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Recipe from Kirti Srivastava Honestly, I grew up in the restaurant. We’ve had it since I was little, when my parents came to San Diego from Uttar Pradesh to help my uncle. At the time, it was actually a fast-food barbecue restaurant — Chicago-style ribs and things like that. My mom helped my father in the restaurant and she would bring Indian food for us to eat for lunch. One day a customer came in and asked what my mom was eating. At that time, the Star of India was the only other Indian restaurant in San Diego, so people weren’t as familiar with the food or culture. But the lady loved my mom’s food so much that my mom offered to bring her food the next day. That’s how the concept started for Café India. At home we would make Indian food and bring to the restaurant to sell as lunch boxes and, soon, the Indian food started selling more than the American food. Eventually a customer asked why we didn’t just open an Indian restaurant. My mom really wanted to do it so my father went with it. Now it’s our 22nd year, and we still have the same kitchen.

Two years ago, our chef went on vacation and we couldn’t find anyone to cover. So, I was, like, “Well, I’ll have to go in there and figure it out.” I knew the flavors because all of the recipes are my mom’s recipes. But the restaurant has a clay oven that’s really super hot, so I had to learn how to do that. And slowly I learned the technical terms and the business side of things. I guess I kind of got thrown into the kitchen. And now I love it.

But Café India is different than other Indian restaurants.... We keep in tune with the community and host art events and dance and musical performances. We try to maintain the healthy, good-living vibe and teach dance and yoga in a room next to the restaurant.

My favorite thing to make, even when I’m not working, are our potatoes. They are really easy and really good. No matter what happens to society some things never change — family, comfort, and good food.

INGREDIENTS

Serves 4–6

  • 4–6 medium red-skinned potatoes, each cut into 4 pieces
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1/2 tsp mustard seed
  • 1/2 cup onions
  • 1/4 tsp turmeric
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 4–6 cups water
  • 1/2 bunch cilantro
  • 1/4 cup ginger, finely chopped
  • 1 cup tomato sauce or 1 fresh tomato
  • 1 serrano chile (optional)

HOW TO DO IT

Cut potatoes into quarters or so the pieces are all of equal size to ensure even cooking. Add oil to a medium-sized skillet over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds to the hot oil and let them sit until they pop. Next, add the onions and continue to cook, lowering the heat if necessary. When the onions are translucent, add the potatoes, turmeric, and salt. It is important to add the turmeric right after the potatoes so the potatoes take on the gold color of the turmeric. Turn the heat to low and stir occasionally.

While the potatoes cook, add four cups water, cilantro, ginger, tomato sauce or fresh tomatoes to a blender and puree until the consistency is smooth. Add more water for a thinner sauce and the chili for a spicier sauce. Pour blended mixture on top of potatoes and let it come to a boil or simmer. Cook until potatoes are fairly easy to cut through. Place in serving dish and top with fresh-cut cilantro and a little bit of freshly grated ginger. Best served with Basmati rice or chapati. Total cooking time is approximately 15 minutes.

Café India

3760 Sports Arena Boulevard, Midway District

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