Indian food has always been an elusive thing for me to make at home. Thai, I can manage—Dave is particularly good at cooking it. Italian, of course. French, too. Indian, though, has been a no-go.
Now, I'll be the first one in the car if we're going out for Indian food. I would consider it to be one of my favorite things to eat, right up there with tapas. I remember a class I took in high school, though, when we had a pot luck one day for lunch. Each of us had to bring in a dish that was inspired by another culture. A strict vegetarian at the time, I chose India for its abundance of veggie-friendly dishes, none of which I had made but many of which I had eaten out at restaurants.
To say that I had no clue what I was doing would be an understatement. I didn't have time to try to make dough and filling for samosas, so I opted instead for something that could be classified as "chop, throw it in a pan, and cook." Maybe that was my first mistake—flavors in a one-pot dish would still need to be built and developed—but this is hindsight now talking. I also had no idea where to find paneer, Indian cheese that is often cubed and cooked as a main ingredient in many dishes. Unlike most cheeses, paneer doesn't melt, so it's comparable to halloumi, which is used in Greek cooking and can be fried. (I'm reminded now of my saganaki fail, but that's a different story for a different time.) Even I knew better at the time to try to substitute it, so mutter paneer, palak paneer, and other tasty dishes were out of the question.
I settled on a huge batch of aloo gobi, curried cauliflower, for my classmates, the primary ingredients of which were vegetables that I could easily find in the grocery store. Needless to say, it ended up as an adventure in the kitchen, and I was upset to find that nobody, except myself and probably the teachers, tried my food. In hindsight, I can't blame them. The flavor profile was overwhelmingly cumin and tumeric, which also made the dish a glowing yellow color that probably looked a little intimidating to the eye, especially for those who maybe never tried Indian food and this was the first time they were seeing something like it. Then again, I grabbed whatever curry powder looked the best at the store; I didn't use fresh spices or develop their flavor by toasting and grinding them to make my own spice blend, which would have made a huge difference.
The experience, nevertheless, made me decide to give up any future attempts—until now. I put aside any fears I had and set out to make daal for dinner—quite literally the first time I've tried making homemade Indian food since this experience.
Soup is often my go-to lunch since it's quick and easy to grab from a store or a work cafeteria. I always have a stockpile of some kind of soup or chili in the freezer for when I don't feel like cooking when I get home in the evening, too, which I thaw overnight in the refrigerator or, if I don't remember, quickly thaw in the microwave.
I make and eat soup year-round, even during the summer, but nothing beats the magical feeling of eating hot soup on a cold day. It just warms up your body and makes you feel instantly better—at least, for me it does.
This recipe for mushroom barley soup is one of my favorites to make in the crock pot and let cook overnight for dinner the next day. It is healthy and doesn't require a lot of ingredients, making it a perfect recipe for using up pantry and fridge staples.