In true Pavlovian fashion, all it took was last week’s news that India Prime Minister Narendra Modi was visiting our nation’s capital to trigger my intense craving for garam masala.
Psychologists call it classical conditioning. I call it food felicity, and I’m sure that it was virtually impossible to get a reservation at an Indian restaurant in Washington, D.C., during Modi’s short stay.
I’ve always loved the herbs and spices that anchor traditional Indian cuisine, and the garam masala, a powdery fusion of several of these distinct flavors, routinely finds itself sprinkled atop, rubbed onto, or stirred into many dishes from Delhi to Dahnbad.
To quash my craving, I sat down with local restaurateur Yatin Parekh to get a sense, and a taste, of the foundational role that these spices play at New Delhi Palace, 6751 E. Broadway Blvd.
“All of our herbs and spices come from India, including the garam masala, which enables us to represent these traditions authentically,” said Parekh, owner of New Delhi Palace.
“It’s easy to make a meal spicy, just by throwing in a lot of spices, but what we do is create a healthy balance so when you take a bite of any entree you can feel all of the individual herbs and spices on your taste buds,” he said.
Parekh’s garam masala is a full-flavored combination of green cardamom, black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander seeds, peppercorns, and a sweet and slightly pungent spice from the nutmeg seed known as mace.
While the garam masala is used across a spectrum of selections on the menu, there are other dishes that are distinctly influenced by India’s regions.
“Many of the popular Indian dishes come from the northern areas of India, like the tandooris and curries, but it’s from the east, such as metropolitan cities like Calcutta, where we get the inspiration for dishes like the Daal Malai Prawns,” he said, pointing to a proprietary five-spice blend that reportedly makes these prawns really pop.
Parekh tells me that the western part of India is the inspiration behind his vindaloo dishes, specifically in India’s coastal region of Goa, a former Portuguese colony, with what he calls “highly spiced colonial curry.”
From a culinary perspective, the northwestern part of India is influenced by Pakistan, which inspired Parekh’s Peshawari Lamb Chops. He begins with a deconstructed rack of lamb, rubs the chops liberally with the garam masala mixture, sears them in a hot tandoor oven, and lays them to rest in a bucket – yes, a bucket – of sauce.
But this isn’t just any bucket. It’s what Parekh refers to as a balti, a small, pressed-copper canister filled with a savory tomato-based sauce, with onions, house-made yogurt, coconut milk, cream, and additional spices, into which these chops are individually dunked.
“We don’t immerse the whole lamb chops into the sauce because we want you taste half the chops with the sauce and half without,” Parekh said. “That way you get both of the flavors.”
The balti is used as a vessel for several of Parekh’s dishes, including the Balti Gosht, another twist on lamb simmered in a pureed onion, ginger, and garlic paste.
With the balti’s popularity, I’ve suggested that one of the restaurant’s cocktails, like the rum, coconut, and mango Snake Charmer, be served in this iconic Indian pail. My recommendation is likely under advisement, so long as they can officially change the name of the cocktail to Uber.
The full flavors of India await you at New Delhi Palace, and that’s what I call Modi operandi.
Contact Matt Russell, whose day job is CEO of Russell Public Communications, at firstname.lastname@example.org. Russell is also the host of “On the Menu Live” that airs 5 to 6 p.m. Saturdays on KQTH 104.1 FM, as well as the host of the Friday Weekend Watch segment on the “Buckmaster Show” on KVOI 1030 AM