Darbar is a quaint spot in Palo Alto downtown serving up some of the best, most authentic food in the Bay Area. Darbar is a mix of South Indian and North Indian food. They have a variety of options ranging from Vegetable Curries to Chicken Vindaloo. Today I’ll be diving a little more into the vegetarian side of Darbar, but if you do get a chance to check out, their non-vegetarian dishes are just as good.
This korma is a slightly sweet vegetable curry that is golden yellow in color. It has a rich and creamy consistency with tons of colorful vegetables. The mix of peas, carrots, nuts and paneer (cottage cheese) perfectly contrast the beautiful color of the korma, but also cut through the richness of the base. The carrots are my absolute favorite part of this dish. They are cooked in a way that they hold their structure well but are soft as butter when you cut into them. It is also reminiscent of a sous vide carrot with that almost meat-like texture. I’m not a huge fan of peas, but these ones are cooked through and through in the golden korma giving them powerful flavors. The thinly sliced nuts are also a perfect contrast to the soft textures of the carrots and peas, while adding a roasted nutty taste. What makes this dish so special is not the vegetables, but the paste that creates the korma. The dish itself is incredibly creamy, but achieves that texture and taste, not from exclusively cream and butter, but nuts. The paste is a combination of fatty almonds and cashews with a pinch of melon seeds and poppy seeds. These ingredients combine to create that fatty texture, and a hint of sweetness without raisins or pineapple.
The origin behind this dish is a truly amazing story. In Hindi, nav means nine, and ratan means jewels. In the Mughal empire of India, during Akhbars rule, he had 9 courtiers who this dish was made in tribute to. To follow it up, this dish uses 9 spices and vegetables, staying true to its name.
This one is a more hidden dish that utilizes an amazing vegetable which too many people haven’t tried. Okra, or Bhindi is a long green vegetable with a soft fleshy interior and seeds that is normally cooked with a ton of spices and aromatics. The okra is normally roasted whole and served up with some salt, pepper and tomatoes in a fresh salad. In India, the preparation takes okra to a new level by cutting into cm long pieces and sauteeing it with onions and a variety of herbs and spices. The okra itself is a very bland vegetable, but it soaks up all the amazing toasted spices. The main spices are green chilies, ginger and garlic paste, garam masala, turmeric, red chili powder and coriander powder, all toasted together with tomatoes and onions. The spices give the dish a nice kick, while the onions and tomatoes add a umami component and nice depth. This is an amazing dish, but it is worth even more of a try because of the uniqueness of okra and the health benefits.
Chickpea dishes in India are common, and this has to be one of the best. Similar to the bindi masala, Chana masala is cooked with a base of tomatoes, onions and spices. The difference here is that this base is simmered for a long time, sometime up to 4 hours. The simmering of tomatoes, onion and spices like coriander, chili powder, jalapenos, and coriander creates an incredibly rich, almost creamy texture with a deep umami flavor. Finally, the dish is topped off with a squeeze of lemon to contrast the umami and saltiness with a hit of acid that is much needed. The true greatness of this dish comes with its versatility. It can be eaten with naan or on a bed of white rice. If you really like the flavor of this dish, you can just eat it like a hearty stew because of the chickpeas. Because chickpeas have so much moisture and are quite pors, they soak up all the flavor of the dish making it even more enjoyable of an experience.