By Abby Scalf
Daily Herald Correspondent
Sushma Bhanot assures us once you try Indian cuisine, you'll be hooked.
Sushma recalls with humor one friend who tried her home-cooked Indian cuisine, called it "interesting" and instead requested a cup of black tea.
"Now when she comes over, she will ask me, 'have you cooked some Indian food?' She tried it once and now she's totally hooked," said the Barrington Hills cook. "I have introduced so many friends to Indian food once, and after that they tell me 'we go to Indian restaurants all the time.'" Sushma learned by watching her mother.
"My mom put so much love into it and my mom cooked really good food so everyone appreciated her food. I like to cook like my mom," she said.
Sushma said Indian cuisine features different tastes depending on the region. Sushma said she grew up enjoying foods common in northern India, which may not be as spicy as southern Indian dishes but is what diners may find most in restaurants outside India. To build the flavor, Sushma mixes a variety of spices to make a blend called masala.
"I will use cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, cumin, coriander and grind them," she said. "Sometimes I will use the combination of all the spices, but in some dishes just use coriander and cumin seed."
A vegetarian like her mother, Sushma incorporates beans and lentils, known in India as dal, into many of her recipes. Sushma said her pantry at her Barrington Hills home is filled with 10 to 15 types of beans. She uses kidney beans for rajma, a red kidney bean curry. Beans cook in a pressure cooker along with onions, tomatoes and spices such as cumin, coriander and turmeric, and is served over rice.
"My mom made them every Sunday," she said.
No matter what vegetables you find at the store, Sushma said they may be used in Indian cooking. While she said some shy away from using okra because it can feel slimy, she has a solution.
"The way we cook it, okra is not slimy at all. It is dry and delicious. I put a little oil and cut it in small rounds and saute it in oil and add salt and turmeric and add lemon juice or dry mango powder. It takes all the slime away," she said.
Just like her mom did, Sushma also makes homemade Indian cheese called paneer. Made of milk boiled with vinegar and strained over a cheese cloth, paneer can resemble cottage cheese or be compressed into a slab and then sliced. Sushma cubes the pressed variety cheese for a dish called mutter paneer, or peas and cheese.
"I will cut them into squares, deep fry them. Then you make curry peas and add the cheese to that. It is very good looking and very delicious," she said.
Sushma loves to cook for her husband, P.K., and their adult children, who enjoy coming home for mom's cooking Indian specialties or recipes from Vietnamese, Korean or Mexican cuisines.
"I make tostadas, burritos and all types of pastas with vegetables, all types of salads," she said.
Sushma frequently will invite friends to enjoy a home-cooked Indian meal, adding she recently hosted 50 guests. For Sushma, it's a way to share meals she loves and to relax.
She said, "I was telling my husband I don't enjoy cleaning, but you can make me cook all day long. I won't complain."
• To suggest someone to be profiled here, send the cook's name, address and phone number to firstname.lastname@example.org.