Food for everyday

Karl Wells
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Indian

I was watching Bal Arneson on a television program called "City Cooks" (that's City TV by the way). When asked by the host if her recipes were adaptations of old family recipes Arneson cheekily replied, "Some are (but) I am a natural, fantastic chef so I just make the recipes as I go on," to which the host somewhat sarcastically responded, "You're a natural, fantastic chef and humble, too!"

I smiled when Arneson made the claim because the words fell from her lips in such an unguarded, completely honest way. Besides, if she believes she's a fantastic chef then she shouldn't be modest about it. From what I saw she certainly appears to know her way around a kitchen. She slices and dices with skill and precision and can also make a perfectly round roti using her long nimble fingers to shape the dough. And it happens in seconds.

Traditional Indian chicken -Photo by Karl Wells/Special to The Telegram

I was watching Bal Arneson on a television program called "City Cooks" (that's City TV by the way). When asked by the host if her recipes were adaptations of old family recipes Arneson cheekily replied, "Some are (but) I am a natural, fantastic chef so I just make the recipes as I go on," to which the host somewhat sarcastically responded, "You're a natural, fantastic chef and humble, too!"

I smiled when Arneson made the claim because the words fell from her lips in such an unguarded, completely honest way. Besides, if she believes she's a fantastic chef then she shouldn't be modest about it. From what I saw she certainly appears to know her way around a kitchen. She slices and dices with skill and precision and can also make a perfectly round roti using her long nimble fingers to shape the dough. And it happens in seconds.

Bal Arneson is a Vancouver-based cook, and, as of this year, cookbook author - "Everyday Indian," Whitecap Books. She also runs her own home chef and catering business and manages to teach cooking and do lots of charity work at the same time. But who, exactly, is Bal Arneson? And how did she develop her cooking skills - not to mention her self-confidence?

Punjab village

The answers appear in the introduction to "Everyday Indian," a book she's dedicated to her family: children, Anoop and Aaron, and husband Brad. Arneson was born and raised in a small village in Punjab, India. Cooking, in addition to all other household chores, was women's work. She had to learn how to cook from a young age. One of the first things she had to learn was how to make a perfectly round roti (Indian flatbread) to please her future husband (who, by the way, would be chosen for her).

There were no modern conveniences in Bal Arneson's village home - like electric appliances. They cooked from a clay barbecue pit in the ground. For starter fuel they used cow manure and bits of wood. So impressed was she by the idea of making precise rotis, she would practise shaping the cow dung into perfect flat rounds. That's a cooking apprenticeship that really did go from the ground up.

In 1992, at the age of 20, she moved to Canada for the arranged marriage. Eventually she started Bal's Healthy Kitchen, a cooking business that helped pay her way through college. She holds a degree in education. Then came media attention in the form of television appearances and newspaper interviews. A cookbook was inevitable, hence, "Everyday Indian - 100 Fast, Fresh, and Healthy Recipes." Arneson places great emphasis on "fast." In fact, she confidently claims her recipes can be prepared "in less than 25 minutes."

Easy recipes

Apart from a short introduction and glossary of spices, "Everyday Indian" is essentially a book of recipes.

All of them are very easy to follow and many feature little or no meat. One of the quickest and simplest recipes is for making the Indian cheese, called paneer. Basically, you boil milk, add vinegar (which curdles it) and then strain the liquid through cheesecloth. And voila, homemade paneer.

There are recipes for chutneys, samosas, salads, dressings, naan, roti, wonderful soups, veggie dishes like cauliflower with yams, and dishes featuring fish and meat. You'll also find a handful of drink and dessert recipes at the end.

Bal's healthy cookies recipe cleverly contains cooked lentils for extra nutritional value. I opted to make Bal's rice pudding because I love rice pudding. It was, like all of Arneson's recipes, very easy and delicious. Green cardamom pods and cloves gave it the exotic scent found in many Indian foods.

Depending on where you live, finding some ingredients might be a slight challenge. I was able to find pretty well everything I needed for the rice pudding and for a recipe called traditional chicken, thanks to my favourite St. John's spice shop, Food for Thought on Duckworth Street. They have a fantastic variety of spices at reasonable prices. The only item I was not able to find was the sweetener Arneson suggested for the pudding - organic brown rice syrup. However, the helpful folk at Food for Thought suggested agave nectar, which, apparently, is all the rage these days.

Bursting rainbow

The chicken dish was a big hit. It featured chicken thighs, the juiciest and most flavourful part of the chicken. Bal Arneson's traditional chicken was bursting with a rainbow of spicy goodness. All of the spices had to be carefully measured: cumin, fenugreek, turmeric, paprika, garam masala and so forth. Additionally, there was quite a bit of peeling and chopping of ingredients like onion, garlic, ginger, potato, tomato and cilantro. This labour intensive recipe was clearly not one that could be accomplished in under 25 minutes. That is the only claim in Arneson's Everyday Indian that I would question. Her proposition is one that should be taken with a large grain of a spice not mentioned. Otherwise, Everyday Indian is a smashing good book. It will cost you $29.95.

Traditional Chicken

Courtesy "Everyday Indian" by Bal Arneson

Ingredients:

2 tbsp grapeseed oil

1 large onion, finely chopped

2 tbsp finely chopped garlic

2 tbsp finely chopped ginger

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 tbsp tomato paste

1 tbsp garam masala

1 green chilli, finely chopped

1 tsp paprika

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp salt

1 lb bone-in chicken thighs

2 cups chopped tomatoes

2 cups finely chopped potatoes

1 half cup loosely packed chopped fresh cilantro

3 cups water

Method:

Combine the oil, onion, garlic and ginger in a non-stick skillet over medium-high heat, and cook for 5 minutes. Add the cumin and fenugreek seeds and cook for 10 seconds. Add the tomato paste, garam masala, chili, paprika, turmeric, and salt and cook for 2 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the chicken and cook for 4 minutes, turning the chicken frequently. Add the tomatoes, potatoes, cilantro, and water: mix everything well, and bring the dish to a boil.

Reduce the heat to a simmer, put a lid on the pot, and cook for 15 minutes or until the chicken is cooked though. (I cooked it for an hour. Karl) Serve with rice or plain rotis.

Bal's Rice Pudding

Courtesy "Everyday Indian" by Bal Arneson

Ingredients:

4 cups 2 per cent milk

2 cups cooked brown rice

1/4 cup slivered almonds

1/4 cup raisins

1/4 cup organic brown rice syrup

3 green cardamom pods

2 cloves

Method:

Put all the ingredients in a large pot and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer until the mixture thickens, about 15 minutes, stirring occasionally. Chill before serving. Top with fruit such as mango, strawberry, or papaya.

Geographic location: Punjab, India, Canada St. John's Duckworth Street

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Recent comments

  • astonished
    July 02, 2010 - 13:34

    Dave, your negative point is well made but did you ever hear of talent? Not every position in life has to be backed by letters after your name and elite studies. Coking is like an art; you either have it or you don't and it sounds plenty to me like Karl has it - in spades. ....did Emile Benoit go to mun school of music? no but he could play a reel better than Izhak Perlman.

  • David
    July 02, 2010 - 13:23

    Bal Arneson's claim to be a natural and fantastic chef may have sounded like she was tooting her own horn,but it's quite possible that English is not her first language ,making her claim sound worse than she really meant it to. Speaking of modesty, I am still trying to figure out what credientials Karl Wells has to even argue the point.Being a natural and fantastic meteorologist does not make you a natural and fantastic food critic.

  • astonished
    July 01, 2010 - 20:24

    Dave, your negative point is well made but did you ever hear of talent? Not every position in life has to be backed by letters after your name and elite studies. Coking is like an art; you either have it or you don't and it sounds plenty to me like Karl has it - in spades. ....did Emile Benoit go to mun school of music? no but he could play a reel better than Izhak Perlman.

  • David
    July 01, 2010 - 20:08

    Bal Arneson's claim to be a natural and fantastic chef may have sounded like she was tooting her own horn,but it's quite possible that English is not her first language ,making her claim sound worse than she really meant it to. Speaking of modesty, I am still trying to figure out what credientials Karl Wells has to even argue the point.Being a natural and fantastic meteorologist does not make you a natural and fantastic food critic.