Since this is a very busy time of year in which people look for opportunities to save precious minutes by eliminating time-consuming activities like cooking I thought it would be appropriate to review another ready to serve dish that could be included in the evening menu. This way more time can be spent enjoying family with a hot meal rather than spending it alone over a hot stove.

 

This month I am reviewing Ashoka’s Punjabi Choley. Ashoka is the export brand for the major manufacturer ADF Foods which is located in Mumbai, India. This is another product that I purchased at an Indian grocery store rather than a national chain grocery. The package was priced at $3.99 but, with the buy one get one free offer, the price was comparable to other products on the shelf.
 

Ashoka's Punjabi Choley

Ashoka’s Punjabi Choley

 

As you may be able to tell, I love to eat chickpeas with their delicate flavor and high nutritional value.  This dish actually looks authentic. The curry, or sauce, has the texture of one that is homemade – I can see the bits of vegetables that were cooked down into the curry. The chickpeas had a nice flavor, not over cooked.

 

My only concern is that I think it has a bit too much chili powder. I don’t think this dish needs to be quite this hot. I also think that it could use a small bit more garam masala. I think that flavor compliments the chickpeas nicely.  Overall, this is a good dish.

 

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Continuing the series of taste testing ready to eat products, I selected Amritsari Cholle by Kohinoor that I found in one of the local Indian grocery stores. It is also available at chain grocery stores and wholesale clubs.

Known for high quality rice, Kohinoor, which is headquartered in New Delhi, India, brought its convenience foods to the U.S less than a decade ago for the Indian American market. They quickly realized that they had a huge market for their food with the entire U.S. population who wanted heat-and-eat foods so they expanded aggressively.

My hypothesis for the Amritsari Cholle was that a product made in India and sold in an Indian grocery would be authentic in flavor, texture and taste. After tasting this dish, I proved my hypothesis to be false.

 

Kohinoor’s Amritsari Cholle

Kohinoor’s Amritsari Cholle

 

The picture on the package depicted a wonderful 100% natural chickpea dish with a thick gravy that had some texture to it. When I poured it into a bowl, the sauce was thin with no character at all and there was way too much of it. In addition, it had more than a tablespoon of oil on top! The chickpeas were unusually dark so they looked unappealing and unappetizing.

A diagram on the box advertised that this dish was medium spicy. Actually, it had no heat. It had no flavor or taste. I will have to try a different Kohinoor dish in the future to get more data.

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In this entry I am reviewing MTR’s Paneer Tikka Masala. This is another product that I purchased at an Indian grocery store rather than a national chain grocery. I am really impressed at the pricing of the convenience foods from India. At about $2 a package, they offer a healthy yet inexpensive way to put dinner on the table in just a few minutes.
 

I have seen the wide array of MTR products for years. The name, to me, doesn’t jump at me and scream “buy me”. When I looked up MTR on the Internet, I found that it is a huge company that began with a restaurant in Bangalore, India. It expanded into 100% natural convenience foods, mixes, pickles, chips, etc. with the construction of state of the art facilities for cooking and production. Now MTR’s food products are exported all over the world.


This dish contains chunks of paneer (Indian cheese made by boiling milk) in a tomato gravy. The flavor is very mild and would be an excellent selection for a novice to Indian food. It almost tastes like spaghetti sauce with a pinch of chili powder. I thought that the paneer was too rubbery. Unfortunately, fresh paneer stays soft and fluffy for just a day or two. When packaged, the texture changes. This is not something that MTR can change.


My only negative comment is that they have added too much sugar into the sauce.  I would prefer the sauce to be a bit spicier. After being married to a South Indian for 24 years* and living in Texas, I like my food pretty hot.

MTR’s Paneer Tikka Masala, read to eat Indian food

MTR’s Paneer Tikka Masala, read to eat Indian food


Overall, my husband and I both think this has an authentic taste and is a good buy.  Try it with rice or with a hot Paratha.
 
 

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* Today is our 24th wedding anniversary. Sorry the blog posting was late – we had a romantic  celebration dinner for four people (we rarely go out without our children).

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Continuing on the Tasty Bite path, I am reviewing their Madras Lentils this month. I may have given away my opinion of this dish when I talked about the company two weeks ago when I stated that I had purchased several boxes of it.


The Madras Lentils are very mild but have lovely flavor and texture. With an appearance that looks authentic, they can be served as an Indian side dish or, as I often do, as a bowl of vegetarian chili for lunch.  My husband commented that he would like it better with just a pinch of Madras chili powder stirred in but that is easily done based on your preferences. This is a dish with an authentic taste that is ready to eat in 90 seconds.

Tasty Bite's Madras Lentils, ready to eat Indian food

Tasty Bite’s Madras Lentils, ready to eat Indian food


Enjoy!

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Tasty Bite is owned by Ashok Vasudevan who is originally from Bangalore, India. It was originally founded by a father and son team in Mumbai, India to bring high quality convenience foods to the Indian market. With a deep-rooted, traditional “cook it from scratch” mentality, the idea of convenience food didn’t explode like it has in the U.S. It was bought by Vasudevan and his wife, Meera, who now live in Connecticut. They expanded and marketed the line of convenience foods to grocery stores and wholesale clubs across the country.  

logo_TastyBite

Tasty Bite has become successful by living its values: “company, community, and consumer”.  It takes care of its employees by providing health care and education. It owns the farm where the vegetables are grown and focuses on conservation and renewable energy. The plant that produces the food is located nearby in Pune. And, it delivers a wide array of healthy, all-natural products at a reasonable price. Tasty Bite even contributes its food to relief efforts following natural disasters, like Katrina.


In my next entry, I will share my thoughts on some of Tasty Bite’s products…

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A few years ago I tasted a sample of Tasty Bite’s Madras Lentils during one of my weekly visits to Costco. It was so delicious that I bought 2 boxes (8 packages). Since then I have bought many more ready to used Indian products and always keep a few in the pantry. This product intrigued me. It was made in India and looked to have the sophisticated marketing of a U.S. company.


Twenty years ago I would see a shelf about 2 feet wide of Indian food products on one shelf in the grocery store chains. From simmer sauces to heat-and-eat dishes, Indian convenience foods had hit the U.S. market; however, none were actually made in India. Ok, a few were made in the U.K. which has had a love affair with Indian food for 150 years. I now see a wide array of products in every grocery store. Not just one shelf but an entire section, from top to bottom. This tells me that Americans have caught the bug that infected the British a century ago and that they want Indian food without any fuss.

A sample of ready to use Indian food products at a local Indian store.

A sample of ready to use Indian food products at a local Indian store.


Indian grocery stores have experienced similar changes. Years ago, they sold mainly rice, vegetables, spices and cooking equipment. Now about 25% of the floor space is dedicated to frozen or pre-packaged ready to eat Indian food. Simmer sauces don’t exist but premixed spice blends are popular. Just heat some oil, onion, tomato, and garlic then add the spice. Dinner is moments away. U.S.-based Indian grocery stores have apparently wildly embraced the concept of convenience foods. Patel Brothers in Irving, Texas has dedicated the entire back wall of the store (the wide side of the rectangle) to frozen foods and a whole aisle to ready to eat foods that just need to be heated. National Imports in Carrollton, Texas and Taj Mahal Imports in Richardson, Texas have also dedicated significant freezer space and entire aisles to these foods.


It sounds to me like Indian food in the U.S. has caught on but people in the U.S. don’t want to spend the time to prepare.  Just heat for 90 seconds and enjoy!


I will be traveling to India in a few months and will check out to see if the same changes have occurred in the stores there. Has the “cook it from scratch is best” mentality changed? Stay tuned.


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As part of my mission to test ready to use Indian products that claim to be “Indian”, I tried a new product called Mr. Kook’s Tikka Masala Sauce which I purchased at an upscale grocery in the town next to mine. The label is cute and colorful with a drawing that looks authentic. I selected this product because it was made for a company that is located just 15 miles away from my home; I was proud to support a small local company.

 

The instructions were simple: heat the sauce, add meat (I assumed this meant that the meat should be precooked), cook a little bit, stir in some cream and serve.  Simple.  When I opened the jar, I noticed a layer of oil on the top of the sauce. I figured it would mix in as I heated it so I didn’t try to remove it.  The sauce had very small bits of spices and cilantro. I wanted a little more excitement to my sauce so I added a slivered onion that I had sautéed with a few common spices like mustard seeds, cumin seeds, turmeric and coriander until it was golden brown. I cooked my chicken in the leftover oil and seasonings so it wouldn’t be dull. When I added the sauce and the cream it looked authentic. (I have to confess that I added less cream than the instructions indicated.)

 

Mr. Kooks Ready to Use Tikka Masala Sauce

Mr. Kooks Ready to Use Tikka Masala Sauce

 

I served the chicken tikka masala with plain white basmati rice. My husband and I thought it had a good flavor and tasted pretty close to authentic. The sauce had a little more texture than I would have seen in a homemade sauce but that really wasn’t significant. My only comment was the excess oil that I had noticed before I opened the jar was still present in the prepared sauce. 

 

Chicken Tikka Masala prepared with Mr. Kook's ready to use masala.

Chicken Tikka Masala prepared with Mr. Kook’s ready to use masala.


I would recommend this product for people who want an easy entrée without any fuss. And for those who are concerned about “hot food”, this dish was very mild – my kids could eat it.

For more information on this and Mr. Kooks other products, check out MrKooks.com.

 

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I have seen ready to use Indian sauces and spice mixes in the Indian grocery stores for many, many years. The first time I saw them I asked my husband and my mother-in-law if they were any good. Both replied “no”.  Based on their very clear message I never purchased or tried them. 

 

Over the past few years I have noticed that more and more local grocery stores carry a wide variety of Indian sauces and spice mixes, most of which are not carried in the Indian groceries. It seems that the Indian section is getting to be larger than the Asian section.


Last week, I couldn’t resist. I purchased a jar of Tandoori Simmer Sauce from a brand called Golden Temple (more about that later). I followed the instructions which were extremely simple: cook diced chicken, stir in the sauce and simmer – totally the opposite from preparing an authentic curry which requires a lot of chopping, grinding, frying, seasoning, boiling and stirring. The taste of the dish was proportional to the effort I expended.

Golden Temple Tandoori Simmer Sauce

Golden Temple Tandoori Simmer Sauce

I picked Golden Temple’s product because the Golden Temple (now called Harmandir Sahib) is one of the most sacred temples in Amritsar, India with a rich history. I expected a delicious sauce. The finished product tasted like chicken in a bland but slightly tangy tomato sauce. With the six main ingredients of water, tomato paste (not whole tomatoes), sugar (this should give you a hint), lemon juice, oil and dehydrated onions, the flavor had absolutely no resemblance to any Indian dish I have eaten anywhere in the world.


With a little bit of snooping on the Internet I learned that this brand which is from Ripon, Wisconsin is owned by the company that makes jellies and jams – Smucker’s. After making this dish I decided that it would be a good idea to try some of these ready to use products, try them out and let you know how they compare to my mother-in-law’s authentic home cooking.
 

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