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MENU PLANNER

Feast of (De)lights

October 19, 1995|BARBARA HANSEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

Monday ushers in Diwali, India's feast of lights. This happy festival celebrates the triumph of good over evil: Business people settle accounts, and friends wish each other prosperity.

As does every holiday, Diwali calls for feasting. It's a good time to try cooking Indian food, and don't think this exotic cuisine is too difficult to attempt. The following menu makes easy work of one of the most popular Indian dishes in the West, tandoori chicken.

The secret is to use bottled tandoori seasoning paste. By itself, the paste is a little bland. Bolstered with additional seasonings, it makes a wonderful marinade.

If you live near an Indian market, pick up some ready-made chapatis or parathas . If you don't, substitute Middle Eastern pocket bread or whole-wheat flour tortillas.

Basmati rice is widely available, but you could steam ordinary long-grain rice instead. Serve any kind of mixed salad or make a platter of sliced cucumber, tomato and red onion. Sprinkle the vegetables with lemon juice and salt or serve them plain.

Dessert is kheer , which translates to rice pudding, and nothing could be less intimidating than that. For Indian flavor, use basmati rice, cardamom seeds and pistachios.

Vegetable pakoras , which can be served as appetizers or along with the meal, are more complex and require a shopping trip for besan (garbanzo bean flour), garam masala and dried pomegranate seeds. If you hesitate to try this dish, make the pakoras well in advance. If they turn out well, you can easily reheat them, uncovered, on a baking sheet in the oven. Do not use a microwave because it toughens the pakoras . Leftovers can be reheated for snacks the next day.

Menu

Phulan's Pakoras

Mira's Cilantro-Mint Chutney

Easy Tandoori Chicken

Steamed Basmati Rice

Sliced Tomato, Cucumber and Red Onion

Parathas or Naan

Indian Rice Pudding

Staples

Baking potato

Onions

Oil

Salt

Chili powder

Lemons

Ground cumin

Milk

Sugar

Shopping List

1 Asian eggplant

1 bunch spinach 1 (1/4-pound) container garam masala

1 (1/4-pound) package dried pomegranate seeds

1 (1-pound) sack besan (garbanzo bean flour)

1 bunch cilantro

1 bunch mint

2 serrano chiles

4 chicken legs

1 (11-ounce) bottle tandoori seasoning paste

1 (8-ounce) carton plain yogurt

1 (1-pound) container basmati rice

1 cucumber

2 medium tomatoes

1 red onion

1 (2-ounce) jar cardamom pods or ground cardamom

1 (1-pound) bag pistachios

1 (2-ounce) package slivered almonds

1 package of 8 to 10 chapatis , parathas , pita bread or whole-wheat tortillas, optional

Game Plan

Day before: Skin chicken, combine with marinade and refrigerate overnight.

Afternoon of dinner: Make rice pudding. Serve cold or warm gently before serving. Mix pakoras and deep fry.

One hour before dinner: Remove chicken from refrigerator. Steam rice.

40 minutes before dinner: Bake chicken. Arrange on serving platter and keep warm.

20 minutes before dinner: Reheat pakoras, if made in advance. Place chutney in small serving bowl. Slice cucumber, onion and tomatoes and arrange on platter. Warm chapatis or parathas.

PHULAN'S PAKORAS

These golden brown vegetable fritters, which you dip into spicy chutney, make a great appetizer. Phulan Chander, of Culver City's Bharat Bazaar, supplied the recipe. She sometimes adds cauliflower, using as many as five vegetables, chopped into small pieces. You can get away with using only one or two.

1 small Asian eggplant

1 baking potato, peeled

1 small onion

1/2 bunch spinach

Oil

Salt

1/2 teaspoon garam masala

1/2 teaspoon dried pomegranate seeds

1/2 to 1 teaspoon hot chili powder

1 1/2 to 1 3/4 cups besan (garbanzo bean flour)

Water

Mira's Cilantro-Mint Chutney

Cut eggplant, potato and onion into 1/4-inch or slightly larger dice. Chop spinach into small pieces. Combine vegetables in bowl. Add 2 tablespoons oil, about 1 teaspoon salt, garam masala, pomegranate seeds and chili powder. Add enough besan to coat vegetables well, mixing with hands. Add about 2 tablespoons water to make mixture that holds together and is very moist.

Heat oil for deep frying. Drop in rounded tablespoons of batter and fry until golden brown. Drain on paper towels. Serve with Mira's Cilantro-Mint Chutney.

Makes 3 dozen pakoras.

Each pakora, without chutney, contains about:

31 calories; 53 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 1 gram fat; 5 grams carbohydrates; 1 gram protein; 0.31 gram fiber.

MIRA'S CILANTRO-MINT CHUTNEY

This recipe comes from Indian writer Mira Advani.

1 bunch cilantro, leaves only

1/2 bunch mint, leaves only

2 serrano chiles, seeded

1 small onion, chunked

2 cloves garlic

Juice 2 lemons

Salt

Chop cilantro, mint, chiles, onion and garlic in food processor or blender. Add lemon juice. Process until finely ground. Season to taste with salt.

Makes about 1 cup.

Each 1-tablespoon serving contains about:

6 calories; 19 mg sodium; 0 cholesterol; 0 fat; 1 gram carbohydrates; 0 protein; 0.11 gram fiber.

EASY TANDOORI CHICKEN

4 whole chicken legs, skinned

1/2 cup bottled tandoori paste

Scant 1/3 cup plain yogurt

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