falooda ($4.49) is a great way to have dessert with dinner.
P1040375

Samosa chat ($4.99) on the left, Idili Sambar ($3.99) and Dahi Vada (4.99) on the right. The Samosa were fine samosas, which came with a big bowl of chickpea masala.

The Idili are delicately steamed rice cakes, and the dahi vada are fried lentil-based doughnuts. Yet despite being fried, they taste deceptively light. Coconut chutney rounds them both out.

P1040376

Some DIY Pani Puri ($4.99) on the left, and a bowl of tokri chat ($5.99) on the right.
P1040377

Paneer Dosa ($8.99!) I love the gigantic dosas here. But make sure you bring a bunch of friends to share like I do! I loved the texture and flavor of the paneer in the dosa. So good.
P1040379

Full meal ($7.99) two of the prepared dishes from the bar in front (okra and.. some other veggie dish I forget now) with a hefty side of basmati rice, dal, two parathas, one dessert, and spicy pickle and yogurt sauce on the side. The only clunker here was the dessert. A little overly soft, and the flavor is a little oily. Desserts seem to be Parivar’s weakness. Their savory dishes are a treat, but I’ve never really enjoyed their desserts.
P1040380

One of the Indian Chinese dishes. These tend to be really salty, and that’s coming from a salt lover. It is fun to have a little bit of, but so overwhelmingly salty that I would probably not order this as a single item to eat solo.
P1040382

Bread pakodas ($1.50 each) stuffed slices of bread and deep fried.
P1040383
Gobi Indian Chinese on the left, another delicious dosa!

Parivar Chaat

P1020824

Want to know a great place to go out for a meal with a group without breaking your budget? Parivar! Parivar the grocery store on Central Ave also has a kitchen/cafe in the back where you can order a bunch of Indian dishes made to order.

I went with a bunch of folks, and not only was it a breeze to order, but they even will break up the bill however you want and accept credit cards. It’s counter service, so no need to worry about tipping, and you pay at the register for the grocery store.

I got a pista falooda ($4.99) to enjoy with my dinner – it’s like dessert in a cup, or an Indian version of a milkshake. So good. It’s a rich milky drink with sweet noodles and nuts. So thick, and a great complement to the food.

Pictured above is Pani Puri ($3.99) which are super awesome and fun to eat if you’ve never had them – They’re crisp round shells that are stuffed with awesomeness and slathered in a mint sauce with tamarind sauce on the bottom of the plate. They are one-bite affairs and best eaten quickly.

P1020826

Next up was a fried bread dish. Fried bread stuffed with things, then fried, and mint and tamarind sauces for dipping!

P1020825

Closer shot

P1020827

DOSA TIME! $7 for a massive masala dosa, and the entire crepe was wonderfully crisp and tender. It’s filled with potatoes and served with masala sambar (the big cup on the right – seriously, so much sambar), and mint and ginger chutneys on the left. The ginger chutney was no shrinking daisy – that was SUPER hot. Woah.

P1020830

Onion Uttapam ($5.99, which reminded me of scallion pancakes, but way more tender because they are made of rice flour batter.

P1020831

And then we got a paneer paratha. Oh, so good (but really, what doesn’t paneer go with?).

P1020832

And then we tried Indian Chinese! Gobi Manchurian. It was like an Indian take on General Tso’s, haha! This was SUPER salty, which is saying a lot since I love salt. But I liked the crisp texture of the cauliflower, and how it wasn’t too cloying. This was a fun dish to try that I’ve only heard about and not seen in any restaurants locally. At dinner, one of our friends said that this is the only place to come for Indian home-style cooking, and most of the sit-down restaurants in the area are a more formal/heavy/banquet type restaurant.

P1020833
We ended dinner on a bit of a dud with gulab jamun. They tasted more like fried dough balls in syrup than milky gulab jamun. Could just be their recipe, but I’ll skip this in the future in favor of more savory dishes.

Our group wound up paying about $14 per person for all of this food. It was awesome to try so many dishes, and all of them were vegetarian. Man, this is vegetarian food done right – so much flavor and seasoning and awesome cooking that it enhances the veggies (and if you’re a carinvore like me, you don’t miss the meat one bit). Great for kids, great for groups, great flavors, great for the celiac/gf friends in your life – grab some friends and get over to Parivar!

Diwali – Butter Chicken

So Diwali was the beginning of November (5th). I went to my annual Diwali potluck. Yum, so much goodness. Much of the food was happily decimated in short order, but here was my favorite table. The desserts. Homemade gulab jamun (so tiny and tender!), cheesecake, carrot halva, some bars, and some kind of pistachio pudding thing. So good. I ate SO many gulab jamuns.


I made butter chicken, which was met with some amusement by my Indian buds since I’m not at all Indian. It was like when a little kid says “I’m making dinner!” and proceeds to go to their play kitchen and make ‘dinner’. I forgot to get hot peppers to garnish/spice the hell out of, which is evidently the authentic way, but otherwise this was met with some good reviews. From Indian people! Sweet, I earned some Indian food street cred. I think. Maybe. The Indian folks I know are harsher critics than my Chinese family when it comes to food. No words are minced. If it’s not great, they’ll tell you exactly how it could be better. The only thing they said was that it could be spicier, but I was expecting that since I’m a genious and forgot the peppers.

My first secret weapon was using a book from Nita Mehta, this really awesome Indian chef. It was a Punjabi non-Vegetarian cookbook. Butter chicken. Oh yeah. Marinate and cook skinless chicken like tandoori chicken, and put it in a tomato gravy.

The tomato gravy was like an Italian ragu, except it is way more full of fat. Hey, it’s called butter chicken for a reason. But I couldn’t help but think of a similarity between the two – spending a few hours over the stove stirring marinara = hours over the butter chicken gravy as it reduced and burned my hands with random sputters from the pot.

It is really that yellow/orange/red. The secret is LOTS of red Kashmiri chili. Lots.

So once the gravy was made, I chopped up bits of chicken into bite-sized pieces and put them all in a crockpot until the next day. Super easy.

It turned out that most of the other dishes at the Diwali potluck were vegetarian. Whoops. More vegetarians this year. But a bunch of non-veg people piled large scoops of this Butter Chicken over some rice, too. I stuffed myself on everyone elses dishes. Palak paneer, the best biryani rice I’ve ever had (with a good amount of heat), bread pakoras, samosas… Oh, it’s a shame Diwali only comes once a year.

The recipe was something like this:

Make tandoori chicken.

Butter Chicken Gravy
Canned tomatoes, pureed
Butter/ghee
Bay leaf
Garlic and ginger paste
Kashmiri chili powder
Cashews, soaked in hot water for 10 minutes, then ground into a paste

Garam Masala
Cream

So melt a bunch of butter (at least a few tablespoons) or ghee in a pan on low/medium. Toss in your bay leaves and sautee them until they soften up a bit. Add garlic and ginger paste, cook until fragrant.

Add in tomato puree and let it come to a simmer. This is a good time to soak your cashews. You only need to soak them for about 10 minutes before they become soft enough to make a paste out of, but more time won’t hurt either. Once the tomato puree comes to a simmer, add in as much kasmiri chili powder as you want (in terms of tablespoons, that is), depending on how spicy you like it.

Let it reduce a little bit, and add the pureed cashews, and then let it reduce even more. You want this to reach a thick, gravy-like consistency. This part is not quick. If you want to cheat a little, you can add a little can of tomato paste to speed things up.

Once it’s super-thick, combine it with your chicken (either whole or chopped into bite-sized pieces). If you remembered to buy hot peppers, add them here. Add the garam masala about 10 minutes before you’re ready to serve it. Garnish it with a generous drizzling of heavy/whipping cream on top.

Parivar Chat

I think I can breathe now. Daniel B. and I went to Parivar (1275 Central Ave, Albany, NY) to peruse the new Indian grocery store, and also to get a peep of the hot bar area in the back, known as Parivar Chat.

Their menu is comprised of some different kinds of chat, as well as South Indian dishes, and a bunch of desserts.

One of the guys there is from Cali, and had a business there before moving to the East Coast. Daniel B, Mr. California, was quite pleased with the selection.

We started off with some pre-made drinks from the fridge. A Pista Falooda (pistachio drink) for me, and mango lassi for Dan and the kiddo. Both were $3.99. Kind of on the expensive side, but man were they good. The lassi was so fresh and really tasted like fresh mango, not like mango pulp and sugar. The pista? Dude, it was like a shake. There was green vermicelli noodle bits in there, and tons of crushed pistachios. Really thick, and REALLY good. $3.99 is totally fair for that drink.

Papdi chat for $4.99. Chickpeas, diced red onions, crunchy strips that are kind of like toasted pita chips, and other crunchy fluffy bits on top. All slathered with some hot and sweet and salty yogurty sauce. Yum! There was a bit of kick to this, but it was really on the mild side, and addictive to eat. And pretty filling for two people.


Masala Dosa ($5.99). Hello gigantic pancake thing filled with potatoes! It was a little on the thick and tough side, but so enjoyable to eat. There was the hot red sauce, and the less hot but still pretty hot nutty coconut sauce to dip in to, plus lentil soup.

SAMOSA!! $1.50, and came with the tamarind and green sauces.
Not too oily, plenty crisp, and a good dose of heat and spice in the filling! I was reaching for the water at this point.

Chole Bhature ($5.99) came out to round out lunch. It was all vegetarian, but so filling. Also, it looks like they don’t open officially until 3 pm per their signage, but they were very accomodating to our orders and others who came by to pick up sweets and stuff for home.

Chole is poofy fried dough with bean things on the side! And a really hot red paste for slathering (note: slather lightly – this is oil based and REALLY packs a kick). How could I not love this?!

Dan demonstrates how to attack a chole. With yo hands!! The chickpea side of beans was well flavored – just tons of… flavor! Dan and I managed to finish just about everything, but barely. Just barely. It might not look like a lot, but we probably would have been fine with one drink and two dishes. It was just… so filling. And so good. And so hard to stop eating.

Ok, I just wanted to let you guys know that. Now I’mma go off to Astoria and drink my weight in Czech beer.

Kisses!

Aashiana with Friends


Yesterday I got to meet up with a bunch of my friends for Aashiana’s lunch buffet. Their buffet is quite the deal at $6.95 per person. There’s always a good selection of vegetarian and meat items on their buffet, and plenty of fresh naan delivered to each table by perennially positively predisposed owner Saleem (seriously – he’s always so upbeat, he puts me in an even better mood! If you’re having a bad day, definitely go to Aashiana!). Yum!

What started out as a facebook “Hey, does anyone wanna do lunch?” quickly evolved into my pals Celina, El Profussor, Renee, and Panda saying they were in. How lovely! I love it when things come together like that, all spur of the moment. We totally took up several tables and it was great!

So we all agreed to meet there, and we had a great time catching up over a relaxing, delicious lunch. My favorite buffet dish at Aashiana is the chicken meatballs. These were in a korma type sauce with breast pieces as well. So moist, tender, and fluffy. I’ve never had meatballs like this before, but man, they are so flavorful and good!

I also had the tandoori chicken – they put lots of onion slices with it – so good. Tasty palak paneer. And the hummus? Delightfully lemony and smooth as can be – it’s a treat to eat with the hot and fluffy naan. Don’t even ask how much naan I had because the answer is “several basketfuls”.

Oh Aashiana, you’re my favorite lunch buffet in the area. So good. So, so good. Lots of options, and everything tastes so fresh.

BTW, was it just me, or was the cake a semolina cake?

The Profussor’s kiddos were really well behaved and cute. I’ve never seen a baby fuss over getting more beans. I mean, cake, sure, but beans? Woah! Aashiana is totally kid-friendly, if not kid-loving.

(Aashiana is located at 31 Central Ave, Albany, NY 12210)

Paneer

Hello, my sugar laden plops of joy!

Expect little communication from here on out. I’ll be traveling to NYC & Somerset, NJ for purely dorky vacation reasons until late Monday night.

Anything a must-do on a Sunday evening either in Manhattan or Woodside/Astoria, Queens?

Let me leave you with how to make paneer, an Indian fresh cheese.


Step 1: heat 4 C milk to a simmering boil. Add 2.5 T lemon juice (aka, an acid) mix once, and remove from heat.

Let cool for 15 minutes before straining out through a cotton cloth. I used a large white cotton napkin one of my darling relatives sent me. I did this by putting the straining bowl of my salad spinner in a large glass bowl, and then lining the salad-straining bowl with the cotton napkin. Pour gently over and it kind of helps the napkin not loose shape while having all that liquid on it.

Then tie it up and leave it to hang and drain for around 8 hours. I simply tied it up with some kitchen twine and looped it over my sink nozzle.

After it has drained, squeeze it some more to drain liquid out, then weight it down to drain some more until it becomes rather firm. Here, I simply placed a cooling rack atop a tupperware dish and weighted it down with a heavy glass pan and a jug of soy sauce (you would not believe how quickly we go through this stuff).


I let it sit weighted for about 2 more hours. Maybe more, I wasn’t really paying attention. But it was quite a nice firm cheese when I was done. See? That puppy looks really flat!

Wow, it looks whiter than the napkin. Initially, it didn’t have much of a flavor, but on my second nibble I could detect a hint of tanginess… oh, right! That lemon juice I put in to curdle it! Texturally, it almost resembled a ricotta. I would definitely mix some salt in at some point next time though. I think that would have upped some of the more subtle dairy flavors. (ok, I am really just hoping it will make it taste a little buttery)

Paneer was very easy to make, and I will totally make it again. I heard cubing it and pan frying helps it keep its shape more, but Albany John made this paneer & veggie korma without doing so and I think it came out just fine. No recipe for the korma. We used one of the Trader Joe’s simmering sauces. I swear to gravy, those things taste so great, no doctoring needed!
We still have a little paneer left, so maybe I can try it out with some spinach.

Ok my butter slathered tubs of popcorn, have a great week! I’ll see you by next Tuesday!

Potato Curry with Shallot Pancakes

Ugly as hell, but tasty as sin. A simple curry dish (I’ve been fascinated to know that ‘curry’ is akin to ‘stir-fry’, meaning, stuff in a pan/pot with misc seasonings) of potato, eggplant, and mustard seeds.

My gluten-free designer pal has made this dish a few times, and it’s very addictive. His version has fresh spinach (blanched just before combining with everything else at the last min). Mine? I used an eggplant we had in the fridge with fairly good results. The potatoes kept sticking (so I either needed a lower flame or maybe to par-boil them).

I only used about 2 tablespoons of mustard seeds for 8 potatoes. Not nearly enough. They aren’t too spicy, and add a great popping flavor to the dish, akin to flying fish roe on sushi.





You can use scallion pancakes (recipe nyah) ripped off to grab pinches of the potato curry. Kind of a ChIndo fusion. Yummy. Also, feel free to sub shallots or other onions for scallions in the pancakes. It’s good.

Potato Curry Recipe
Potatoes, peeled and cubed
3 T or more mustard seeds
1 eggplant
Water
1 large onion
3 cloves garlic
5-6 shallots
1” ginger, peeled

Slice eggplant into long strips. Salt and let sit for 30-60 min to drain.

Puree onion, garlic, shallots, and ginger into a paste.

Put oil in a pot over low-medium flame. Add mustard and toast.

Add onion paste and cook until paste turns green. (trust me, it’s cool looking)

Add in potato cubes and ~ 1/3 C water. Cover and let cook 5 minutes.

Dry off eggplant and slice into thin strips. Add to potato cubes.

You’ll have to periodically add more water, about ¼-1/3 cup at a time, every so often if it looks like the potatoes are sticking to the pan.

Cook them both covered for ~ 20 – 30 minutes, depending on how large your potato chunks are.

Fenugreek Curry Chicken


You know that wonderfully warm smell that curry has? It smells so rich, velvety, and sweet? That’s fenugreek. Once you smell it you’ll have to resist slathering yourself and bathing in its goodness.

I’ve been trying to make my own curry powder, since I have yet to taste one that doesn’t reek of turmeric. Bleh, too metallic and I am not a fan. I decided to give the fenugreek a sniff at the Co-Op, and woah baby! I had to get some!

So instead of a yellow curry, I made a white curry, and oh it was awesome.

I’ll have to look up the recipe later, but FWIW, yogurt works fine when you see ‘curd’ as an ingredient.

I also made the nan in the picture. OK, but not like real nan from restaurants. Kind of like soft pita.

Happy Halloween And Diwali!

Happy Halloween!

Today I am following an Almost Foodies Indian Potluck with a Diwali potluck!

And better still – when I got some last minute groceries at the ‘ford last night, my total came to $6.66. I kid you not!

I’ve been so excited about my Indian/Diwali parties that I completely forgot tonight was Halloween! One of my favorite holidays!

So, let’s dish! What are you up to? What are you going to be?

I went to the DMV last night to change my name to Mrs. Doctor The Monarch. Oops, wait, I mean Mrs. Albany John.
I forgot they take your license with you! So right now I am probably not going to do terribly much since I bet most venues valuing their liquor licenses will not let someone in with a Xerox of their old ID and their new paper copy dressed up in a Barbarella costume.

Here’s a Halloween confession of years past:
I was Sacajawea (the Indian Princess) for about 3 or 4 years in Elementary School because my mother made my siblings and me costumes to be … The Three Little Indians. And since she put so much effort into the one costume, she made it big so that I could wear mine until I grew out of it. Three years in Elementary school is a long-ass time for a kid to wear the same costume.

Oh, okay. I’ll give you another one, but you’ve got to give me at least one cool story now:
Bobbing for apples is one of the quintessential Halloween activities, right? Well, Sacajawea also wasn’t allowed to do that because Poppa was all “Oh, girl, NO” about germ contamination. He was also strongly against those neon-colored ‘juices’ in the little plastic barrels with foil tops, and in the wax candies too. I’m not sure if you know this, but as a kid, neon anything is auto-crack.

Aashiana Restaurant

Aashiana is located on 31 Central Ave. You know the area. It’s bookended by Ghandi and Shalimar. The last business that held up for a few months that I remember was Frenchie and Aroo’s, which died pretty quickly.

Aashiana took its place. I think it used to be located in Schenectady.

They have a lunch buffet until 3 pm every day they are open (closed Sundays). It’s $6.95 on the week days, but when we went on Saturday, we were charged $7.50. I think that’s the norm – most places charge more on Saturdays for the lunch buffet, if they even have it.

Their lunch buffet features 4-5 vegetarian dishes (which looked passably vegan as well, but don’t quote me on it), 2-3 meat dishes, sides, and naan.

It’s set up on 2 tables, but the owner has said he’s been spending his Sundays working on a buffet table. Woah! He is one busy guy, and it’s obvious he takes a lot of pride in his restaurant.

Here’s plate number 1 – going clockwise – I got some chicken (bottom left), tabbouli, salad, chicken meatballs in cream sauce over yellow rice, and spinach and chickpeas. Yum. Everything was so well spiced and fresh. The chicken meat balls were my favorite – they were packed with spices and seasoning.

Everything also seemed very fresh, and it was much lighter than the Indian food in the area. Aashiana is listed as a Mediterranean restaurant, but they are also heavily influenced with Indian food as well.

Like the fresh naan here. Yum. The owner brought some freshly made naan for us. We actually exercised control and only ate one naan apiece, but he offered more. And for that, much love.

The naan was excellent too – it tasted buttery, and was so incredibly light. Much lighter than other places around here. It was like a soft, soft, pillow. Not overly chewy, and just perfect.

I couldn’t resist a second go at the tasty Mediterranean and Indian buffet, so I got basically more of the same, but I also tried out some raita and a cauliflower/green bean dish. Seriously, get the meatballs, though. SO GOOD. I don’t know how anything in a cream sauce could taste bad.

I finished up with some kheer. Again, it was very light, maybe runny to some in comparison to the kheer at Indian places around here. I really enjoyed it – the cardamom actually tasted good (normally I can’t stomach cardamom), and the fresh pistachios were very nice.

Actually, after I snapped this one, the owner wanted to see the pictures I took too. He’s so sweet – he’s really welcoming and was all up for me telling all my friends (this means you!) about the place. There was no one else in the place eating when we were there, so definitely go check it out. Also, he’s usually the one waiting on you and in the general eating area (haven’t seen any other staff before), and he doesn’t really rely on tips since he’s the owner. So yea, tip or not, I don’t think it really matters here.

You guys know what a sucker I am for good service, and people who enjoy being there, but that aside, Aashiana is a great place for affordable, flavorful food. Their falafel wraps are also really good, and none of their dishes go above $8.99. If you really want a bargain, go check out the buffet. So freakin’ good! I’d go again this Saturday, but I have stupid wedding crap to do, and after that it’s the Justice/MGMT free concert in Altamont, NY sponsored by SoCo (which is absolutely gross as a booze, but hey, if someone throws a free party, I’m game).

Unrelated to food, but I really like the decor: simple tapestries (they’ve got little mirrors in them so they sparkle), and sparkly fake flowers on the sides. I’m also a sucker for sparkles.