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See how this Southlake family adds spice to their family gatherings with Diwali flavors

By David ArkinDecember 6, 2023December 20th, 2023No Comments

See how this Southlake family adds spice to their gatherings with Diwali flavors

By Scott Nishimura 

Photos by Olaf Growald

To look over Deepa Dayal’s gathering at her home in Southlake – a dinner party for more than a dozen guests celebrating the annual Hindi festival Diwali and victory of light over darkness – one could have guessed there had been lots of chefs in the kitchen.

In reality, Dayal was the only one cooking when she rose at 7:30 a.m. that Saturday to prepare her spread for guests’ arrival at 3 p.m.

“I don’t have anybody else in the kitchen,” says Dayal, an accountant for a food distribution company, whose husband Sanjay says she cooks to “de-stress.” “I’ve been cooking since the second grade,” she says. “I’m really fast.”

The spread for the Indian dinner is a “mock Diwali” that Dayal, a home cook, agreed to stage in October for 360West ahead of the festival’s five days in December. It’s vegetarian, with 15 dishes. Thirteen are from scratch, and one, rice pudding, was prepared by one of the guests.

The menu followed a typical progression, from appetizers to mains and desserts. Ingredients included lentils, chickpeas, potato, paneer and rice.

“People celebrate Diwali in different ways,” Dayal says. “For me, it’s more spiritual. I keep those days meat-free.”

Her family puts on a big gathering around food about once a month. She and her husband grew up on Fiji, a small archipelago in the South Pacific. 

“We didn’t come from a rich family,” she says. “But my grandmother loved cooking. Even though we didn’t have a lot of money, she loved inviting people over.”

Moreover, “Fiji is isolated,” Dayal says. Food “was a way of bringing people together. It makes it very homey.”

In turn, Dayal’s family is food-crazy. “If we have breakfast, we talk about dinner,” she says. “It’s very competitive.”

This dinner was unusual in scope for the typical monthly gatherings (“usually about half of this,” Sanjay says). Even though most of the preparation occurred on the day of the dinner, Dayal made a sauce late in the week and froze it. She also prepared samosas – a filled pastry – earlier in the week.

“Samosas are very easy to make,” she said. “I’ll do 100 samosas and freeze them, just like you would do with spring rolls.”

Dayal’s daughters Avana, 16, and Mitali, 12, helped. Avana, who has an interest in art, decorated the cheesecake.

“We don’t choose between sugar and fat,” Sanjay said as guests prepared to line up for the buffet. “Everything has sugar and fat.”

One guest inquired what spice Dayal used in one dish. “I make my own,” she said. The guest: “I’m not surprised.”

Dayal frequents Patel Brothers, an Indian grocery in Irving. “That is an immaculate shop,” she says. “It’s the Indian version of Hmart,” the popular Korean grocery.

Dayal collects cookbooks “just for inspiration,” but relishes changing them up. “It’s just my twist,” she says.

Mediterranean is another theme at some of Dayal’s monthly gatherings. “Indian is second nature to me,” she says. “Mediterranean is easy for me. I do Thai. I’ll make sushi from scratch.”

Channa Masala (chickpea curry)

Deepa Dayal has cooked since she was a child, and she develops her own recipes. Here’s her take on chickpea curry, a dish she prepared for the Diwali feast. Serves 4

  •  I cup dry chickpeas or 2 cans of chickpeas
  • water
  • 1 black cardamom pod
  •  2-3 cinnamon sticks (2″-3″ long)
  • 8 peppercorns
  • 3 cloves
  •  2 bay leaves
  • 1-2 tsp salt (per taste)
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 red dry chiles
  • 5-6 fresh curry leaves
  • 1 onion, grated or pureed into a paste
  • 1⁄2 tbsp minced ginger
  • 1 clove garlic, crushed
  • 1 cup crushed canned tomatoes
  • 1 tsp garam masala, plus extra for garnish
  • 1 tsp coriander-cumin powder
  • 1/4 tsp red chili powder
  • 1 tsp turmeric
  • 1⁄2 tsp sugar
  • Handful of chopped cilantro for garnish
  • Julienned fresh ginger for garnish

Preparation

If using dry chickpeas, soak them in two pints of warm water overnight, or for at least 6-8 hours. When ready to cook, drain the chickpeas and add 10 cups of fresh water. Add the whole spices- cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon of salt. Simmer in a saucepan for 1-1⁄2 to 2 hours. If you have a pressure cooker, add 5 cups of water and cook for 15 minutes.

If using canned chickpeas, drain and rinse. Empty chickpeas into a deep saucepan and add 2 cups boiling water. Add the whole spices-cardamom, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, bay leaves and 1 teaspoon of salt. Boil chickpeas for 5 minutes or until chickpeas are softer. Turn off the heat.

Reserve 1/3 cup cooked chickpeas and blend this into a paste. Keep it aside for later. The rest of the chickpeas can stay in the same pot. Do not drain the liquid. Discard the whole spices from the liquid. Heat oil in a pan and put it on medium heat. Fry cumin seeds until they start to brown. This may take 10 seconds.

Add red chiles and curry leaves and fry for another few seconds.

Add onion paste and stir. Let onions cook until the paste starts getting a light caramel color, stirring regularly so it doesn’t stick to the pot. About 10 minutes.

Stir in the ginger, garlic and crushed tomatoes. Add in the powdered spices-garam masala, coriander-cumin powder, red chili powder, turmeric, sugar and salt to taste. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring regularly.

Pour the cooked chickpeas with its liquid in the tomato base sauce and stir well, coating all chickpeas in the sauce.

Add another 1-2 cups of boiling water. Put heat on high and cook for 5 minutes.

Now add the chickpea paste into the pot to thicken the sauce.

Reduce the heat, cover the pot and let it simmer for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.

Garnish with chopped cilantro and julienned ginger. Sprinkle the remaining garam masala on top for garnish. Take off the heat. Cover and let the flavors infuse.

Paneer Jalfrezi (Indian cheese stir-fried with peppers)

Here’s Deepa Dayal’s recipe for a paneer stir-fry, another dish she prepared as part of her Diwali spread.

Serves 4

  • 16 oz paneer
  • 4 tbsp oil
  • 4 cardamom pods, slightly crushed
  • 1 star anise
  • 1 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1 red onion, sliced
  • 4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
  • 2 ginger, julienned
  • 1-2 green chiles, finely chopped
  • 1⁄2 red pepper, sliced
  • 1⁄2-1 tsp red chili powder
  • 1⁄2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 1 tsp coriander powder
  • 1 tsp cumin powder
  • 2 tomatoes, quartered
  • 1⁄2 green pepper, sliced
  • Lemon juice from 1⁄2 lemon
  •  2 tsp salt
  • Julienned fresh ginger for garnish

Garnish

  • Couple of pinches of Garam Masala 
  • Handful of cilantro, chopped finely 
  • Slithers of fresh ginger

Preparation

Soak paneer in a bowl of warm water until soft and spongy. Cut into 1.5″ cubes or finger-length rectangles. Heat oil in pan. Add cardamom pods, star anise and cumin seeds, and fry for a few seconds until the cumin seeds change color and start to crackle. Add sliced onion and salt for taste, and continue frying until golden brown. About 5 minutes.

Add garlic, ginger and green chiles. Stir in all the powdered spices-red chili, turmeric, coriander and cumin powder. To prevent sticking, add a little water. This will stop the spices from burning.

Stir in tomatoes and peppers. Cook a few minutes until veggies are soft. Add paneer cubes in the pot and gently toss to coat in the spice mixture.

Add lemon juice and stir gently. Garnish with garam masala, chopped cilantro and julienned ginger. Serve with rice or chapati on the side.