Spending a few minutes in an ethnic grocery store always inspires me to make something new. The exotic fruits and vegetables and unusual herbs and spices instantly trigger my brain to start thinking in different ways. Take Route 46 west to Patel Brothers in Parsippany on this Flavor Excursions trip where you’ll find a grocery store flaunting the flavors of India. Invite a friend to join you and together you can shop, share ingredients and costs.
That’s exactly what my friend Suzy and I did a few weeks ago.
Tiring of the winter meals we’ve been serving our families week after week, we thought we needed to jazz things up a bit in the dinner department. So, we planned a field trip to Patel Brothers followed by an après-shopping cooking date.
We wandered the aisles of this exceptionally clean and tidy market, marveling at the colorful stacks of spices and a refrigerator full of fresh yogurt and cheese (paneer). There’s also a frozen section with an array of breads and bite sized foods, and a pantry stocked with dried beans and lentils of every size and color and jars and jars of exotic chutneys and sauces. The selection is astounding and truly gets our creativity flowing.
We strolled slowly while selecting ingredients (ginger, coriander, chickpeas and lentils) to make Chana Masala, a traditional chick pea dish with stewed tomatoes and a Red Lentil Soup. Our biggest decision of the day was which brand of rice and how much we should buy. We ended up splitting a ten pound bag of an exceptional quality of rice for a very reasonable price.
It was a fun outing that led to two delicious dinners that we enjoyed with our respective families. It certainly shook things up a bit in the dinner department, which is one of the main reasons I’m a fan of culinary excursions, where gastronomic inspiration is boundless.
Red Lentil Soup
Makes 2 ½ quarts
You can leave this soup chunky or use an immersion blender to puree it a bit. Feel free to sweeten it with some coconut milk or enjoy it just the way it is.
- 1 pound red lentils, rinsed and stones removed
- 3 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 packed tablespoon grated ginger root
- 4 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 tablespoons)
- 1 medium sized onion, diced
- 2 teaspoons Garam Masala
- 1 teaspoon salt
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- 1 cup carrots, chopped
- 2 stalks celery, diced finely
- 8 cups chicken (or vegetable) stock
- 1 cup coconut milk (optional)
- handful of chopped cilantro
In a soup pot, heat the olive oil for just a minute or two. Add the ginger and garlic. Sauté for a few minutes and then add the chopped onions. Season with garam masala, salt and pepper. Cook for another five minutes or so. Add the celery and carrots and combine well.
Add the chicken stock and red lentils. Bring to a boil and then simmer for about 20 minutes until the lentils are tender. If there is any foam, feel free to skim it from the top of the soup.
Ladle into bowls and serve with some chopped fresh cilantro and crispy papadum (crispy lentil wafers).