Yesterday evening was film club, where I gather with a couple of friends to watch a DVD and afterwards we share a meal, talk about the film and whatever else takes our fancy. It had been postponed from earlier in the month as everyone seems to have had a lot going on recently.
Dinner is a potluck affair, with whoever is hosting cooking a main course of some kind and everyone else bringing side dishes or dessert. This month was going to be Indian and, of course, I forgot all about it until Friday evening. I spent an hour or so on Friday evening trawling the internet for some ideas and found two recipes on one of my favourite websites, Smitten Kitchen, which I decided to give a try. I developed quite a bad cough last week though and so I wanted to sleep late and take it easy yesterday, in an attempt to recuperate (I'm doing the same today but all day this time!). So I decided that instead of rushing into town to pick up the ground cumin and garam masala I was missing, not to mention the amchoor I'd never heard of before from the spice shop , instead of heading to the market for potatoes and cauliflower, then to the greengrocer's if I didn't find them at the market, instead of hitting Jacques for a nice bottle of wine or one of the Indian shops to pick up some kind of raita, that I would just say to hell with it and do what thousands of other people do all the time and just get everything in the supermarket.
Now, in Germany, buying fruit and veg in the supermarket is not generally a good idea - quality tends to be not too great and the selection is limited. But potatoes and cauliflower shouldn't be too hard I thought. I could make my own version of raita if I could at least get some fresh mint and apart from a couple of onions I'd be all set. And I know a huge range of spices isn't really something one should expect either (there are always a lot of mixes but the individual spices are more difficult to come by - as if we're all incapable of choosing our own mix) but I reckoned I'd at least get the cumin and could do without the rest. But all in all, I was happy that I didn't really need that much so it shouldn't be too bad.
However, I have been firmly reminded of how limiting shopping in a supermarket can be and found myself far more stressed than I normally am after a Saturday's shop (normally I feel rushed and a bit hassled but this stress is a different animal altogether). Now, this is not to say that I never go to the supermarket anymore. I do, at least once a week, and buy milk, chocolate and crisps (I've been eating far too much rubbish the last few months) and occasionally something frozen, like fish fingers or perhaps a jar of olives. But I do the bulk of my shopping elsewhere and when in the supermarket mostly walk past most of the stuff without even seeing it.
Buying the veg was only slightly worse than I had anticipated. I was able to get one of the last three packets of organic onions (from Holland so relatively local) - four in a packet and I got the best of a bad lot but wouldn't have bothered if I hadn't known I'd be using three of them immediately. I don't expect the fourth to last long either. At first, I could only see one option for potatoes, non-organic French potatoes, very small ones in a plastic container and covered in more plastic, or larger ones loose and with paper bags available. Luckily I then realised that around the corner there were bags of other potatoes as well so for a less extragavant price I had the choice of three different types of potato (waxy, floury, somewhat floury - the actual type could only be found in very small print) - but only in 2 kg bags. I got a bag of those and finally headed for the cauliflower. There were five left and I managed to get one that didn't have any brown bits on it.
I found some ground cumin after some searching but not, as expected, garam masala or amchoor. Picked up some milk and a jar of joghurt. Realised I should head back to see if there was any fresh mint but found only one very sad looking plant with practically no leaves that weren't already brown and dying. So I picked up some cucumber quark, which would do for a dip if anyone wanted some. And finally grabbed four bottles of beer, thinking that actually it's nicer to drink beer with Indian food than wine.
In general though I had a better look around than I normally do in the supermarket and found myself once again surprised at how limiting it seemed to have to buy everything there. They always seem to be packed to the roof with options but when you look closer you realise that it's far more about bulk than about variety. If you want something you might have a choice between two different brands or even three but mostly that seemed to be about it. And mostly I found myself getting really annoyed about the amount of packaging. So frustrating to see and so much of it totally unnecessary. Add to that the crowds of people and it makes for a not particularly pleasurable experience. On a more positive note, however, I was very grateful that not only did I already have much on hand that I needed, but also for the fantastic choice of nice places I have nearby to shop from and the fact that next week I will be doing so again.
In case anyone is interested, what I ended up making was some chana masala (using chickpeas out of the cupboard and tomatoes that I bottled last summer) and the Indian spiced cauliflower and potatoes at the end of that page. I will be trying to incorporate more Indian cooking into my life I think. I love the way that it feels like I am using far too many spices to every make anything taste nice and yet ending up with just a nice amount of flavour. I think next month's food budget is definitely going to have to include an amount for a visit to the spice shop!
And just for those who like to always have photos to accompany blog posts. Here's a few from my cooking attempts last week.
The tart - wholewheat pastry from the freezer, a few bacon bits, some of my last jar of dried tomatoes, onions and chinese cabbage sauteed and mixed with some sour cream - I put the other half of the onions/cabbage mix in there after taking the photo:
The blue dish has the croutons in it, to which I added a jar of my bottled tomatoes from last year, topped the whole lot with cheese and baked in the oven. I should have heeded a comment I saw somewhere to not use too much juice as this ended up quite a soggy mess - I will try it again in the summer with fresh tomatoes and a far shorted cooking time I think. Again, it was edible but not half as enjoyable as I thought it would be. We live and learn.