Nepal: Vegetable Tarkari

Madison, WI has 4-5 "Himalayan" restaurants. Personally, I think that's excessive, even if the cuisine is good. What's worse? The first time I tried the most heralded of these restaurants (a teeny place called "Himal Chuli"), I got food poisoning so badly that I thought I would die. Therefore, I didn't have a lot of motivation to try any of the other places around town--unfair though that may be.

One Sunday afternoon, Hubs and I were driving into town from Minneapolis and had to stop for lunch. The neighborhood we picked had NOTHING open....except a Himalayan place. We tried it, because we were about to fall over from hunger. I ordered something called "Tarkari." The waitress gave me two options--one was "saag," and I can't remember what the other was, because everything faded away when I heard "saag." What followed was one of the most intensely delicious and satisfying lunches I've ever had the pleasure of eating. There was saag, black eyed peas, rice, and me, very nearly licking my plate clean.

As I understand it, Vegetable Tarkari is the quintessential Nepalese cuisine. Typically, it is served over Dal Bhat, a spicy lentil soup over boiled rice. In fact, this combo is called Dal Bhat Tarkari, it's so common. Saag Tarkari is another variation of it. I just about peed in my pants when I found this out, because I might be able to make it at home! I looked all this up MONTHS ago, in a fit of saag-related excitement.

Sadly, I was unable to find a Saag Tarkari recipe. I did, however, find Vegetable Tarkari and Lamb Tarkari (which I will visit in the future). I have modified the instructions on this recipe, which is reflected below. It's worth mentioning that the recipe, as written on the original website, does not make a lot of sense. However, as I've plowed my way through this challenge, I've found that the recipes with the poorest directions are often the most authentic.

Vegetable Tarkari (from 43things)
-1 tspn ghee (soft clarified butter)
-1 tspn vegetable oil
-2 bay leaves
-1 tspn cumin seeds
-2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
-2 onions, diced
-1 tspn crushed ginger
-2 small carrots, diced
-2 medium potatoes, diced
-1 tspn ground turmeric
-1/2 cup green peas
-3 tomatoes, diced
-1 tspn ground coriander
-1 tspn salt
-1/2 cauliflower, separated into florets
-1/2 cup water
-1 bunch fresh coriander (cilantro), chopped

1. Heat ghee and oil together in a pan.

2. Add bay leaves and cumin seeds and cook until golden brown.

3. Add garlic, ginger and onion and cook until the onions are soft.

4. Add carrots, potatoes, turmeric, peas, tomatoes, coriander and salt and mix well. Add 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook about 15 minutes, or until potatoes and cauliflower are cooked through.

5. Garnish with more chopped coriander (cilantro). Serve with steamed rice, roti, pappadums, cucumber raita, though this is traditionally served with Dal Bhat.

Verdict: This really fell short of my expectations...though, it's hard to live up to the memory of that Saag Tarkari. I felt like this was under-spiced, and I had to add a lot of salt to give it an extra flavor boost. This is not to say that it was bad--by no means. It was hearty, healthy ethnic fare. It was just not what I wanted. Boohoo. :(

P.S. This could VERY easily be made vegan if you switched out the ghee for more veggie oil or a vegan butter substitute.


Susi said...

Fantastic looking vegetable dish. It has all of my favorites combined into one :o)

Reeni said...

You make it sound so delicious! It was a great effort to try and recreate it!

Lori said...

This sounds like a must do for me. I like the flavors in it:-) .

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