East Indian cooking is rich in flavor and easy to prepare

By , Special to The Christian Science Monitor

The redolence of exotic East Indian spices drifted through the slightly chilly rooms of my British friends' home and out into their informal garden. Geoff Beuret, instructor at Polytechnic College in Leicester, England, his wife, Kris, and I were spending Saturday morning re-creating recipes for a party that evening, foods he had learned recently from Mrs. Patel Sumi.

A former resident of Uganda, Mrs. Sumi, like many Indians from the east coast countries of Africa, is energetically building a new life for herself and her family in England through lecturing and teaching her native cooking.

The aromatic ingredients of Indian food are now available in this venerable 2 ,000-year-old city in the Midlands, on which previous cultures, including Roman, Saxon, and Norman, have left their mark.

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One wonders whether these small foreign groceries on Belgrave Road, wryly called ''Khyber Pass'' by a few townspeople still adjusting their lives to the influx of these particularly energetic emigrants, will be noted by future archaeologists and historians.

Southampton-born Mr. Beuret got started on his Indian culinary adventures because of his liking for spicy flavors. ''I like the seasonings very much, but I also like the cooking, because it's so easy. This is a definite advantage over French cooking,'' he says. ''With Indian food there's no worrying over curdled sauces or lumpy roux that won't mix.

''One can shorten preparation by using a blender for chopping, a pressure cooker for legumes, and cooking several dishes at one time. That's important. We have busy college schedules and I like to have time to spend with our two great kids, Ben and Maxine.''

Among the recipes we prepared are Garam Masala, a combination of spices made differently in each section of the country, Spinach and Yellow Split Peas, and Chappati, the bread eaten everywhere. Garam Masala

The literal meaning is ''hot spice,'' and it is made in a variety of ways. It is used to add a final flavoring toward the end of the cooking. 1 ounce each ginger, cinnamon, cloves 4 bay leaves, broken into pieces 2 ounces peppercorns 3 ounces cumin seeds 1 ounce cardamom seeds 4 ounces coriander seeds

Warm spices on baking sheet in 350-degree F. oven for 10 minutes. Grind in coffee grinder kept for that purpose only, a mortar and pestle, or blender that has a grind or pulverize speed.

Note: As an occasional substitute (one I never mention to purists), I grind the combination of spices bought under the name of Pickling Spice, adjusting the rest of the seasonings for any duplication. Spinach and Yellow Split Peas (Spinach and Dal Urhad) 1 1/2 pounds fresh spinach 1/2 cup split peas 1 teaspoon salt 1/2 teaspoon chili powder 1 teaspoon turmeric 1 tablespoon butter or margarine 1 medium-size onion, chopped 1 teaspoon Garam Masala

Rinse spinach under running water. Tear into pieces about the size of a silver dollar.

Wash and drain split peas. Bring 1 cup of water to boil in saucepan. Stir in salt, chili powder, turmeric, and peas. Cook until almost tender, about 30 minutes. Add spinach and continue on medium heat for about 20 minutes, stirring frequently.

Melt butter in frying pan and saute chopped onions until golden. Do not overcook. Sprinkle Garam Masala and heat for several minutes. Spoon onions into spinach and peas and cook until all moisture is removed. My preference is for crisp peas, so I undercook a little. East Indian style is more of a puree. Makes 4 servings. Chappati (Unleavened bread) 1 pound whole-wheat flour 3 tablespoons vegetable oil 1 cup warm water Butter or ghee for serving

Pour flour in bowl and make a well. Add oil and mix. Slowly pour in warm water and stir until dough is soft. Form into ball. Knead for a few minutes until it becomes elastic. Return dough to bowl, cover with transparent plastic wrap, and chill for several hours.

To cook, divide dough into pieces the size of ping-pong balls. Roll each on floured board to about 7 inches.

Heat frying pan or griddle until hot. Grease very lightly or use nonstick utensils. Cook each chappati about 12 seconds and turn when bubbles appear. Press lightly and each round should puff up.

Place in clean dish towel and keep warm in low oven until all chappati are ready to serve. Makes 16, depending upon thickness.

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