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Indian Spices

If you’ve read Megan Minnick’s article on page 19 of this Reader issue (“Dichotomies of the Food System.”  Go read it if you haven’t!), then you already have a sense of the challenge that is our Prepared Foods program. On one hand, we want to supply you with great food that is also of benefit to our health and the supply chain, through the purchase of organic, local,fair trade and non-GMO ingredients. We severely limit what we can buy with this approach and we almost always pay more than most food preparers for these ingredients. On the other hand, we want to stay as close (and I know it’s not always close) to conventional Deli and Bakery food prices as we can. Making the right buying choices and setting appropriate pricing to achieve both of these ends while remaining profitable, is akin to tossing a javelin through a (locally prepared) donut from 50 yards. It’s easy to miss.

Sometimes, however, we find a product that meets both commitments without us having to monkey with much. At our Production Kitchen, we’ve begun sourcing Indian spice mixes from Sara Parthasarathy and Partha Sabniviss from Flavor Temptations, based here in Madison. Sara and Partha construct pre-measured spice mixes, often based on Sara’s mother’s recipes, that we also sell in our Grocery aisle for home use. They come with a corresponding recipe and utilize traditional flavor-building cooking methods that result in unparalleled taste and complexity. At our Production Kitchen, Sara has developed commercial-sized versions of her recipes that allow us to produce dozens of pounds of food at once for use in our Hot Bars at both (and soon, all three) of our stores.  She has also developed meticulous recipes for us to follow so that you can experience these dishes as she and Partha intended. This intent is very purposeful. These are no mere combinations of dried spices. Sara and Partha grind organic seeds as needed to fill the orders they receive. This is in keeping with the Indian tradition of freshly ground spices that underlies great Indian food.

We had the opportunity to work with Sara and her mother last year to help her develop her Chana Masala recipe. She worked with Michael Gabbei and me at the West Deli kitchen and walked us through the flavor-building process. In my culinary training and life I was no stranger to building flavor into dishes through the timing of ingredient additions, but Sara’s approach was infinitely more precise. She explained how some spices were better expressed in the hot oil, some required a long period of heating, some were better developed after liquid was introduced to the dish. The result—the most flavorful chickpeas I had ever eaten.

We are excited to bring this Chana Masala and two other dishes, an Aloo Gobi with potato and cauliflower and a Chicken Tikka Masala, to our Deli hot bars this July. Expertly crafted Indian dishes made with organic, freshly ground spices. Look for them especially on Mondays, which we are tentatively dubbing Masala Mondays. There will be a wide selection of Indian and Southeast Asian inspired dishes available this day. In addition to looking for these three dishes on our Deli hot bars, find Sara and Partha’s other meal starters in the Grocery aisles at Willy East and Willy West.

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