Craving an Indian Feast

At some point in an expat’s sojourn, the craving for a familiar comfort food becomes so intense that there is little rest until it is satisfied. For our friend and colleague, Juan Carlos, the craving was for an Indian vindaloo that he had often enjoyed while living in New York City. Although he had tried Indian restaurants in Santiago, the flavor just wasn’t the same. So, he put in his request for an Indian meal in our home.

Sergio and I have done a lot of entertaining since moving into our new apartment almost a year ago, and our dining table has been our magic carpet ride to many parts of the world. We both share an avid love of cooking, and a jaded palate. So, hosting theme meals of foods from around the world has been a natural course of entertaining. With dear friends, we have traveled through our tastebuds to China, Thailand, Korea, Japan, Morocco, Lebanon, Cuba, Mexico, France, East Africa, and many other ports of call. When the request was presented, we were prepared for the challenge.

Indian cuisine has long been a passion for me, and every time that we have traveled back to the States, I have carried spices back to Chile. In addition, as we have traveled and shopped at many different markets in Chile, we have amassed exotic spices for many cuisines. Our collection of herbs and spices became the building block for the evening’s dinner. The only hindrance would be finding other needed ingredients in the aftermath of the Great Quake. Although Concepcion has come a long way, our food chain was not yet fully restored.

After much consideration, a menu was established. We would start with a dal (our table wasn’t large enough to hold all dishes at once, as in a traditional Indian meal), and would be followed by:  Tomato Raita with Cucumber and Cilantro, Goan Chicken Vindaloo (Murgh Vindaloo), Mixed Eggplant, Onion, Tomato and Mushrooms with Spices, and a simple Jasmine Rice (Basmati was not available). Although I had prepared dough for Naan, I saved it for the following day as one of our guests had made a Pan Asado (Chilean raised bread). To satisfy the Chilean craving for dessert, we stopped at a favorite bakery, San Diego, to buy a cake. While not in keeping with the menu, it looked too tempting to pass on.

I began preparation of the vindaloo the day before the dinner, as the chicken would need to marinate for 24 hours. The dal was prepared the morning of the dinner, and left to sit for the remainder of the hours to allow for the flavors to incorporate. The remaining dishes were prepped early, and then finished while the vindaloo simmered, during the last half-hour before dinner. Everything had to be timed for the final presentation.

Our guest list included fourteen, and there were last minute panics on my part when I realized that we didn’t have an additional table to expand our sitting. During the last hour before quests arrived, we quickly cleared the bar to set additional plates. Much to my relief, for I hated to not have everyone sit together, our final count was eleven. Although crowded, we managed to seat everyone. As Sergio has often told me, Chileans are used to accommodating to tight quarters. No one would mind bumping elbows, knees, glasses and utensils at the table.

Just before our guests arrived, we changed into Indian attire, and put Ravi Shankar in the cd player to set the mood. When our first guests arrived, we popped a bottle of Casa Silva Chardonnay, and breathed deeply. I was excited to see reactions to one of my favorite cuisines. For many of the guests, it was to be their first exposure to Indian fare. As for Juan Carlos, I wanted to see just how close to the mark we were.

The first dish to arrive to the table was the dal, which drew curious attention. Rather than using the china soup bowls, small Asian rice bowls graced each place setting. The deviation helped to build anticipation. Although I had missed Juan Carlos’ reaction, as I had to dash back to the kitchen for cilantro to sprinkle as garnish, Sergio later told me that J.C. had allowed words of praise to slip through his lips before he realized that he had commented. As a department chairman, Juan Carlos’ preference is to keep praise close to the vest to keep people on their toes, and always pushing forward.

The next course of dishes brought their own delights to the table. I watched with a cook’s satisfaction, as our guests enjoyed several helpings of the vindaloo. Even though the heat of the peppers proved to be a challenge for some (even though I had reduced the amount of hot pepper during the cooking process. I did place small dishes of Laxmi Brand red chili powder on the table for those braver of palate), it didn’t damper going back for more. One guest felt venturesome enough to sprinkle additional chili powder, and when it proved more than expected, was served a special helping of yogurt to put out the fire.

The exotic meal and the variety of wines harmoniously mingled to create a fun and joyful evening. Now that everyone has been introduced to Indian fare, I am looking forward to expanding everyone’s knowledge of India’s specific regional cuisines.


One of the challenges for an expat cook is to find the appropriate or comparable ingredients. One of the joys of living in Chile is that it is home to many different cultures. While Spanish descent is the primary ethnic group, one will also find Irish, Italian, English, French, German, Russian, Lebanese, Syrian, Chinese, Japanese, East Indian, and so on. In addition, many emigrants from North, Central and other South American countries also reside and work in Chile. With such an expansive mix of cultures, one will find that both major grocery stores and small establishments will carry condiments appealing to a wide mix of cuisines. Oriental Productos, Co.,  ( is a supplier of many Asian ingredients to Chilean merchants.

As such, we have made the quest for exotic condiments and ingredients a regular part of our travels.

Ginger-Garlic Paste

Although this may be purchased in some supermarkets, my preference to freshly prepare the paste.

½ cup peeled garlic cloves

½ cup peeled and sliced ginger

1-2 tablespoons water

Place garlic and ginger in a small food processor or mortar and grind into a smooth paste, adding water as necessary.


This dish will serve 10-12 small servings, and may be prepared ahead. Warm slowly at low heat prior to serving.

2 cups red lentils, sorted and rinsed in several changes of water

9 cups water

1 onion, finely chopped

1 to 2 green chiles, finely chopped (with or without seeds, depending on heat preference)

2 tablespoons of ginger-garlic paste (recipe to follow)

1 tablespoon of ground coriander**

1 tablespoon of ground cumin**

1 teaspoon ground chile powder***

1 teaspoon garam masala

½ teaspoon turmeric

Sea salt to taste

Ground white pepper to taste

Minced cilantro for garnish

Place lentils and water into a large saucepan and bring to a boil over medium high heat, stirring occasionally. Reduce heat to medium and cook for about 10 minutes. Add onion, green chiles, ginger-garlic paste, coriander, cumin, chile powder, garam masal , turmeric, salt and white pepper. Reduce heat to simmer, and cook for about 20 to 25 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the dal is tender and the broth looks creamy. Adjust seasonings according to personal taste. Transfer to serving dish, and garnish with cilantro.

** My preference is to freshly prepare ground cumin and coriander. Place coriander and cumin seeds in a small pan over medium heat to toast, shaking the pan continuously, until seeds turn slightly brown. Remove and grind either with a mortar and pestle, or with an electric grinder.

*** This is a true ground chile powder, and should not be confused with the spice mix sold in the United States, labeled as “chile powder.” For this dish, Laxmi Brand red chili powder (an Indian brand) was used. Ground cayenne or paprika (for a milder heat) may be substituted.

Chicken Vindaloo

Given that Concepcion is still recovering from the earthquake, I was not able to find all the ingredients necessary to prepare a proper vindaloo powder. A prepackaged Karahi Masala Power served as a substitution, and will be noted in the recipe. The spicy heat was reduced to accommodate guests, and additional chili powder was served on the side. This dish was inspired by a recipe from Neelam Batra, “1,000 Indian Recipes.”

This dish will serve 12-15.

4 tablespoons Karahi Masala powder

12 small dried Thai red peppers, broken with seeds retained*

½ cup ginger, coarsely chopped

1 ½ heads of garlic, cloves separated and peeled

2 onions, coarsely chopped

1 cup distilled white vinegar

4 teaspoons garam masala

1 teaspoon turmeric

2 teaspoons salt

4 tomatoes, coarsely chopped and puréed in a food processor

4 chicken breasts, bone in, skin removed, and cut into four serving pieces

4 leg quarters, bone in, skin removed, legs and thighs separated

6-8 tablespoons olive oil

Sea salt to taste

Ground white pepper to taste

Red chile powder to taste

Chopped cilantro for garnish

Prepare a marinade by placing dried peppers, ginger, garlic, onions and vinegar in a food processor and puree until smooth. Add garam masala, turmeric and salt, and mix to incorporate. Place chicken in a large bowl and add marinade. Mix well, cover and refrigerate for 24 hours.

Remove chicken from refrigerator and warm to room temperature. Place 6 tablespoons of olive oil in a large pot, over medium heat. Add chicken with marinade, and stir the chicken until it is almost completely cooked, about 15 to 20 minutes. Add puréed tomatoes and cook for about 15 minutes. Adjust salt, white and chili pepper to taste, and cook for an additional 5 minutes. Transfer to serving dish and garnish with chopped cilantro. Serve additional chili powder on the side.

The remaining vindaloo sauce was reserved for serving over rice another day.

Tomato and Cucumber Raita

A raita is served to cool the intensity of the spicy heat in the vindaloo.

3 tomatoes, seeded and chopped into ½ inch pieces

1 cucumber, peeled, seeded and chopped into ½ inch pieces

2 cups yogurt

½ teaspoon ground coriander

½ teaspoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ginger-garlic paste

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Place all ingredients in a bowl and mix to blend. Refrigerate and serve cold.

Mixed Vegetables with Indian Spices

2 eggplants, chopped into ¾ inch pieces

1 large onion, chopped into ¾ inch pieces

4 large tomatoes, chopped into ¾ inch pieces

8 baby bella mushrooms, stems removed, tops chopped into ¾ inch pieces

4 cloves garlic, minced

4 tablespoons olive oil, plus additional if needed

1 ½ teaspoons garam masala

¾ teaspoon turmeric

1 teaspoon chili powder

Sea salt to taste

Ground white pepper to taste

Heat oil, over low heat, in large pan, and sauté onions until translucent. Add eggplant, and sauté until almost cooked. Note, eggplant is very greedy with oil, and additional oil may be added. Add mushrooms and tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, for about 5 minutes. Add garam masala, turmeric, chili powder, salt and white pepper. Cook for about 5 minutes. Transfer to serving plate.

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