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Food Finds - Fresh naan and pani puris at Cherians International Groceries

I pride myself on being the type of home cook who can make any recipe you put in front of me. However, Indian cuisine has proven to be my biggest challenge. It's a beautiful cuisine, but incredibly difficult to master.

As I build my knowledge of the flavor profiles needed to really cook the dishes well, one store has become my favorite place to shop for ingredients: Cherians International Groceries. Cherians offers a dazzling assortment of every product imaginable from the Indian subcontinent.

Since naan is such an integral part of most Indian meals - and I don't have the proper equipment to make it right - I used to grab it to-go from a nearby restaurant when I was cooking Indian food, or from Cherians' frozen section, which offers a vast array of prepared naan. On a recent visit, however, I spotted a rolling metro rack stacked with freshly made naan. The fluffy flats of bread measure around 12 inches to 14 inches in diameter and are peppered with round, black char marks, which is sadly missing from the unfrozen naan you normally find at other stores. A package of four to five pieces of bread only costs $2.99.

You have a couple options when reheating the naan. You can do it on the grill to impart a little smoky flavor or throw it on a preheated pizza stone or overturned cookie sheet for two to three minutes or until it is slightly crackly in some spots. If you want to throw all calorie concerns out of the window, melt some ghee (clarified butter) - or high-quality butter - and lightly brush the hot bread until it glistens right before serving.

Nearby the naan, Cherians has shelves lined with large, clear bags of freshly fried pani puris ($4.49 for a bag of 50). Pani puris are hollow orbs of stone-ground, whole-wheat flour fried in ghee. They are normally served as a street snack (or chaat) all over India, with many different fillings like mashed potatoes or chickpea curry and topped with diced onions, tamarind, all sort of chutneys, fresh cilantro and sev (short and crunchy vermicelli made with chickpea flour). I haven't experimented with these yet, but I may cheat and fill them with a chickpea curry using one of the premixed spice or paste packets I see many people buying at Cherians.

You can take yet another cue from the young Indian generation, which has started the trend of filling pani puris with vodka and serving them at house parties. A mouthful of crispy booze? Yes, please.



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