Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Bastille Day Feast. French Classics Made Easy...Indian Style

   Growing up in my Italian American family, Bastille Day (French Independence Day) was not something we paid a whole lot of attention to. Columbus Day on the other hand, well that was a different matter. I say that as a former San Francisco Columbus Day Princess. Bastille day was the other Independence Day. Well as it turned out, I should have paid more attention. As it turns out my very, very, very first ancestor in this country was a Frenchman! My great great great grandfather was brought to New Orleans from France at the age of 2 by his parents in 1832. He moved on to California for the Gold Rush in 1849 where he had a colorful career as a political leader, chief jailer and the founder of one of the first meat markets in San Francisco.
   So when it was suggested that I participate in Workman's Publishing Bastille Day Celebration of  Richard Grausmans' book French Classics Made Easy, I was ready to rock and roll. After all, I used to watch Julia Child on TV as a kid. How hard could it be? Made Easy, right?? That's what the book says right there in the title! It's not like I'm an amateur. I'd cooked French food before.
   I was 15. My parents, to humor my desire to cook, bought me a copy of Julia Child's Mastering the Art of French Cooking and let me have at it. Of course I chose to make Beef Bourguignon 'cause it had real WINE (lots of it) and I invited my "boyfriend" Mark (victim) to dinner!!! How did it turn out? Well, I was a teensy bit heavy handed on the wine and Mark and I wound up rolling around on the floor laughing hysterically at nothing after dinner. I don't know what his parents thought when they picked him up to take him home but I wasn't allowed to cook unsupervised again for a long, long time.
   Okay, so I'd grown up and matured, and I figured it was time to try my hand in the French Kitchen again. I was a big girl. I could handle it. The challenge was to cook some of the delicious French dishes from the book and see if I could put an Indian spin on my very own Bastille Day Party.

   "Hmmm", I thought, "this would be a challenge. It's not enough that somebody from an Italian background has spent the past 21 years cooking Indian food; now it has to be combined with French??? What has French food got to do with Indian cuisine?" Quite a lot as I discovered.
   I knew that the British, the Portuguese and the Persians had all been in India, and the evidence of their exchanges was easily found in many dishes I've cooked over the years. I mean.. Vindaloo... hello?!  But the French? No way, I thought. But of course I was underestimating them. Totally way, as it turned out. It seems the French had quite the history in India as Lord Google informed me, involving trade, factories, military conquest, some British frenemy action, romance and of
   The Challenge involved re-creating a recipe or recipes from French Classics Made Easy. I chose to tackle the classic French Watercress Soup, and a Lime Mousse. I started doing my research into exactly how the French and the Indians had influenced each other, and it all seemed to focus on the cooking of Puducherry, or as it once was known Pondicherry. As it turns out, in my sleuthing I discovered something I'd never heard of before. It was an unusual spice blend that had been taken to France from India. A sort of French Masala, or a Franco-Indian version of the British staple curry powder. It became my key to the meal and my secret ingredient. It's called vadouvan!
    Now there are almost as many recipes for vadouvan as there are cooks, but the one thing it always includes is a base blend of finely chopped onions, leeks and shallots caramelized with a bit of olive oil on a parchment-covered cookie sheet in a slow oven.

After that spices are toasted and ground, and then it's all mixed together. Packed in a jar, it keeps in the fridge for a month and in the freezer for 6 months. This spice blend is popular in France and Belgium but not very well known here. It was just what I was looking for. I had my key to the world of French Indian cuisine. 
  I made the French watercress soup following the recipe, then instead of adding cream, I made some sirkhand (drained Indian yogurt) and mixed some of the vadouvan blend into the sirkhand and then added a dollop to each of the soup servings and swirled it in and mixed it up.
 It was the prefect touch. France by way of Puducherry!
    For dessert I decided to change up the lime mousse by using the Indian Kaffir lime and a yogurt base for a lighter touch.

 I paired it with some cookies that came from a recipe sent to me by Bibi, one of my readers in Katmandu. The cookies are made with cardamom and coconut and chickpea (besan) flour so they're gluten free! Also they're delicious and a snap to make. One other great thing about the cookies: I rolled them like butter cookie logs at Bibi's suggestion and popped the unbaked logs into the freezer for use any time I want a cookie. All I have to do is unwrap a roll and slice off what I want. Yes, it was easy. Too easy. Diabolically easy.
    So I had the beginning and the end of the meal all set, but what about the main course?? There is a classic French Indian dish served at La Porte Des Indes in London. It's a simple roast chicken (tres French) where the meat is taken from the bone and then served smothered in a slow cooked sauce of onions, yogurt and spices. I decided to lean more French in my interpretation of the dish and keep my meat on the bone. I served the sauce on the side. I fixed one of my favorite dishes, an Indian version of the classic French creamed spinach. Potatoes and small spring onions pan roasted in some olive oil with garam masala rounded out the meal.
    Normally when I serve an Indian meal, I get out my thalis, the classic stainless steel Indian dinnerware. For Bastille day however, I decided to go all the way and broke out my real deal Cordon Bleu Dinnerware, bistro sized and imported from Paris. You can't get it anymore. At least not the French originals. So I don't use it very often, but this was a special meaI. I was going full tilt French.
  Lunch was served. It was a gorgeous Wine Country Sunday afternoon so we had our lunch on the deck overlooking the neighbors' vineyard.
It was like we were in....I don't know...France??
 Instead of wine, our guest Mr.X brought some Arrogant Bastard Ale. Of course he would know about that stuff, and since most of the time beer is the perfect accompaniment to Indian food, the combo was perfection.
   I'll be  posting all the recipes in detail in the next few days, but what I have to say here is that this meal was easy to prepare. The recipes from the book were clear and straightforward. The soup and the mousse can be made ahead of time.The base of the chicken sauce is made ahead and put together in a few minutes before serving. The potatoes and onions cook in about 15 minutes. As to roasting a chicken, pop it in a 400 degree oven seated on a ceramic roaster with a lemon up it's hoo-ha for an hour and its done. No muss no fuss. The Lime Mousse was amazing, and I'd never made any sort of mousse before. It was so easy I know I'm going to be embarking on some kind of mad mousseing frenzy. You already know about those cookies.
    I'm so glad I decided to take part in this challenge. It allowed me to exorcise the ghost of corrupting my 15 year old boyfriend with too much vin de rouge and also to explore a range of Indian cooking that in 21 years of studying this cuisine I honestly had never run across before.
I can't wait to try more of these absolutely delightful combinations. I'll be posting the recipes for all of these dishes in the days to come. Follow along on Twitter @kathygori until then: Bon Appetitte, Vive La Revolution! and Namaste!


  1. This all sounds so wonderful! Quick question; at what temp do you carmelize the vadouvan?
    Looking forward to visiting following now alos!

  2. Loved this post! Had to tweet it :)

  3. What a beautiful post. I would have loved to have been at that dinner. Matter of fact I would love to be at all your dinners!

  4. Tres magnifique!

    My favorite Julia Child quote-
    'I think every woman should have a blowtorch.'

  5. Hi Kathy,

    Thanks for the coverage of my book and recipes. One question: Was the color of the soup accurate in the photo, or was it a brighter green in person? By the way, I love Indian food, especially from the south.

    A service I offer my readers is called "House Calls". My father was a doctor and I learned the value of his house calls. If you ever have a problem with any of my recipes, send me an e-mail with a photo if possible, and I will will aid you from my home to yours. Just write to me at





Blog Widget by LinkWithin