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So, my little brother took us out to eat at Essence Of India last night, so no Meatless Monday. We did get vegetarian samosas and a chickpea and spinach dish though, so we did partially do Meatless Monday (not inlcuding our lamb and chicken). Since I’ve already blogged about that joint a while back here’s what I made for dinner this past Friday, kefta kabobs.

I used a 1/4 onion, a piece of ginger, 1 garlic clove, 1 tablespoon of paprika, 1 teaspoon of cumin, 1 teaspoon of dried basil, 1 teaspoon of dried oregano, and 3/4 pound of ground lamb.

In a glass bowl I plopped the lamb meat and grated the onion, ginger, and garlic on top. In a small sauce pan I heated up 2 tablespoons of olive oil and put all of the dried spices in. I let them cook in the oil for about 1 minute. Then I turned off the heat and let the spice mix cool for about 5 minutes. After that, I poured it on the meat and seasoned with salt and pepper. That all got mixed together in order to mix the flavors evenly throughout the meat. I formed 4 oblong “sausages” out of the meat and then put it in the fridge for about a half hour to let the meat firm up.

On the side I made some chickpeas with vegetables. I used 3 plum tomatoes chopped, 2 garlic cloves minced, the other 1/4 of onion diced, 1 red bell pepper diced, 1 14 ounce can of chickpeas, 1 large handful of baby spinach, and 1/2 teaspoon each of cumin, cayenne, and turmeric.

In a heated pan I poured about 2 tablespoons of olive oil and then tossed in the onion, carrot, and bell pepper. I let them sweat for about 6 minutes and then added the garlic. About a minute later I added the tomatoes with all of their juices and let them break down for about 4 minutes. Then the chickpeas went it along with the spices with salt and pepper. Once the chickpeas were heated through, about 4-5 more minutes, I added the spinach. I turned off the heat and covered it. The residual heat wilted the spinach and keeping it covered gave me enough time to grill the kefta.

While the grill was heating up I took 4 bamboo skewers that were soaking in water for an hour and pushed them through the cold kefta. I oiled the grill and then cooked the kefta for about 4 minutes on all four sides.

Instead of regular white rice to go with everything I used basmati rice. I used chicken stock instead of water along with a pinch of turmeric for color. I would have used saffron, but I’m out. I chopped up some cilantro and garnished the plate.

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This past Saturday was date night with the wife. I know, Yuki and I are one of those cute couples everyone hates to see. We hold hands and all of that crap. But hey, she’s cute as hell, what am I supposed to do? Anyway, we decided that it was time to catch Slumdog Millionaire. Looking in The Reader I saw that the three closest theaters playing it were the one on E. Illinois downtown, the one on Clark in Lincoln Park, and The Davis Theater on N. Lincoln in Lincoln Square. Not wanting to pay $20 to park while having dinner and eating we headed up to Lincoln Square where I knew there would be free street parking close to the theater. Sorry for not calling you Scotty and Brenna as we parked by your place, but I was on a date.

 

There are tons of great eats on that strip of Lincoln, but since we were going to see a movie that takes place in India we decided to stop in at Essence of India at 4601 N. Lincoln, right on the NE corner of Lincoln and Wilson.

 

It’s a nice little restaurant, clean with Indian art hanging on all of the walls. Nothing fancy, but not bare and sterile either. We sat at a four-top near the window and were quite comfortable.

 

The menu looks like just about any Indian joint in the states. It’s broken down into apps, tandoori items, chicken, lamb, etc. So far everything seemed to be right in line.

 

We order samosas whenever we eat Indian. I guess it’s kind of like Crab Rangoon for me at Chinese restaurants, I gotta have ‘em. However, I was feeling kind of crazy that night, my friends (sorry, don’t mean to sound like McCain). I don’t know if it was that sexy Japanese woman I was dining with, or something I smoked prior to dinner, but I was definitely feeling a bit antsy, ready to go against the grains of my reality. We didn’t order samosas, instead, are you ready for this? We ordered the Vegetable Pakoras. Mmmmm, am I glad we did!

 

Fresh vegetables coated in a lentil batter and deep fried into golden bliss. That night’s offerings were potato slices, onions, and cauliflower (a vastly underused vegetable in my humble opinion). The coriander sauce had a shtickle of spice behind it that really kept the deep fried flavors clean going down, and a little spicy going out.

 

After that we decided to keep dinner simple and shared the Tandoori Chicken and Seekh Kabob. I think the true test of an Americanized Indian restaurant is how well prepared the Tandoori Chicken is. Out of the numerous Chicago contenders I’ve digested, Essence of India’s ranks right up there with the best! It was absolutely cooked to perfection. The outside had that nice almost-caramelized crust while the inside stayed moist and juicy. There was a touch more lemon in their marinade, but I like that, I like that a lot!

 

The Seekh Kabob was also very good. It didn’t quite rank up there with the best of them like the chicken did, but it was a tasty dish. I love a tasty dish. Very well flavored and also cooked nicely, keeping the meat juice encapsulated. There could have been a few more vegetables on the dish such as grilled peppers, a natural marriage with lamb. Grilled cherry tomatoes also would have been lovely with their little bursts of acid (don’t get too excited Mark, not that kind of acid). However, it was a satisfying dish on the molecular as well as the spiritual level.

 

The Naan was, well, it was Naan. My mom loves Naan so much she could make a meal out of it all by itself! And she tells us this every time we have Indian food with her.

 

Service was very attentive without being overbearing. Food came out on cue, water was filled as soon as our glasses became half-empty. The front house is very well run.

 

My only gripe with Essence of India was the cost of my Mango Lassi. For $3.50 they could have given me twice as much. My narrow Collins glass was so full of ice that there was hardly any Lassi in it. I have a buddy who would never put ice in his cup at self serve machines because he didn’t want to waste room that could be used for drink. Well, I always thought that he was just being stingy (which he is), but I understand his thinking now. I would have much rather forked over $3.50 for Mango Lassi than for a glass of ice.

 

All in all Essence of India is a better-than-average, typical Americanized Indian restaurant. Food and service are top-notch while the prices are consistent with other Indian joints in Chicago. While I wouldn’t go out of my way for it, I would definitely go back if ever in the mood for Indian while in Lincoln Square. It’s a great place to have in the neighborhood and actually made me jealous that there isn’t any Indian in my neighborhood. Come on Wicker Park restaurateurs, aren’t any of you Indian?

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