The Moment

Essential Indian With Chef Gaggan Anand

Photographs by Sergio Coimbra

For some reason, it made sense to invite one of the world’s best chefs to make dinner for 20 at my apartment. (I can seat eight, as long as I can borrow chairs from neighbors.) In my kitchen. (It’s small and…not great.)

Gaggan Anand made a name for himself at his eponymous Bangkok restaurant by applying modern pyrotechnics — that includes loud music — to the flavors he grew up eating in India. He set out to kick-start the identity and diversity of Indian cuisine and change people’s perception of it. “How do I not give them a naan bread?” he asked. “How do I not give them what they think is a curry? How do I give them an experience which has India all around as a background and sets the pace, but is an experience that’s not cuisine-based but chef-based? Because you either go to a restaurant for the cuisine or the chef. And I wanted my restaurant to be for the chef, who happens to be Indian.”

Tweezery and intense, delicious and extremely fun, Gaggan’s food deserves its place at the top of the World’s 50 Best Asia list. He certainly did not deserve to make it on a crummy stove in NYC.

I still cringe when I think that I originally suggested he just make a big, easy, stewy something and hang out with everyone at the table. In the end, he and his team prepped a multicourse standing feast at the nearby James Beard House, where they had just done a dinner, and wheeled everything over, sending out restaurant-quality dishes to the very surprised people packed into my living room.

Before Gaggan disappeared to the Beard House, I asked him to cook with me in my friend Alison Cayne’s kitchen. I wanted him to show me his home-cooking side. In addition to recipes for stew (don’t call it curry!), lentils, and rice, he shared a recipe that I’ve been making a lot these past weeks, now that I view every peel and scrap as a potential future treat.

Here is his recipe for overnight lentils in his words.

You can also find his recipes for chai, basmati rice, and “curry.”

  • Lentils
  • Garlic
  • Onion
  • Bay leaf
  • Green cardamom pods
  • Green chili
  • Ginger
  • Neutral oil, such as canola or rice
  • Cilantro
  • Tomatoes
  • Butter (optional)
  1. Lentils! Lentils are a prayer. In India we have this big pyre where we throw in our religious rites. I believe a part of lentils is a prayer, where you throw in things and they all blend into something. My process takes at least 18 to 24 hours. Regardless if you’re using lentils, chickpeas, black lentils, kidney beans, black-brown lentils, let them soak for 6 or 7 hours during the day. When you’re ready to cook, place them in a big pot with a whole bulb of garlic, a whole peeled onion, a bay leaf, some whole green cardamom pods, fresh green chiles, and some sliced ginger. Season it with salt and cooking oil — no olive oil. I like canola or a very good rice oil. You leave it and simmer with so much water — like how you’re cooking a stock — on the lowest possible heat. And then leave it all night. (We leave it on the tandoor.) When you wake up, it’s almost like a brown stew. Then you add cilantro, chopped tomatoes with the cores removed, and, if you really want it rich, butter. Continue cooking till it’s reduced by half – the texture of refried beans. The tomato will become part of the dish. (My grandmother added them whole!) When they’re almost melting in your mouth, that is when you eat it.