The Gossiping Gourmet: A taste of Punjab in Orange County

September 14, 2011|By Elle Harrow and Terry Markowitz
  • Punjab Cuisine of India's Chicken Wings are marinated in spices and cooked in a clay oven.
Punjab Cuisine of India's Chicken Wings are marinated… (KEVIN CHANG, HB…)

Most of the Indian food we are familiar is from the Punjab, a region of Northwestern India and Eastern Pakistan.

It is a cuisine characterized by the liberal use of ghee (long-cooked clarified butter), butter and cream. The main seasonings in both vegetarian and non-vegetarian dishes are onion, garlic and ginger.

The primary grain is wheat; rice is for special occasions. Classic dishes include: meats and breads from the tandoori oven, saag (smooth spinach or mustard green sauce) and mah di dal, a stew of black lentils and beans. Home cooking is much lighter, with less butter.

All of this is by way of introduction to Punjab Cuisine of India in Fountain Valley, where we recently dined. Red-tufted valences accented the windows and mirrors, echoed by red cloths on the tables and gold draperies. A chandelier gave a touch of kitschy refinement to this pleasant strip mall establishment.

Our two appetizers could almost have been a meal by themselves.


Two vegetable samosas (large, deep-fried, savory-stuffed pastries) had a lovely thin flavorful crust. The mashed potato and pea filling was lightly spiced but the accompanying condiment tray provided some zesty pickled vegetables, sweet chutney and neon green mint chutney to liven up the stuffing.

We found the combination of the sweet fruit chutney mixed with hot vinegary pickle a nice complement. Mint chutney is usually our favorite but here the off-putting, vibrant color and lack of heat made it uninteresting.

Tandoori chicken wings are marinated in yogurt and spices to make them tender and flavorful. They are baked in the hot clay oven, which gives them a tasty subtle char. We really enjoyed these delicious meaty wings, served in a generous portion.

Instead of rice to accompany our entrées, we ordered the garlic naan, a soft, flat bread baked in the tandoor oven. It makes a perfect scoop for thick sauces.

Terry particularly liked the shrimp saag, with a darker, earthier flavor than any spinach sauce she had previously tasted. The medium shrimp were nicely cooked and juicy. This sauce is also available with potatoes and peas, chicken, lamb or paneer (fresh, unripened, pressed cheese).

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