Sunday, December 13, 2009

Going Once, Going Twice…

Sold. Every summer, our church holds a Service Auction to raise money for its coffers. (I say church, but we’re Unitarians, which is more like a recovery center for pissed off ex-Catholics who don’t want to be told what to believe, a safe space for the religiously confused who haven’t come out yet as atheists because they think their families will disown them, and a coffee shop with collection plates and music for the rest of us).

But like every other church, we need money to survive. The Service Auction brings in a lot of money because the overhead is very small and the revenue is quite good. In addition to volunteering to cook the dinner for this year’s 50-person event, I also donated a service to be bid on: Indian Dinner for Eight, hosted by Philip and me. When the bidding was over, our little dinner party brought in almost two hundred and fifty dollars.

It’s been six months since the auction, and this flaky Aquarian couple finally got around to following through on their donation. I thought about just picking up some Indian food and passing it off as my own, but Indian restaurants, unlike Coney Island Diners, do not grow on trees in Flint. The only one I know about is Grill of India on Linden Road in the plaza by Sagano, the exquisite Japanese restaurant. Grill of India is good, but if any of our guests ever ate there, I’d be exposed as a fraud and excommunicated from the Unitarian Coffee Shop, a risk I was not willing to take.

Cooking Indian food is extraordinarily labor intensive because it requires extensive prep time and because there are so many different ingredients in each dish. For our Saturday night dinner, I started cooking Friday morning. Armed with a three page shopping list, I spent the greater part of the morning gathering the ingredients for what would become a five course meal. There are two Indian stores in Flint that I shop at: A.K. Grocery, which is on Corunna road all the way past Dye Road, in a little strip mall on the north side of the road, and Kamil’s, which is next to Ya-Ya’s Chicken Hut on Corunna near Ballenger Highway.

Both stores have a plethora of spices and grains that you cannot find in a regular store; and if you can, the prices at, say, Meijer are so high, you can barely afford to buy them. The Indian stores
sell spices in bulk for a fraction of what you would pay at the supermarket. I would highly recommend either of these stores for even your ever day spice needs. Kamil’s has the added bonus of carrying fresh made Nans and Flatbreads. They’re made in Dearborn and shipped to Flint two or three times a week.

As I unpacked the armloads of groceries, Philip was already at work turning the dinner table into a work of art. He garnished the center of the table with small bowls of lemons, limes, and oranges. These colors complemented the deep red napkins in every diner’s spot, each one folded into the shape of a dinner jacket. This guy gives Sandra Lee a serious run for her money!

Back in the kitchen, I was preparing the first course: Sweet Red Pepper Hummus. It’s not exactly an Indian dish, but at least it’s in that general region of the world. Besides, I had to focus my efforts on the other courses. Of all the dishes I made for this dinner, hummus was the easiest, thanks to my trusty food processor. Aside from measuring out the portions of tahini, chickpeas, lemon, garlic, olive oil, and red peppers, the rest is a matter of dumping them together and letting them process until it becomes silky smooth and creamy.

I’m not sure what the heck I was thinking, but I decided to make two appetizers for the table: Aloo Makai Tikki (potato/corn cakes) and Pakoras (a yummy Indian version of tempura). The potato/corn cakes were easy enough to prep, but they were tricky to fry because the heat has to be just right, not too hot, not too cool. I melted a shredded white cheddar cheese on top and served them with a mint yogurt sauce. The Pakoras, which consisted of cauliflower, onions, sweet potatoes, and yellow zucchini squash, were dredged in a chickpea flour batter with cumin seeds, pomegranate seeds, red chili pepper, and salt, and then deep fried. Wow! Together, these two dishes could stand by themselves as a hearty lunch They couldn’t have been too bad because our hungry guests, between glasses of wine and beer, devoured all of them.

For the soup course, I made a classic version of Mooloogoo Thani, a tomato and green apple

based soup with lots of fragrant spices, minced onion, and cooked rice added in at the end. The recipe calls for chicken, but some of our guests were vegetarian, so I left it out. I also used vegetable broth in place of chicken broth. The prep for this soup is time consuming, but the rest is a cinch. You just bring the whole thing to a boil, cover it, and simmer for 45 minutes. When it’s done, it gets pureed in batches. The end result is a complexity of flavors with a lingering sweet-hot flavor in the mouth.

Since I was plating the dishes in the kitchen and serving them restaurant style, I had the luxury, once I closed the door to the dining room, of photographing the food. At one point, Philip barged into the kitchen with dirty dishes in hand to find me standing on a chair over the entrees clicking shots of the finished dishes. He just set the dirty dishes down, shook his head, and retreated to the dining room for more wine. He just doesn’t get my brand of artistry.

The entree, which in retrospect was probably a bit too much, consisted of Matar Pulao, basmati rice with peas. This acted as a divider for the three entrees, which made the presentation look a little bit like a white peace sign with three blobs of color and texture in between. The Khumb Matar Masala, a Punjabi mushroom and pea curry stole the show from the Chana Dal and the Chole, a potato and chickpea curry. Nobody was able to clear their plates entirely, but they did manage to scarf down all of the Masala.

The Shrikand dessert was simple and not very filling, and with the Indian tea, it seemed to be just enough. This sweet yogurt and saffron concoction looks and tastes like an elegant pudding. I paired it with an Indian cookie, which I bought from Kamil’s. By this time in the evening, however, the cook had polished off a good number of India Pale Ales, a delicious swill brewed by the Great Lakes Brewing Company, so he kind of forgot to photograph this beautifully sweet ending to a three hour dinner. After everyone left, I pleaded with Philip to stage a version of the dessert plate so I could include it in my post, but he was having none of it. Already filled to the gills with wine, he declared my idea insane and stumbled off to bed. After giving the idea a quick second thought, I followed Philip’s lead and called it a night.


  1. A point and a question. India Pale Ale is not the name of a particular beer made by any brewery, let alone the Great Lakes Brewing Co. It is a kind of ale. It was heavily hopped so that it could endure the long sea journey to India, where the British Colonial Forces and Administration enjoyed it. Many breweries make this style. In my learned judgment, it is the best. The question- what is a "deep read napkin"?

  2. Oops. That should have been deep red. Changes things a bit, huh?

  3. I hope you offer this dinner experience again for Service Auction 2010. I can't wait to bid on this. You really spoil your guests :)

    Carrie May

  4. Carrie,

    next year we're going to offer a Potsticker Party. Guests will learn how to make, cook, and eat them. :)

  5. Ohh I'm so glad I know about these Indian stores now, I've been looking for better deals on spices!

    Someone recommended your blog to me. I just started a Flint Food blog myself, check it out. :)

  6. Hannah, I'm glad you found that post useful. And congratulations on starting a food blog. How do I find it? Do you have a URL?

  7. Wow, what a great idea! The food looks and sounds delicious.