Taj Mahal Grocery and Gift
6410 W. Jefferson Blvd.
Mon Wed Thurs Fri and Sat 11 – 8
Sunday 11 – 7
When it comes to preparing delicious and creative vegetarian dishes, Indians are the world-class champions, hands down! Admittedly, that’s just one person’s opinion, but who else would ever come up with the idea to pulverize dried lentils with spices and warm water, let it ferment and then use the batter to make lacy, thin pancakes stuffed with spicy potatoes? Or, who else would think to make kafta (“meatballs”) out of grated vegetables and chickpea flour and then simmer them in an aromatic sauce made with fresh tomatoes and ground nuts? Many of the world’s cuisines are innovative and creative; but Indian cuisine with it’s many regional varieties, is easily one of the most exciting.
Cooking Indian food can be quite intimidating for the uninitiated. One of the reasons so many western cooks hesitate to try cooking Indian in their own kitchen, is because of the frequently long list of unfamiliar ingredients. That problem can easily be solved with one quick trip to Taj Mahal Grocery and Gift; a small, Indian grocery store located next to the restaurant of the same name in Covington Plaza.
The store is indeed small, with only two aisles leading from the door to the cash register. But the available space has been well utilized and the shelves are stacked with every imaginable variety of lentil, spice, rice, and flour used in Indian cuisine. There is a section of shelves containing a wide variety of pickles and chutneys. Another wall of shelves is filled with bags of Indian snacks, which are usually served along with tea in the afternoons. There is a freezer case stocked with difficult to find Indian vegetables and prepared foods and breads as well as a small grocery section for fresh produce, such as fresh curry leaves, long beans, and snake gourds.
In the back of the store is a display counter that showcases Indian sweets and pastries. You can buy jalabi (a syrupy swirl of deep fried, orange colored pastry ribbons,) samosa (deep fried spicy potato pastries) and barfi (a sweet made from chickpea flour and sugar.) Meat is stored in a back room, which is inaccessible to customers. But if you know what to ask for, you can purchase fish, chicken, and often times goat.
If you would like to try cooking Indian food in your own kitchen, below is a very simple recipe for stewed potatoes with yellow split peas based on a recipe from the cookbook 660 Curries by Raghavan Iyer. If you are feeling more adventurous, try the equally delicious recipe for vadaa sambhar found at The Cooking Curmudgeon. All the ingredients for both of these recipes can be found at Taj Mahal Grocery and Gift. If you feel overwhelmed and confused, don’t hesitate to ask for help. The owners are very friendly and will be glad to answer questions and help you find what you need. And if you don’t feel like cooking, no problem! You can go next door to the Taj Mahal restaurant and sample the delicious offerings on their lunch buffet!
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Stewed Potatoes with Yellow Split Peas
1/2 cup chana dal (yellow split peas)
2 – 3 medium-size russet potatoes, peeled and cut in small cubes
1 small red onion, diced
2 teaspoons Sambhar masala
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
15 fresh curry leaves
2 Tablespoons canola oil
1 teaspoon black mustard seeds
1 Tablespoon urad dal (skinned split black lentils)
6 dried cayenne chiles
1/4 teaspoon asafetida
1. Place the split peas in a medium size saucepan and rinse in several changes of water until water is no longer cloudy. Add three cups fresh water.
2. Add the potatoes, onion, masala, salt, turmeric and curry leaves to the saucepan. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and let simmer for 35 minutes or until split peas are soft.
3. Heat the oil over high heat. Sprinkle in the mustard seeds. They will pop, much like popcorn, and you may want to cover the pan to keep them from popping all over the place! When the popping stops, add the urad dal and the chiles. Stir for about 30 seconds or until the dal turns reddish and the chiles darken. Remove from heat and stir in the asafetida powder.
4. Scrape the spiced oil mixture into the saucepan with the potatoes and split peas. Continue simmering for 5 minutes or so to blend flavors.
This is delicious to eat immediately, but even better the next day!