Last week, I endeavored to create a high-mileage lunch using only ingredients I already had in my refrigerator and pantry. In a burst of spend thriftiness, I nixed purchasing new groceries in hopes of developing a hearty pot o’ something that would satisfy noontime noshing for a few days.
Prepared to work wonders with a jar of Patak’s Tikka Masala Simmer Sauce, I first chopped and sautéed an eggplant, a vegetable I don’t often cook. Sauce added, I mixed in a can of rinsed garbanzo beans plus some spinach for good measure. A midprocess taste test revealed that the sauce’s cumin imparted an unsettling level of mustiness that I attempted to balance with doses of salt, coriander and Sriracha sauce.
The result was decidedly so-so. Paired with rice, the saucy vegetable medley was filling and palatable, but certainly not something I’ll attempt to replicate. Though I’ve tried various ready-made Indian ingredients from the grocery store shelves, I have yet to use them in creating a dish that even remotely approximates the sultry spiciness of the food from my favorite Indian restaurants. Yet for one inexperienced in cooking Indian fare from scratch, the process of toasting and grinding spices can be daunting in and of itself. Thus, I turn to the experts when I want to truly enjoy Indian cuisine.
My lackluster home creation having left me with a hankering for some top-notch Indian eats, this week I stopped in at Masala of India in Seattle’s Northgate neighborhood. Welcomed by a small squadron of men identically clad in black slacks and white button-down shirts, I scanned the robust menu and selected for myself a feast of vegetarian stews that was readied in scarcely 10 minutes.
Having ordered my heat-metered dishes as 3 of 5 stars on the scale of flaming food, I soon wondered if perhaps I should have knocked the fire down a notch for my stew of chopped spinach, onion and cubes of potato known as Saag Aloo ($8.95). Masala doesn’t mess around with its chiles. The delicate stewed spinach was overpowered by fiery pepper, though spices of ginger and cumin imparted excellent flavor to the tender chunks of spud.
Unlike , Indian fare is typically enjoyed with a fork, though pinches of naan flatbread serve well to help shepherd spicy, saucy dishes. Unfortunately, Masala’s naan ($1.95) proved disappointing, short on flavor but long on chew. Either a plus or a minus depending on your dietary stance, the bread was nearly devoid of the butter that glistens on some restaurant’s rendition of the recipe.
As was the case with my three-star Saag Aloo, the orange hue of Shahi Paneer ($10.95) accurately reflected the stew’s glowing burn on the tongue. In this instance, however, flavors of tomato and onion were able to assert themselves alongside the cream-tempered chile. Cubes of the firm, mild Indian cheese paneer yielded toothsome bites amid the luxurious sauce. As Shahi Paneer is a particularly soupy dish, Basmati rice was excellent for soaking the bright gravy into its slender grains.
As it turned out, my favorite of the evening was an Indian dish new to me, Eggplant Bhartha ($9.95). The flesh of baked eggplant mashed with spices and blended with onion, bright green peas and bits of tomato was a smoky, savory delight. More colorful than baba ganoush and more exciting than tapenade, Masala’s Eggplant Bhartha called out all the best performances of my favorite eggplant concoctions and brought them together in a single winning turn.
In addition to a la carte offerings, Masala also features a lunch buffet, delivery service, and a bakery case of treats. Though not every dish excelled, the Northgate eatery was overall a reasonable antidote to my incompetence in Indian cooking.