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Who's Cooking: Sumati Vij, Woodbury

Sumati Vij, with her mother-in-law, Urmila Dhablania, displays

Sumati Vij, with her mother-in-law, Urmila Dhablania, displays Punjabi chole, an Indian dish Dhablania taught her to make, at their home in Woodbury. (Sept. 9, 2011) Photo Credit: Newsday / J. Conrad Williams Jr.

A native of India, Sumati Vij lives in Woodbury with her husband, mother-in-law and two daughters and owns Global Treasures, a boutique in Huntington.

What kind of food did you eat growing up in India? I grew up in the Himalaya Mountains. We are Punjabis. North Indian cooking is very similar to Pakistani cooking. We use a lot of warm spices, like cardamom, clove, cumin seeds, black peppercorn, cinnamon sticks and bay leaves.

What is your favorite dish to cook? Mulligatawny lentil soup.

Do you eat everything? I'm a vegetarian. We have so many types of vegetables that you don't have in the U.S., such as karela, or bitter gourd. Mahatma Gandhi used to drink the juice of the karela every day. You actually have to put salt on the vegetable and leave it for two to three hours so it takes out the bitter juices. Our staple dinner is one lentil dish, rice and fresh bread, one vegetable and yogurt.

How did you learn to cook? As a child, I wasn't fond of cooking. I went to boarding school at the age of 5. When I went home for three months for vacation, I was spoiled by my parents. Then I went to college, and they had cafeterias. I came here as a young adult to do a master's in social work and got married. My mother-in-law would come visit us. She's an amazing cook who cooks almost every day. I learned by watching her. One of her dishes is Punjabi Chole or chickpeas. The chickpeas are high in protein. We soak the chickpeas overnight. We never use canned, they don't come out right.

Punjabi Chole (Punjabi Chickpeas)

The ingredients are available at an Indian grocer.

1 cup dry chick peas (not canned)

3 pods black cardamom

1 (3-inch) stick cinnamon

2 to 3 cloves

2 bay leaves

1 teaspoon salt, and a little more, to taste

2 tea bags (black tea, optional, since it adds a blackish color to the peas)

4 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

3 red onions, finely chopped (1 cut into wedges for garnish)

1 teaspoon fresh ginger finely chopped

1 green chili finely chopped

6 fresh plum tomatoes, chopped and peeled (1 cut into wedges for garnish)

1 teaspoon coriander powder

1/2 teaspoon dry pomegranate seeds (or 1 teaspoon dry mango powder for a smoother consistency)

1/2 teaspoon garam masala spice blend

Red chili powder to taste

(The last four ingredients can be found premixed as well.)

Cilantro, chopped, for garnish


1. Soak the chick peas overnight in about 2 1/2 cups of water to soften.

2. Discard the water the next day and wash chick peas with fresh water.

3. Place the washed chick peas in about 1 inch of water to cover in a pressure cooker. Add cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, salt and tea bags.

4. Cook on medium-high about 10 to 15 minutes until soft (chewable like a fresh green pea) and set aside.

5. To make the curry paste, heat the oil on medium in a deep pan. Saute chopped onions until they turn pink.

6. Add the chopped ginger and green chili, tomatoes coriander powder, pomegranate powder and garam masala. Cook and mash the tomatoes until oil starts to separate.

7. Strain the cooked chick peas and add to the curry paste. Mix well with a light hand, making sure not to mash the chickpeas.

8. Add red chili powder and salt to taste and simmer for 8-10 minutes.

9. Garnish with cilantro, tomato and/or onion wedges

Note: For a curry that is more like gravy that can be served over rice, reserve the strained chickpea water and add to the paste. Boil for 8-10 minutes. Add the chick peas.

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