Similar to my strained relationship with food from Asian cultures, which I’ve mentioned in two recipe posts featuring veganized, wholesome versions of Thai and Chinese dishes, Indian cuisine offers both pros and cons pertaining to my nutrient-dense, animal product-free diet. Teeming with vegetables, legumes, exciting spices, and leafy greens (most often in the form of spinach, known as palak or saag in Hindi), the hearty stews prevalent in Indian cooking comprise a vast array of vegetarian, and often vegan, options. However, white basmati rice, ghee (clarified butter), and paneer compose three integral components of Indian cuisine: I have never once witnessed brown rice offered on an Indian restaurant’s menu; ghee is used both for frying and brushing on almost all varieties of bread, rendering virtually all appetizers non-vegan-friendly (although, I wouldn’t order fried pakoras or gluten-filled, white flour ridden naan anyway); and many vegetarian entrees include paneer, fresh cubes of soft cheese, for a source of protein. Therefore, I enter Indian restaurants quite hesistantly, wary of the dairy, not to mention the nutritionally void rice.
Despite my dubious opinion of Indian cuisine, I felt compelled to include a handful of Madison’s most well-recieved Indian eateries on my “Restaurants to Review for the Blog” list due to their unwavering popularity amongst my friends and classmates. Taste of India on Monroe Street earned a spot on the list, and my lovely eating companion Maria and I hopped on over to the brightly painted, dimly lit dining room on an uncharacteristically balmy (50°!) January evening.
Upon arrival, a polite waiter sporting a fairly heavy Indian accent immediately seated us among a respectable number of fellow diners, though I certainly wouldn’t pronounce the restaurant as crowded. Clearly aware of the extensive menu and the amount of time required by American diners to finally settle on an entree amid the Hindi titles and broken English descriptions, our waiter did not visit our table again until Maria and I felt completely happy with our menu decisions. You’ll have to excuse the atrocious picture quality—mood lighting and food photography do not get along well!
After ordering, our waiter promptly delivered a plate of papadum with three sauces: red onion chutney, mint chutney, and tamarind sauce. Thrilled with this pre-meal nosh thanks to its intrisically gluten-free nature, I happily crunched on the crisp cracker, made of either lentil, chickpea, or rice flour, depending on the particular chef’s preference. I harbor an avid love of all things tamarind and contentedly slathered the sauce on my wafers, also sampling the two chutneys. The red onion chutney had a displeasing sweet-sour flavor, but the mint chutney tasted clean and fresh.
For appetizers, Maria ordered the Ginger Naan (unpictured, sorry! You can rest assured that it looked like a mound of puffy, cilantro-covered yumminess, if you’re into that gluten thing), proclaiming that she was “in a gingery mood today,” while I opted for the Vegetable Soup with lentils, hoping for another orgasmic dal experience.
With my first spoonful of soup came slight disappointment—this “dal” lacked the smoky richness of my favorite dals at Himal Chuli and Dobhan. Described as a vegetable soup, the yellow lentil broth floated what seemed like only carrots; I had hoped for a wider variety of veggies. I can’t say that this soup did not taste good, since it indeed did, but it simply was not what I had expected.
Slightly tentative yet optimistic about my entree, I awaited the Vegetable Mango—a blend of green peas, potatoes, carrots, and cauliflower in a spicy red mango sauce—while Maria anticipated the Baingan Bhartha—flame-roasted eggplant mashed and sauteed with onions, garlic, ginger, and Indian spices.
I declined the white basmati rice delivered in another metal dish with our stews, opting to eat my entree straight from the serving dish rather than mixing it with the refined grain on a plate, as per usual custom. Surprisingly, the prevalent sweetness from the mango did not render the dish cloying or saccharine, but rather created a succulent vehicle for the veggies, which I found a bit mushy and overcooked, unfortunately. Ultimately, I would consider ordering the dish again if I return to Taste of India, though would 0rder it mild instead of medium—my mouth felt slightly afire after finishing the stew. Maria attested to the deliciousness of her eggplant dish, describing it as “Indian mashed potatoes” and offering no negative commentary (what a sweetheart, that girl).
Meal Checklist: Protein—lentils in soup. Whole Grain—none. Damn all the white rice! Vegetables—carrots, green peas, potatoes, cauliflower. Leafy Greens—none, though cauliflower comes from the highly nutritious cruciferous family of vegetables in which kale and broccoli are also included.
While I don’t know that I would soon pay another visit to Taste of India to sample their dinner menu, I may consider perusing their lunch buffet, for the midday array of dishes often offered by Indian restaurants usually garners better reviews, at least from those with whom I’ve spoken, than their dinners. Still, I’d have to take care to avoid any ghee, paneer, and white basmati rice featured in Indian cuisine. For the near future, I’ll stick with my staple restaurants of Nepali cuisine, Himal Chuli and Dobhan, both of which offer whole grain brown rice, impeccably cooked vegetables, flavorful marinated organic tofu, and leafy greens.
Until next time, Ali.