It would be a crime to categorize all Indian cuisines as “Indian food”. There are at least 10 main categories of Indian food with many other subcategories – butter chicken with naan is barely representative of the diversity of Indian food. However, the butter chicken with naan is amazing.
Second, everyday home-cooked Indian food is very different from the stereotypical Indian food you might order in an Indian restaurant. This dissimilarity is somewhat normal in many cultures. The food you get in a restaurant will be different from the food you eat at home.
I grew up eating what my aji (grandma) would do for me aai (mom) as she grew up. A typical everyday Marathi meal would include chapati or roti with a bhaji, rice and daal. My mother made many different bhajis daily, including those with potatoes, okra, peppers, paneer, green beans, and black beans. I was very lucky to have been able to grow up with tasty food at home and to explore those of other cultures by eating out.
In college, I started to miss my mom’s cooking, and I got myself an Instant Pot to help me recreate my mom’s cooking at home.
A while ago I came across First Seed Foods, a company that has recreated some of the most common Indian home-style foods without using oil, butter or ghee. While the Indian food you order in a restaurant may have a higher oil content than what you might prepare at home, the concept of not using oil, butter or ghee is surprising. There is a technique called tadka in Indian cuisine, which involves heating oil with spices such as cumin, chilli and bay leaves. Usually a tadka is used to add more flavor or start the cooking process of a dish. Not making tadka with oil seemed like a very interesting concept.
First Seed sells pre-packaged foods with containers of dal makhani, rajma chawal, vegetable pulao, dal tadka, and chana masala options. Food is fully cooked but arrives frozen, shipped on dry ice. Food can be reheated in the microwave or on the stove.
I contacted Arti Mala, founder of First Seed, and she sent me a sample. Although I received the food for free, all opinions written about First Seed in this article are my own. The sample I received was a container of chana masala, dal makhani and vegetable pulao.
I was pleasantly surprised by the taste of the three different foods prepared without oil.
The vegetable pulao was the least surprising. Pulao is a savory rice dish made with spices and vegetables without being overpowering on flavor. Pulao can technically be made without oil (just add vegetables, spices and rice to a pressure cooker), so the flavors of Pulao with and without oil shouldn’t be too different. The rice was perfectly cooked, and the flavors of cardamom and elaichi, two spices frequently used in Indian cuisine, stood out when I tried it. All the flavors and all the elements, like the peas and carrots, of the pulao were there.
I ate the dal makhani with the pulao. The dal makhani tasted similar to what I remember – I hadn’t eaten it in a while. It’s very hard to describe, but dal makhani looks like a soup made with urad dal, a kind of brown lentil. I will say it was a little bland, and I wish it was spicier. That being said, I tend to favor spicy foods, so that might just be my preference. It had a nice, thick consistency that made it perfect for eating with rice.
The last dish I tried was the chana masala. Chana masala is a slightly more saucey type of bhaji made with chickpeas, tomato sauce and spices. The chana masala was very tasty and I enjoyed it very much. I made some chapatis, a quick potato bhaji and a fried egg to go with it. The chickpeas were well cooked, and it had a really good zing. The texture was pretty close to how my mom makes it, and it goes well with chapathi. Chana masala is one dish where I felt the lack of oil would alter the taste, but surprisingly it didn’t change the flavor as much as I expected.
Although I felt like the food could have been a little spicier and tastier, I understand that it’s best to keep the food less spicy to appeal to a more general audience.
While the flavors and the actual food did well, I’m sorry to say that I don’t understand the feasibility of ordering the package. My first thoughts when I wanted to try pre-packaged food included the ease that would come from not needing to cook, being able to microwave the container and getting home style Indian food. Although this was all accomplished, I was a bit shocked to learn that a pack of 12 containers of food, each containing about two servings, costs $135.
For middle schoolers, or even parents of middle schoolers who want to send this, that price doesn’t seem reasonable. According to the First Seed website, one to two full containers should be used for a meal. Therefore, based on one container per meal, a flat rate would be $11.25 per meal or $33.75 per day if you eat First Seed three meals a day. In reality, it’s too expensive.
In first grade, I ate Trader Joe’s ready-made Indian food packets, including their tadka daal. The current price for packs is around $2.50, and one pack might provide two servings. Although the packets from Trader Joe’s were made with oil and come from a larger company, it seems hard to justify the price of a container of food from First Seed.
Other than that, I really appreciate how the packaging is durable and meant to be reused, and First Seed’s dedication to making healthier food. However, I find it hard to justify the price for the amount of food. I hope in the future the price can be reduced to make it a more reasonable purchase.