W.Va. woman teaches Indian cooking, shares recipes

August 11, 2008|By TIFFANY ARNOLD

CHARLES TOWN, W.Va. - Rajni Hatti doesn't have time for complicated cooking.

Hatti, 32, of Charles Town, has a 3-year-old son. She teaches Indian cooking classes throughout Jefferson County, W.Va., which she promotes on her Web site, She also writes food columns for, a Web zine for American-born women of South Asian descent. Her husband, Harsha, owns a software company.

She's a time-strapped mom, but she finds time to prepare a good, home-cooked meal for her family. Traditional lndian cooking can get the job done in less than an hour.

"Once you understand the basics of how to cook Indian food, you can find dishes that are quick and easy," Hatti said. "It doesn't mean slaving away in the kitchen all day."


Hatti will talk about Indian cuisine as the featured guest chef on "Cooking Fresh, Cooking Local," a cooking show that airs 3:30 p.m. Sundays on the Chambersburg, Pa.-based WJAL. Hatti will be on the program Aug. 17.

Hatti says Indian cooking is more user-friendly than people give it credit for. She says people are intimidated by Indian cooking because they're unfamiliar with the spices or they assume it's too complicated.

When The Herald-Mail met with her, Hatti prepared keema matar (pronounced MUH-ter), a northern Indian dish of spiced ground meat with peas. It calls for ingredients easily found at any major grocer. The easy process of making keema matar belies its complex taste.

The dish takes 40 minutes or less, start to finish.

Keema mater is a combination of ground lamb - beef or chicken are common substitutes - with tomatoes and peas. Hatti seasons the keema mater with green chili, turmeric, grated ginger and garam masala. Garam masala, a spice mix common in northern Indian cooking, is coriander, cumin, peppercorn, cinnamon, whole cloves and cardamom ground together. Hatti makes hers in a coffee grinder she uses just for spices.

The keema mater is served with naan, a type of flatbread you can find at the grocery store, packaged like flour tortillas.

Hatti also made mango lassi, a sweet-savory yogurt drink common in most parts of India. Mango lassi is typically served as a snack or as a post-meal drink. Cardamom gives it a spicy aftertaste. Hatti said you can blend the lassi with ice to make it taste more "American."

Hatti's parents are from southern India, but she grew up in Chicago. Many of her relatives still live in India. At home, she cooks from recipes passed down by word of mouth from her mother and grandmother.

"I'm probably the first one that's actually written down a lot of these recipes in my family," Hatti said.

Mango lassi

1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
3/4 cup 2 percent milk
3/4 cup canned sweetened mango pulp (see cook's note)
1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom (optional)
1 tablespoon condensed milk
Springs of mint, for garnish

Put all of the ingredients into a blender and blend until smooth. Pour into serving glasses and serve immediately. Garnish with mint sprigs

Cook's note: Mango pulp is found at specialty Indian food shops. Rajni Hatti goes as far as Leesburg, Va., to buy her mango pulp, but she says you can use fresh mango instead. If using fresh mango, taste it first to make sure it's sweet. Then peel and chop it up.

Serves 2

- Courtesy of Rajni Hatti

Garam masala

2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon peppercorns
1 2-inch stick of cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground cardamom

Dry roast the spices: Lay spices on a dry pan on the stovetop over medium-high heat for a few minutes. Stir occasionally. When they give off an aroma, remove from heat and cool to room temperature. Grind to a fine powder, using a coffee grinder. Use immediately or store in an air-tight container for up to two months.

Makes about a 1/4 cup.

- Courtesy of Rajni Hatti

Keema matar

2 tablespoons vegetable or canola oil

1 medium onion, diced
1 medium clove of garlic, chopped finely
1 medium green chili, chopped finely
1 pound ground lamb (ground beef or chicken can be substituted)
2 teaspoons salt, more or less to taste
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
4 teaspoons garam masala (see recipe below)
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 teaspoon peeled and grated ginger
1/2 cup frozen peas
1 medium tomato, diced
2 teaspoons tomato paste

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add onion, garlic and green chili. Stir occasionally until the onion start to brown, about 5 minutes.

Add ground meat and salt. Saut, breaking up the meat completely. Add the turmeric, garam masala, crushed red pepper and ginger. Mix to combine thoroughly.

Add peas, tomato and tomato paste. Combine, then stir occasionally until the tomatoes cook down, about 2 to 3 minutes. If the tomato paste is too hard to break up, add water to the pan and stir.

Serve with Indian bread such as naan.

Serves 4.

- Courtesy of Rajni Hatti

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