Born and raised in Delhi, India, Geeta Bansal grew up in a household where formal entertaining with an international guest list was practically an everyday event.
Bansal, chef-owner of Clay Oven, Irvine, was a professor at Rutgers University as well as an urban planner, but gave it up to become a restaurateur and chef specializing in Indian cuisine.
She holds dear the childhood memories of hanging out in the kitchen with the cooks – sampling, smelling and making mental notes.
Last September she was invited to cook at the prestigious James Beard House in New York City. A sumptuous multi-course contemporary Indian dinner was prepared. Dubbed “The Art of Spice,” her Beard menu included dishes such as foie gras samosas with cherry chutney, rabbit vindaloo with habanero curry, as well as Kashmiri lamb koftas with spicy tomato chutney. Rosewater panna cotta, too.
VIDEO: I asked her to teach me how to make one of her favorite simple Indian dishes, jeera aloo, a potato and tomato concoction clothed in an alluring mixture of dried spices.
Sharing a unique tip, she explained that most chefs don’t add water when heating a blend of spices.
It’s a dandy trick that helps to prevent burning the delicate mix. The dish can be served hot or cold, making it an appealing picnic dish for upcoming warm weather outings.
Bring along some chapati (unleavened flatbread) is you like, and some Indian pickle.
Great Outdoors: She enjoys cooking in her backyard kitchen, listening to her cockatiel Gabby sing and puttering in the garden.
Breakfast Fave: Oat bran with walnuts and Greek yogurt mixed with honey and orange juice. Green tea on the side.
The Competition: Three European restaurants are her favorites: Pierre Gagnaire in Paris, France (Chef Pierre Gagnaire); Mugaritz in San Sebastian, Spain (Chef Andoni Aduriz); Tickets Bar, Barcelona, Spain (Chef Albert Adria).
Yield: 4 servings
1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Optional: 1/2 teaspoon dried mango powder
1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
3 tablespoons water
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1 pound halved lengthwise parboiled fingerling potato such as Butterfinger or Red Thumb varieties, see cook’s notes
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
Cook’s notes: To parboil potatoes, place the halved fingerlings in water to cover. Bring to boil; boil only until fork tender; do not overcook. This is a versatile dish; if desired add one of the following: spinach, arugula, dandelion greens, shelled green peas, tatsoi, cherry tomatoes or pomegranate arils while cooking in Step #2.
1. In a small bowl, place chili powder, coriander, ground cumin, mango powder (if using), and turmeric; stir to combine. Stir in water; set aside.
2. Heat oil in large deep skillet on medium heat. Add cumin seeds, sauté until slightly browned about 30 seconds. (If it burns start over.) Add spice-water mixture and potatoes.
3. Gently toss to coat potatoes and cook until heated through. then add all dry spices. Tip: Mix all dry spices together in a little water to prevent burning when added to pan. Add potato pieces and stir carefully until the spice mixture coats all the pieces. Add salt to taste and chopped cilantro; gently toss. Serve hot or cold.
Source: Geeta Bansal, executive chef-owner Clay Oven, Irvine
Here’s a quick tip from Melissa’s …
A quick-to-prepare pasta dish is a delectable way to use up leftover cooked vegetables, such as broccoli florets, broccolini or green beans. Add them in Step #2 during the last minute or two of cooking the sausage.
Easy Rotini with Turkey Sausage, Red Bell Pepper and Cheese
Yield: 4 servings
8 ounces dried rotini or fusilli pasta, farro (or spelt) rotini or fusilli preferred
6 ounces sweet Italian sausage, casings removed
3/4 large red bell pepper, cored, seeded, finely diced
1/2 cup grated Parmesan or Pecorino Romano cheese, divided use
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh basil or Italian parsley
Cook’s notes: Farro (or spelt) rotini are sold at natural food stores, such as Mother’s Market or Whole Foods. If you prefer use another kind of rotini or fusilli.
1. Bring a large pot of water to a boil on high heat.
2. Meanwhile, cook sausage and red pepper in a large nonstick skillet on medium-high heat, breaking up sausage with a spatula and stirring frequently; lower heat if necessary to prevent scorching. Cook until sausage is cooked through.
3. When water comes to a boil, add pasta; cook according to package directions (you can do this while the sausage is cooking).
4. Reserve 1/2 cup cooking liquid and drain pasta. In large bowl place pasta, pasta water, sausage and bell pepper; toss. Sprinkle on half of cheese, pepper and oil; toss. Add basil and toss. Divide between 4 shallow bowls. Top with remaining cheese.