Indian food isn't for everyone. But for those who enjoy it and those who appreciate it, it becomes a spiritual experience. It is a calling. To satisfy the desire for spice. To find the authenticity. To withstand the heat. To feel that one-of-a-kind kind of full.
On the coldest Christmas Eve I can ever remember, I fell in love with Indian food. I'd been on my deathbed for the 7 days prior with the worst illness I've experienced in my 23 years. I'll swear to this day – it only took 3 bites of the food to bring me back to life. As the heat slowly built and the thin skin under my eyes started to perspire, my airways opened up. Sitting on the hardwood floors of our empty apartment, I found that I could breathe again, through my nose, for the first time in over a week.
Looking back, I almost feel bad for making the poor moped-bourne delivery man bring food all the way to our apartment. I wish I could tell him that he probably saved my life that night; at least I know that Clark tipped him heftily. We had an epic brunch planned for the next morning, and I simply had to be better for it. And I was, by God, I was.
We've moved away from Brooklyn and the world's best Indian restaurant since that fated December night. And as a result, I'm still kicking myself because we lived there for over a year without knowing about the life-changing nature of Indian food. Alas, hindsight is 20/20.
After a couple of letdowns at nearby Indian restaurants in our new 'hood, it was time to take matters into our own hands.
It didn't take long for us to get the hang of it. You start with the cast iron skillet, add onions and oil, get the spices going, add your potatoes and veggies, cook it all down for a while, and then toss shrimp in as the last step. I should mention that our shrimp was raw, but it cooks quickly so it doesn't need to be in the pan for the whole cooking time. This dish can also be made using just veggies – cauliflower, zucchini, eggplant, and carrots work well – or with other kinds of meat such as lamb or chicken.
Once you've made vindaloo or curry, you realize how simple and fun the process is. It's a dish that requires you to get really involved, but doesn't demand a huge skills set.
The spice in Indian food is different, really, than any other cuisine. It's not like a jalapeño. It's not like wasabi. It's not like black pepper. It's not like cayenne. Indian food, especially spicier dishes like vindaloo, draw their heat from not only the combination of spices – curry, ginger, turmeric, garlic, etc. – but also from the process of cooking.
As the mixture cooks, the flavors intensify and the heat increases. When you consider where the spice comes from, it makes Indian food all the better. The seasonings are all powerful detoxifiers and antioxidants, as well as immune system and metabolism boosters.
Be sure to wear an apron when you tackle this recipe: turmeric and curry do NOT come out of your clothes easily.
Aside from heeding that optional rule, just enjoy!