Sunitha Samuel, who will start dental school in the fall, lives in Roslyn Heights with her parents, who were born in Kerala, India.
How did you get interested in cooking Indian food?
I’ve always cooked fried rice and noodles and made chicken lettuce wraps. But when I came back from college last year, I thought, why not use this time [before starting dental school] to learn to cook Indian food and to appreciate this time with family at home.
Who’s been teaching you?
My mom is the big cook around the house. I learned everything from her. She always cooks food from Kerala. I grew up watching her cook fish, chicken curries and sambar, a traditional sauce with mixed vegetables and spices. I keep telling my mom to write them down, but I’m writing down the directions she gives me.
What have you been making?
I’ve been practicing chicken biryani, chicken curry and beef cutlets. I like to learn family recipes with my mom and help fundraise with my dad for his charity, Life and Limb (which donates prosthetic limbs to those in need in India).
What else do you enjoy making?
I love to bake banana bread, pumpkin muffins and Oreo truffles, and would bake them a lot more if I wasn’t worried about giving everyone in my house diabetes.
Have you had any flops?
I made a chicken biryani and didn’t cook the rice properly — it was too sticky.
How are the beef cutlets typically served?
We eat them as a snack. If I’m in a rush, I’ll just eat one or two. You can add some chopped, raw onions on top.
Any tips for cooking Indian food?
It takes practice. My first beef cutlets fell apart. I won’t say I’m as perfect as my mom, but I’m getting there.
INDIAN BEEF CUTLETS
The cutlets are prepared a day ahead, refrigerated overnight and fried the next day.
2 pounds ground beef
1 1⁄2 inch ginger root, peeled and cut into small pieces
3-5 cloves garlic, peeled and cut into small pieces
2 large or 3 medium onions cut into small pieces
9 large Idaho potatoes
2 tablespoons olive oil, plus enough for a 1⁄2 -inch layer in large pan
5 green chilies finely chopped
6 curry leaves (available at Indian grocers) diced
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons black pepper
3 tablespoons garam masala (available at Indian grocers)
2 egg whites
Breadcrumbs, enough to coat cutlets
1. In a large frying pan, cook meat on medium-high until brown; set aside in a colander.
2. Put ginger and garlic into a food processor and pulse until very fine, but not mushy. Set aside. Chop onions in food processor until very fine and set aside.
3. Poke a few holes in potatoes, leaving skin on, and microwave on high for 6 to 7 minutes. Allow to cool, then peel off skin and mash. While potatoes cool, mash the beef using your hands (you can wear gloves) to get rid of any chunks.
4. Heat 2 tablespoons olive oil in a large pan and saute the ginger and garlic mixture on medium for about 3 minutes, until light brown, stirring.
5. Taking a handful of onions at a time, squeeze the water out, and then add to the skillet and sauté with the ginger and garlic, chilies and curry leaves on medium until light brown. Add salt to taste. Keep stirring until there’s a brownish tinge to mixture. Add the black pepper and garam masala.
6. Add the beef and cook everything over medium heat until the beef becomes very dark, stirring occasionally for about 10 to 15 minutes.
7. Turn off the stove and mix in the mashed potatoes. Allow mixture to cool. Form mixture into oval-shaped cutlets about a 1⁄2-inch thick, squeezing hard to remove moisture.
8. Refrigerate for up to 24 hours (this helps to hold the cutlets together so they don’t fall apart during frying).
9. Whisk egg whites in a bowl. Dip the cutlets in the eggs and coat with breadcrumbs.
10. In a large pan, heat about 1⁄2-inch of oil until very hot and put in 1 cutlet to test oil. Fry cutlets for 1 minute on each side, until crispy and brown. Transfer to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Makes about 15 cutlets.