Indian Simmers

Exotic cuisine continues to gain ground in all market segments.

By 
Pamela Parseghian, Contributing Food Writer

Grape raita offers a cooling addition.

Industry analyst Mintel Group maintains that Indian cuisine is on the rise and will continue to be for at least the next four years. Many non-commercial operators would agree.

Two significant factors point toward increased acceptance of the cuisine. College foodservice directors report a rise in the number of vegetarians among their student populations, and many of the dishes from India are meatless. Second, some corporate dining directors say the number of Indians in their customer bases is increasing.

Executive Chef Robin Beckwith, who oversees production for Sodexo at a large insurance company in San Antonio, with about 21,000 transactions a day, says when his team took over the account five years ago they knew there was a large Indian population, so they prepared accordingly.

In order to offer authentic Indian fare, Beckwith brought in an Indian chef to train his team for three months. That chef helped the Sodexo chefs set up a program and an action cooking station.

“There are a lot of nuances with Indian food,” Beckwith says. “When you hear of recipes that layer flavors, it couldn’t be more true than in Indian food. Even if you have all the ingredients in a dish, if you don’t put them in at the right stage with the right techniques, it will not be the same.” For instance, when using black mustard seeds Beckwith learned the seeds must actually be heated until they pop to toast properly and for the flavor to develop correctly.

Beckwith’s Indian station features one soup, four vegetarian dishes and two proteins such as chicken or fish and, occasionally, lamb. “They love it,” he says of his audience’s reaction to the Indian dishes.

In the insurance company’s executive dining rooms, one Indian-influenced recipe Beckwith has had success with is grape raita served over sliced tandoor-style chicken or flank steak. For the chicken, Beckwith sears the meat over extremely high heat, “mimicking a tandoor oven,” he says.

The dish’s raita, the classic Indian yogurt-cucumber sauce that helps offset spicy dishes, was a recipe developed by New York based-restaurant chef Suvir Saran and features the unusual addition of grapes. Raita also goes over well on a salad bar in the main dining area, says Beckwith.

At this account’s Indian action station, recent hits include samosas, a crispy pastry filled with potatoes and peas served with tamarind chutney and a mint and cilantro chutney.

The real deal: At the University Medical Center at Princeton, in New Jersey, Executive Chef Patrick Heller says demand for authentic Indian fare is steadily increasing, mainly because the hospital draws a large Indian population from neighboring communities, especially Plainsboro, N.J.

As a matter of fact, next month the hospital is scheduled to relocate to a new building in Plainsboro, so Heller and his staff from Atlanta-based Morrison Management Specialists plan to expand the number of Indian dishes they offer, and they have tweaked other dishes that they currently prepare.

For example, the curry roasted potato vegetable stew will be redesigned and renamed aloo matar, because the Indian name helps sell the dish as being more authentic. Heller also plans to add more peas to the potato dish and to remove less traditional vegetables, such as zucchini, parsnips and turnips.

Expanding recipe repertoires: Kerry Paterson, assistant director of dining services and executive chef at the University of Colorado in Boulder, says the rising number of Indian students on campus and growth of Boulder’s reputation for embracing ethnic, spiritual and cultural diversity has helped expose the university’s students to global culinary options.

“We have a number of Indian restaurants in the community,” Patterson explains. “And we’re seeing an increase in Indian students. We are looking at placing more importance on and featuring more Indian.

“It has been difficult to learn,” Paterson admits, referring to the complex cuisine of India. “It’s a hard one to get right—the way they handle their spices, when they add them and the combination of spices. But it’s a fun one to explore.”

Patterson has learned by watching The Culinary Institute of America’s videos and by attending seminars, such as Worlds of Flavor, an annual program at the culinary school.

Roger Bonner, executive chef with Sustainable Fare at The Lawrenceville School in Lawrenceville, N.J., is also experimenting with offering Indian recipes because of requests for more ethnically diverse cuisine from the more than 950 students, faculty and staff he serves daily. (Approximately 550 of the 800 high school students live on the 700-acre campus.)

“The students’ palates are very refined,” says Bonner, noting that many students at the boarding school come from affluent families. So the demographics are there for expanding with more international menu options.

Bonner recently tested a chicken tikka that he says was well liked. For the dish, he marinated thighs—which he selected for the lower price and fuller flavor—in yogurt with pickled ginger, cinnamon, cumin, coriander and cayenne. After two hours, he removed the meat from the yogurt mixture, browned it and added jalapeños, onions and garlic. Finally the mixture was deglazed and simmered with chicken stock, crushed tomatoes and heavy cream.

Sodexo to Debut Indian Program

Customers seek authentic and non-meat dishes.

Because requests for Indian and vegetarian dishes are increasing, the Corporate Services division of Sodexo in May will introduce to B&I accounts a new food station featuring the cuisine of India. Approximately 60 recipes will be offered. In late summer, the program will be rolled out to Sodexo’s healthcare facilities and schools.

“We’re getting information that our consumers and our chefs would like more ethnic food,” says Chuck Hatfield, Sodexo’s director of product development for B&I, who worked on the program and recipes with Rajiv Jaggi, senior manager, culinary development for Health Care Brand Management. “There is a need for more vegetarian food. I think Indian is very much on trend. And health and wellness is in demand. I think that is a really larger trend, in general.”

Jaggi, a native of Delhi, says Indian cuisine can offer healthful dishes that gain flavor mostly through cooking techniques, herbs and spices rather than excess fats. He learned the
cuisine both at home and during an apprenticeship in international-style cuisine at a hotel in New Delhi, where chefs jealously guarded their professional expertise.

The men’s goal is to offer authentic, yet approachable recipes that are easy for chefs and cooks with varying skill levels to follow.

“The procedure of how you cook the spices is more important than how much you add,” Jaggi says. “It’s important to heat the spices for a few minutes to avoid a raw flavor but not so long that they burn.

In India, he adds, there are so many recipes because the cuisine varies from region to region, mostly due to available ingredients. For example, in the south the focus is on using more coconut, curry leaves and mustard seeds with rice-based dishes. The north grows more wheat, so there’s an abundance of breads as well as dishes with yogurt and cumin.

“If you travel within the country,” Jaggi explains, “every 50 miles the cuisine changes a little bit. The blends of the spices change from house to house. So there is no hard and fast rule about the spices. The quantities change. But the end result is almost [always] the same.”

Among the techniques of cooking Indian food correctly, restaurants in the U.S. and India mostly use cream in sauces to avoid breaking emulsions, Jaggi says. But yogurt, which is less expensive and more plentiful in India compared to heavy cream, is typically used in home cooking.

In order to prepare smooth yogurt sauces, Jaggi tempers it and adds it at the end of the cooking period for creamy results. Yogurt in India is more like Greek style here and is typically prepared with unpasteurized whole milk that contains cream.

He says for a yogurt sauce with sheen, tempered yogurt can be added early in the cooking process. Rather than adding a roux, Jaggi thickens some recipes with yogurt, and others are thickened by cooking down onions and tomatoes until they are almost dry.


Film Inspires Chef

Karl Bendix, executive chef at Colorado State University in Fort Collins, Colo., says he learned to make aloo gobhi by watching a movie. His daughter showed him the film, “Bend It Like Beckham,” which included a scene where a young woman learned to cook the classic vegetarian dish from the family matriarch. So Bendix made it at home. Once it went over well there, he brought it to his cafeteria. Bendix now serves “a fair amount” of dishes from India.

“We have a large Indian population. And about 10% to 15% of the students are vegan or vegetarian. Indian’s broadest range of appeal is with non-meat eaters. I think young people are interested in where their food comes from. We serve as much local as we can.

Aloo gobhi is a traditional dish. To be perfectly honest, my daughter brought home the movie “Bend It Like Beckham,” and there’s a scene in it with a mother or grandmother and daughter making the recipe. There’s certainly some love and nurturing that is done in the kitchen between generations. It is very nice, how that’s done.

So I made it at home and it was really popular. Then I brought it to campus. Certainly the flavors and aromas are alluring. A lot of those spices in the garam masala have to be pan roasted and ground in a mortar and pestle. It is prepared the day before.

It’s a fun dish to prepare and eat. I have to say that we kind of bastardized this recipe. Kidney beans were used to up the protein in it. We put it in a pewter colored crock and we typically serve it in our main cafeteria on a plate or in a bowl. Normally we serve it without basmati because it has potatoes in it. It has been on the menu for three or four years."

Aloo Gobhi

8 (1⁄2-cup) servings

3 russet potatoes, 100 ct.
1⁄4 tsp. soybean oil
5 oz. yellow onions, diced
1⁄4 tsp. ground cumin
1⁄4 tsp. ground coriander
2 tsp. ground turmeric
1⁄2 tsp. ground ginger
1⁄2 tsp. granulated garlic
1⁄4 cup canned green chili peppers, undrained, diced
2 cups canned tomatoes, diced
1 tsp. salt
1 head cauliflower, cut into large florets
1 cup canned red kidney beans, undrained
1⁄4 cup water
2 tsp. garam masala

  1. Cut potatoes in large dice, leaving skin on.
  2. Heat oil in skillet. Add onions and cumin, stir together and cook until onions become soft and golden.
  3. Add coriander, turmeric, ginger, garlic, chili peppers, tomatoes and salt. Let simmer 5 minutes.
  4. Add potatoes, cauliflower, beans and water. Ensure that potatoes are covered with sauce. Cover and simmer for 20 minutes, or until potatoes are cooked.
  5. Stir in garam masala. Pan up, cover and hold at least an hour before serving. (Maintain temperature at 140°F or above during holding and serving.)