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Food processor for Indian food?

post #1 of 28
Thread Starter 

I've been making recipes from Julie Sahni's book, and I seem to be running into the same problem with a lot of them. She often has you adding whole spices to a browned onions, letting them cook for only five minutes or so, then adding moisture in the form of yogurt, tomatoes, or both. Then she says to add the mixture to a food processor or a blender and puree until smooth. That's where I'm running into a problem. No matter how long I try to puree it, the whole spices (cardamom and whole coriander seeds mostly) just won't break down. I end up with sawdust-like grit throughout my puree. Granted, I have a cheap food processor and blender (both measly 500 watt motors), but I'm skeptical anything short of Vitamix is going to do it, if even that.

 

So my question is, if I had a better food processor would I be able to get the puree I want? What do Indian families use? I've seen these cool Indian blenders like the Preethi:

 

http://www.amazon.com/Preethi-Nitro-Mixer-Grinder-Extractor/dp/B008C94Y1M/ref=sr_1_6?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1391006960&sr=1-6&keywords=preethi+mixer+grinder

 

But notice it only has a 550 watt motor as well. And what's with the enormous base? All of the Indian blenders I've looked at have a bulging base like that. Does it provide better torque or something? It's curious that Sahni doesn't really talk much about blenders, and you'd think she would have if it was critical.

 

What about a wet grinder? I've never heard of anyone using a wet grinder to make any Indian dish but dosa though.

 

So if anyone can help, thanks much. I'm really frustrated about this. I suppose I could just toast and grind the spices before adding them, but I'd really like to make her recipes work as written.

post #2 of 28

You may want to try grinding your spices first, and then adding them to the onions etc. They will toast in a similar fashion to whole spices, but may require a little less time. I use an inexpensive coffee grinder to grind spices.

 

http://www.amazon.com/KRUPS-203-42-Electric-Grinder-Stainless/dp/B00004SPEU/ref=sr_1_2?s=home-garden&ie=UTF8&qid=1391013941&sr=1-2&keywords=blade+coffee+grinder

 

Kyle

"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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post #3 of 28
Thread Starter 

Yeah, I'm already doing that for most dishes. I'm still very curious why I can't get the recipes to work as written. Sahni is considered one of the definitive authorities on Indian cooking to a lot of people.

post #4 of 28

I can understand your frustration. For me it's not worth the expense or storage space to buy a hi-torque blender/ processor. Have you tried an immersion blender?

 

Kyle

"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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post #5 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by marcoleavitt View Post
 

Yeah, I'm already doing that for most dishes. I'm still very curious why I can't get the recipes to work as written. Sahni is considered one of the definitive authorities on Indian cooking to a lot of people.


Are you familiar with the way she expects the dish to turn out?

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #6 of 28

I think actually that you may find in authentic Indian cooking that you do end up with some degree of what you are calling "sawdust". Even when I toast my spices and grind them for over a minute, there are fibrous parts of the spices that will not refine. You can use a fine mesh strainer to take those out if you have an aversion to them. Otherwise, they are good fiber for you!

post #7 of 28

I'm not. I'm a Madhur Jaffrey guy :-)

"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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post #8 of 28
Thread Starter 

"Are you familiar with the way she expects the dish to turn out?"

 

That's a fair question. Here's a sample description (step 4 from Royal Chicken in Silky White Almond Sauce): Put the entire mixture, along with 1 cup of water, into the container of an electric blender or food processor, and run the machine until the mixture is reduced to a fine smooth puree.

 

I've wondered if the grit I'm talking about is just supposed to be there, but there's an awful lot, for me really inedible. I ended up pushing the mixture through a metal strainer and was left with a small handful of material that wouldn't go through the strainer. This was after running the food processor for about 15 minutes, which was as long as I dared without worrying about burning it out. I've also tried using a blender and the result was the same.

post #9 of 28
Thread Starter 

I would try an immersion blender if I had one. It's not real high on my list of stuff to get. I would be surprised if it would be more high-powered than a standalone unit though.

post #10 of 28

My experience with immersion blenders is that you get a smoother result with a quality countertop blender.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #11 of 28

Blenders utilize the bowl as well as the blades, food processors and immersion blenders do not.

Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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Chef,
Specialties: MasterCook/RecipeFox; Culinary logistics; Personal Chef; Small restaurant owner; Caterer
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post #12 of 28

In any event NO blender is going to cut the husk of coriander, black cardamon, and the like to the point of it being undetectable. I don't care how long you run it, at a certain point there simply isn't enough mass there for the blade to cut rather than deflect the extremely tough particles. Personally I think her phrase "fine smooth puree" cannot mean so fine as to not detect small fragments of the whole spices. I'd encourage you to reach out to her with the question.

post #13 of 28

A lot of times Indian dishes contain whole or mostly-whole spices, although I can't say I've eaten dishes with whole coriander seeds floating around in them. Those are rather large. I've often seen--and eaten- dishes with whole nigella, mustard or cumin seeds in them. The bigger spices, like cloves, cinnamon stick, and whole cardamom pods are meant to be picked out or eaten around unless they've been preground as components of a garam masala.

 

I cook a lot of Indian food and usually roast and grind seeds before adding them to the dish. The exception is when I'm making a tadka or chaunk, where whole seeds and sometimes curry leaves are added to hot oil and then poured into the dish right before serving. Those seeds are usually left whole. I have a mini-cuisinart food processor that holds about as much as a coffee grinder, which also works very well.

 

I don't think I've ever made an Indian dish that I put in the blender or food processor after cooking.

 

I've never cooked from Julie Sahni's books. Madhur Jaffrey, Sanjeev Kapoor and Yamuna Devi, quite a bit. Keep meaning to pick up one of Julie Sahni's books but have never gotten around to it.

post #14 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChicagoTerry View Post
 

I don't think I've ever made an Indian dish that I put in the blender or food processor after cooking.

 

I would imagine it would be the fairly common technique that is used in the following dish, where onions, spices, etc are ground together to create a paste used in cooking the finished dish http://www.foodnetwork.co.uk/recipes/chicken-cashew-nut-sauce.html

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #15 of 28

I think you misunderstood me, cheflayne, and I misunderstood the OP.

 

I have often roasted then ground spices and nuts or aromatics--and sometimes tomatoes or spinach-- at the beginning stages of making an Indian dish and then sometimes adding water and then the meat or paneer or vegetables.

 

For some reason I was imagining the OP trying to blend a finished dish into a smooth puree after it was cooked. I always think of Indian dishes as inherently full of the textures of vegetables, dals or chunks of meat or poultry, usually still on the bone.

post #16 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by ChicagoTerry View Post
 

For some reason I was imagining the OP trying to blend a finished dish into a smooth puree after it was cooked.

That was what I imagined that you were thinking.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #17 of 28

I can understand your frustration.  Personally I like to grind large spices like fennel and corriander and cumin before I add them to a dish.  Toast them and then you can use a mortar pestle, or a small coffee grinder.  I have 2 coffee grinders - one for coffee beans and one that I use only for spices.  For small amounts of crushing spices I also use a flavor shaker http://www.amazon.com/J11000EDI-Jamie-Oliver-Flavour-Shaker/dp/B000AGQ7YM  which works really well.  I wouldn't expect a food processor to be able to break down those spices, you have to do it before you add them to the food.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #18 of 28
Thread Starter 

I do understand that Indian food often has whole spices that you eat around like cloves and cardamom, as well as cumin seeds that you just eat. The recipes I'm talking about do clearly say that you cook the ingredients for the sauce, or gravy as Sahni puts it, and then puree. It may be that I just misunderstand what the final texture is supposed to be like. I certainly never expected the woody material to disappear into the gravy, but I can't imagine my result is what Sahni intended. It's really a lot to chew on. Literal mouthfuls.

 

Before just giving up and toasting and grinding before adding them to the sauce I'm going to try getting them to cook more before the puree, maybe adding them before the onions. Hopefully they'll soften up. I'm finding that getting the heat right is kind of tricky with Indian food, as I suppose it is for all cooking, but when Sahni says medium heat I think she means what most people would think of as medium high, or even high heat. High heat seems to mean "try not to let it catch on fire."

post #19 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by marcoleavitt View Post
 

I do understand that Indian food often has whole spices that you eat around like cloves and cardamom, as well as cumin seeds that you just eat. The recipes I'm talking about do clearly say that you cook the ingredients for the sauce, or gravy as Sahni puts it, and then puree. It may be that I just misunderstand what the final texture is supposed to be like. I certainly never expected the woody material to disappear into the gravy, but I can't imagine my result is what Sahni intended. It's really a lot to chew on. Literal mouthfuls.

 

Before just giving up and toasting and grinding before adding them to the sauce I'm going to try getting them to cook more before the puree, maybe adding them before the onions. Hopefully they'll soften up. I'm finding that getting the heat right is kind of tricky with Indian food, as I suppose it is for all cooking, but when Sahni says medium heat I think she means what most people would think of as medium high, or even high heat. High heat seems to mean "try not to let it catch on fire."

 

What does it matter what Sahni intended?  Maybe Sahni intended that they be whole, or that they be ground.  What matters is that you don't like the final texture.  

 

I don't see how it is considered "giving up" by grinding them before they go in.  You're looking at the recipe like it's scripture from the Bible.  Even the bible gets to be interpreted.  Do it the way that suits you, the way that you want to eat it.  You shouldn't have to buy expensive products if you don't want to, use what you have.  A mortar and pestle is really all that you need.

"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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"You are what you eat, so don't be fast, cheap, easy, or fake."

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post #20 of 28
Thread Starter 

Maybe giving up is the wrong way to put it, but with recipes as tested as these if I'm not getting the right result I like to know why. As a home cook I look at it as a barometer of whether or not I'm getting the techniques right. In this case, I think I might not be using enough heat. Just guessing. My purpose of posting in here was to find out if other people were struggling with this, and the answer would seem to be no.

post #21 of 28

There are so many variables involved that exact duplication seems to be an unrealistic goal; different ingredient varieties, different pureeing tool, different experience levels etc. For me what matters is the taste. Wet spices are going to grind differently that dry. If these spices have a reedy component and are wet, it seems they would be much more difficult to grind into oblivion. 

 

Kyle

"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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"At weddings, my Aunts would poke me in the ribs and cackle "You're next!". They stopped when I started doing the same to them at funerals." D. Barry
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post #22 of 28

Could you either post the recipe or a link to it as it would help me to better evaluate the situation and thus possibly improve any insight that I might have?

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #23 of 28
Thread Starter 

Here are some screen shots for a typical recipe.

 

 

post #24 of 28
Thread Starter 

On posting that I do notice she says the sauce is grainy, so maybe I'm fighting a battle that doesn't need to be fought. Still, I feel like the whole spices would need to break down a bit more before most people would want to eat this. Four tablespoons of whole coriander, 50 cardamom pods, and four to eight red pepper pods. If not broken down pretty well that's a lot of stuff to be floating around in what amounts to three cups or so of sauce.

 

I suppose I should describe the consistency of the whole spices after they emerge from the food processor. I'm not talking about flecks of material like freshly ground pepper. The pieces are more like say a whole clove that's been lightly crushed with a couple of taps in a mortar and pestle.


Edited by marcoleavitt - 1/30/14 at 8:16am
post #25 of 28

Nut sauces on their own have a tendency to be grainy. The recipe is pretty much what I thought it would be and fairly standard as far as procedures go so I would imagine that your results are pretty much in line with the authors. I am starting to percolate on how you can achieve results that would fall more in line with your tastes without veering from the original too much, but I am on my way to work, so I will have to get back to you later on that.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #26 of 28
Quote:
Originally Posted by marcoleavitt View Post
 

I suppose I should describe the consistency of the whole spices after they emerge from the food processor. I'm not talking about flecks of material like freshly ground pepper. The pieces are more like say a whole clove that's been lightly crushed with a couple of taps in a mortar and pestle.

You would achieve finer results in a blender.

Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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Wisdom comes with age, but sometimes age comes alone.
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post #27 of 28
Thread Starter 

I have tried a blender actually and the results were much the same. I'm also definitely not having a problem with the almonds. They pureed to a beautiful texture. It's the whole spices. I'm thinking in my previous attempts they weren't cooked through enough to soften somewhat. I'm going to focus on that next, and if that doesn't do it, just grind the dang things before adding them.

post #28 of 28
Thread Starter 

And thanks a lot everyone for taking the time to help me with this! It seems clear that my issue is not equipment related, which was the main thing I wanted to find out.

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