Any cook wanting to expand her horizons (or revel in flavors of her homeland) must go to Patel Brothers, the vast Indian supermarket at 330 Connecticut Ave. in Norwalk. This new outpost in the franchise that operates 50 Indian grocery stores in the United States overwhelms, with superstore-sized aisles packed with spices, rice, beans, chutneys, snacks, teas, dairy products, frozen food and produce — both standard and exotic.
Patel Brothers opened about a month ago. “This is the perfect location,” says co-owner and manager Pratik Patel, “There is a large Indian community in Stamford, Darien and Norwalk.” The expansion of Indian restaurants like Thali, Tawa and Coromandel indicates a growing appreciation and interest beyond the Indian community. “I see many white people shopping here,” says Patel.
I riffed on Nguyen’s recipe for banana blossom salad, mixing the blossom with chopped roasted peanuts, dried shrimp (small, salted, dehydrated shrimp), mint leaves, celery leaves and shredded chicken. Nguyen’s recipe calls for grinding sesame seeds in a mortar and pestle and tossing them into the salad. I didn’t have sesame seeds, so I used tahini (sesame seed paste) as the basis for the dressing, to which I added a little sugar and the juice of a lime. The salad, dominated by the blossom, gave forth floral, earthy and artichoke flavors, mixed with refreshing mint and lime. The chicken, peanuts and tahini tempered the mild, tongue-tingling qualities of the banana blossom.
The karela I bought was absolutely mouth-puckering. Also known as bitter melon or bitter gourd, this wart-covered fruit is considered very healthy. I cut it in half lengthwise, scraped out the seeds, and then sautéed it with onions browned until they were sweet, to which I added crushed cumin seeds, garlic, turmeric, salt and pepper. As a last minute inspiration, I threw some raisins into the pot, to further temper the bitterness. The karela retained its crunch, and its bitterness was a refreshing contrast to the soft onions and untraditional raisins.
Patel Brothers also had the cutest little round eggplants I’ve ever seen. I split them in half lengthwise and topped them with a fragrant paste I blended from fresh curry leaves, fresh turmeric, shallot, garlic, salt, pepper and lime. Baked until tender, the eggplants were quickly gobbled up as we stood in the kitchen, talking and cooking. Our yellow, turmeric-stained fingers were the only remaining evidence of our gluttony.