Indian Hits the Spot

I enjoy learning about different cultures and I love that Chicago has so many ethnic neighborhoods. Lucky for me, food traditions are heavily embedded into most cultures; this means that my cultural education includes eating different foods -- Right up my alley!

Before Thanksgiving I headed up to Devon Avenue, a street with a high Indian and Pakistani population. It's filled with good-smelling restaurants, stores displaying elaborate saris, and groceries that showcase lentils, spices, and fruits.

I stopped into World Fresh Market which is found at 2434 W Devon. I did not have an agenda and wanted to just roam the aisles and see what ingredients piqued my interest. I left with paneer (a soft, crumbly cheese), yellow split peas, naan (a flatbread that is similar to a pita), shelled hazelnuts and some spices.

I still had these ingredients when I packed up to go to my mom's for the week of Thanksgiving. I brought some of these with me when I headed to Central Illinois.

My second day at Mom and Dad's, we shared these ingredients with a few guests. On the menu was Malabar Tuna Cakes, Palak Paneer, and Chana Masala.

We used ahi tuna from the Baja for the tuna cakes - our friend Paul had caught over 200 pounds this summer and brought it back from California with him! They were deliciously flavored with ginger, jalapenos, curry, coconut, and cilantro.

The palak paneer is a simple dish using the cheese, spinach, onions and spices; perfect for entertaining since it took only a few minutes. Since this dish is a little juicy, the naan was a perfect accompaniment.

I had not made the chana masala before and I used a recipe from Recipezaar.com. An addition of fresh papaya that my mom had on hand gave this heavily-spiced dish a subtle sweetness. It was a hit with our guests.

I really enjoyed sharing the ingredients from the World Fresh Market with my friends and family. We finished the meal with some chocolates, nuts and figs and our guests headed out in the night with happy, full bellies.

I returned to Chicago with a cold as well as a little bit of loneliness since I've been with my family for a week. I've decided to use the split yellow peas I bought before Thanksgiving and make myself Mulligatawny Soup to help with both the cold and the need for comfort.

Mulligatawny Soup is a traditional Indian soup and it means 'pepper water'. I've read through many variations of the recipe online today and decided to make up my own recipe. Fortunately for my belly, it worked out really well! The soup had a satisfying mellow flavor and I ate my steaming bowl with some buttered naan. I hope it is the medicine needed to cure my cold!

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