contributed by Ronnie Fein
Until recently I hadn’t eaten Indian food for several years, all because my husband Ed and I actually travelled in India and the food was so good I didn’t want to ruin the memory. The food over there was an extraordinary revelation of just how elegant, refined and profoundly tasty Indian cuisine can be. Nothing we had eaten in the States before that trip could compare favorably.
So, when my friend and colleague, Liz Rueven, asked if I would sub here on her blog – she was crazy busy with plans for her son’s wedding – and suggested I review Navaratna, a new-ish, Indian restaurant in Stamford, CT, I was reluctant.
Well, Indian food is back in our lives, thanks to Navaratna.
First, I need to point out that, as anyone who reads this blog knows, Liz usually writes about restaurants where there are plenty choices for those who follow kashruth by eating vegetarian items when away from their kosher kitchens.
Navaratna is strictly vegetarian and fully, absolutely kosher, so one needn’t pick and choose from among the dozens and dozens of menu items. Options here include selections from Southern India, which features plenty of coconut and rich coconut-milk based sauces, as well as Northern India, with its chili-spiced and tomato-ey fare. And because India borders China, there are a few “Indo Chinese” dishes too.
The dozens of appetizers and side dishes include some of the very items of “street food” I remember from our travels. So, it was a must for our group to begin with Samosa, two large baked dumplings filled with gently seasoned potatoes and peas, the crispy golden skin a perfect foil for the soft center. The mint sauce was a refreshing accompaniment, and the thick tamarind sauce made for an interestingly tangy counterpoint.
Next we had Butter Papper Roast Masala, an incredibly long, rolled, crispy-roasted dosa (thin rice/lentil flour pancake) that we picked apart into small pieces and dipped into the accompanying sauces: a delicately sweet coconut chutney, a chili-spiced tomato chutney and a savory tasting lentil sauce.
Indian breads can be a meal unto themselves. We stuffed ourselves on two, even with all the other items we had ordered. First, the Aloo Paratha, a tender baked wheat flatbread, because we loved it so much in India that we ate it every morning for breakfast (Navaratna’s version didn’t disappoint). And we also gave in to our “fried-is-always-good” yearnings with Chole Bhatura, a light and crispy puff served with chickpea curry.
We ate every crumb and every drop of thick, aromatic sauce.
We wanted to compare two vegetable curries, North and South versions.
It was amazing, even for a food writer like me, to see that the same vegetables, or mostly the same (carrots, zucchini, beans, onions) could taste so different, depending on the seasonings: Allepy Vegetable Curry had veggies steeped in a silky coconut sauce that was creamy, gently fragrant and spiced. It was a sharp contrast to the richly red, piquant and peppery Vegetable Jalfrezi. The vegetables curries come with deliciously tender, scented Basmati rice, to use as a sop for the sauces.
We couldn’t resist one of the Indo-Chinese selections, so we picked Gobi Manchurian Dry, which features cut up, batter-dipped fried cauliflower whose crunchy crust softened slightly under a tangy glaze. This lightly spicy dish was surprisingly hearty and filling, like eating meat.
This is a place we’ll go back to.
Ronnie Fein is a CTbased cookbook author, journalist, recipe creator, and director of The Ronnie Fein School of Creative Cooking in Stamford, CT. Her cookbook, Hip Kosher, 175 Easy-to-Prepare Recipes for Today’s Kosher Cooks, is an easy to use resource for all cooks with contemporary tastes and lifestyles. She blogs at Kitchen Vignettes.
Navaratna is located at 133 Atlantic Street in Stamford, CT (203-348-2376).