Iyer has already won accolades for his writing about Indian cuisine, "660 Curries," and as a culinary teacher he tries to dispel common misunderstandings around how to prepare dishes so ubiquitous to Asian cultures.
"Curry powder, as a concept, is something that is non-existent in India to this day," said Iyer.
All Things Considered host Tom Crann spoke with the chef, author and culinary educator about the evolution in Minnesota's food culture since moving here in the 1980s and his award-winning video series.
Use the audio player above to hear their conversation.
Recipe: Sassy chickpea curry
Courtesy of Raghavan Iyer from his book "Indian Cooking Unfolded," from Workman Publishing.
A staple in north Indian restaurant menus across the world, this chickpea classic, called chana masala, raises the humble chickpeas, also referred to as garbanzo beans, to a level that commands a respectable devotion on account of its vibrancy in every morsel. Hearty, comforting, and redolent with just two fresh-bruised whole spices, the combination works with some store-purchased flat bread (or the yeasty kind) or plain steamed white rice.
Makes 4 cups, and is vegan and gluten-free
1 small onion, coarsely chopped
4 pieces (each about the size and thickness of a 25-cent coin) fresh ginger (no need to peel the skin)
2 large cloves garlic
2 fresh green Serrano chiles, stems discarded, coarsely chopped (do not remove the seeds)
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons canola oil
1 cup canned diced tomatoes (including juices)
1 1/2 teaspoons coarse kosher or sea salt
3 cups cooked chickpeas or 2 cans (15 ounces each) chickpeas, drained and rinsed
1. Plunk the onion, ginger, garlic, chiles, coriander, and cumin into a food processor's bowl. Pulse the mélange into a mince that smells pungent and aromatic. Having the machine run incessantly will yield an undesired watery and coarse puree. The spices will look bruised but still fairly whole.
2. Heat the oil in a medium-size saucepan over medium heat. Once the oil appears to shimmer, scrape the processor bowl's contents into the pan. Stir-fry the pungent onion medley until bits of onion, spice, and some of the overall good schmutz brown and stick to the bottom of the pan, about 15 minutes. Here's why I prefer using pans that have a heavy bottom without a nonstick surface. With a nonstick pan things don't stick to the bottom. The technique of adding liquid to a pan after things brown and stick to a pan, referred to as deglazing, adds a depth of flavor (called fond in French), that je ne sais quoi we all hanker for in each mouthful.
3. Stir in the tomato, juice and all, with the salt, scraping the pan to release the collected bits of onion and spice. Pour in 1 cup water and add the chickpeas, giving the curry a few stirs. Once the sauce comes to a rolling boil lower the heat to medium. Cover the pan and simmer the chickpeas, stirring occasionally, until the curry (sauce) slightly thickens, about 15 minutes. Serve warm.
• This is by no means a scientifically proven statement, but there is something to say about the benefits of being short (I am average, thank you very much.) When you stir-fry a medley that harbors chiles, the pungent aromas that waft from the pan tend to reach for the high points in space. If you happen to be tall, chances are your coughing and sneezing bout might be more intense than the cute little dog that hovers close to the ground looking for anything that resembles food (I have seen little Ms. Emma sneeze but never cough.) So, do all the tall humans a favor and turn that exhaust fan on while cooking with chiles.
• Chana masala in India is often served with thinly sliced raw red onion, slivers of punchy chiles, and wedges of juicy lime. Feel free to do the same. The contrast of warm cooked food and crunchy raw vegetables is a hallmark of north Indian cuisine.
• With any remaining curry, if you are tired of the same meal more than twice, turn the curry into a delicious appetizer dip. Fold in some of your favorite shredded cheese(s) and a tablespoon or two of thinly sliced scallion. Warm it in a microwave on high until the cheese melts and the dip warms through, 2 to 3 minutes. Serve with a basket of your favorite chips (in my case it is always kettle-cooked potato chips).