Vegetable pakora

Vegetable pakoras consist of spinach, onions, potatoes and cauliflower dipped in a spicy chickpea batter and fried.

Indian cuisine is some of the most complex and aromatic food in the world — from the north where grilled chicken and lamb dishes cooked in clay ovens hold sway along with yogurt-based curry sauces, to the south where vegetarian food is popular and sauces can be fiery hot, particularly around Madras and the southwestern coast.

Two spice powder combinations predominate. Curry powder is an integral part of some dishes, turmeric being the main ingredient that imparts an orange/yellow hue to the dish. This spice mix tends to be sweeter and mildly flavored and not as pungent or strong as found in garam masala. Curry powder blends used in the cooking process rather than as a finishing agent. Curry spices include fenugreek, cumin and coriander as well as turmeric. Garam masala is a finishing blend and should be used judiciously. It incorporates such pungent and aromatic spices as cloves, cinnamon and cardamom pods, along with dried red chiles, fresh green chiles and red chile powder. Sauces finished with garam masala powder have a brownish hue.

Here at the Naan Cafe, their masala mix is a combination of cumin, coriander, black and green coriander pods, ginger, cinnamon, cloves and peppercorns with varying proportions depending on which dish is being prepared. With respect to spiciness levels, they range from 1-10. Unless you’re a dyed-in-the-wool chili head, I’d recommend a 4 or 5 to start, which imparts a nice glow to the back of the throat without singeing your taste buds.

By all means, sample some of their vegetarian items as the sauces are rich and delicious and you won’t miss the absence of meat at all. Start with vegetable pakoras. These include chopped spinach, onions, potatoes and cauliflowers which have been dipped into a spicy garbanzo bean batter and quickly fried. As they are moderately spicy, you can cool your palate by first dipping them into a cooling yogurt sauce. Another option is Malai Kofta — vegetable dumplings studded with carrots, potatoes, cheese (paneer) and nuts, which are simmered in a delicious creamy rich curry sauce. Every last drop should be sopped up with some onion naan bread or Paratha flatbread, both cooked in the tandoori oven.

Butter chicken, which originated in Delhi, consists of boneless chicken in a tomato-based sauce that is finished with the house masala spice blend. The red/orange hued sauce is highly aromatic and the flavors linger on the palate for upward of 30 seconds. The rich chile overtones are a result of dried serranos (japones), fresh serranos and Indian red chile powder. Rest assured, they don’t use ghost peppers!

Karahi Lamb is more of a stir fry in its consistency with tender pieces of lamb with a distinct charred flavor tossed with onions, bell peppers and tomatoes blended with a house made curry sauce.

The goat Curry is not in the least bit gamey, served in a piquant brown gravy with a hint of acidity in the finish. Do watch out for small pieces of sharp bones before swallowing.

Biryanis (basmati rice dishes) have a distinct Muslim influence and often incorporate nuts and dried fruits. The city of Hyderabad is famous for its biryanis. The water used to cook the rice is steeped with such spices as cumin, cardamom, black pepper, cinnamon sticks, citrus, star anise, nutmeg, fennel seeds, cashews and a sprinkling of garam masala.

We sampled the Shrimp Biryani, which contained a generous number of large plump shrimp, blended with spice infused, intensely aromatic basmati rice.

David Cohen is the former co-host of the PBS show “Table for Two.”

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