I had a lovely, simple and delicious meal a week or two ago at Tara’s Himalayan Cuisine on Venice Boulevard in Mar Vista.

This is basically Northern Indian food with an addition of a number of potato dishes as the Himalayas are chilly and the potato is a major food group.

We went with two other people and all of us found the place cozy and quiet, a refreshing change after all the trendy, noisy places in L.A.

We ordered a couple appetizers, including aloo achaar, which is a sautéed potato dish with scallions, chilies, cilantro, garlic and sesame seeds. This was a big hit, very flavorful and just the right amount of spice. We also had vegetable momo, which was a dumpling of sorts filled with vegetables, which was a bit doughy and lacked flavor — this one I would scratch from the menu.

We then went on to a number of entrees served with their wonderful garlic naan bread that was crispy and thin and very nicely done with plenty of garlic and cilantro. The entrees we had were chicken sekuwa, which was chicken breast baked with ginger, garlic and spices; chicken vindaloo, baked chicken breast with potatoes, onions and tomatoes; and saag aloo, a version of saag paneer, which is spinach cooked with potatoes and pureed with spices. All the food was well prepared and flavored just right. Not a restaurant for people that don’t like cilantro as it is in every dish. I am obviously not one of those so I truly enjoyed the generous use of cilantro, garlic and onions.

We stayed for hours after our meal drinking Tibetan beer and feeling very relaxed. No one bothered us to leave and you could talk without having to strain to hear the other person, which went a long way in our enjoyment of the place.

The atmosphere is borderline hole-in-the-wall so not a good first date or romantic destination but for good simple food with great prices I would recommend Tara’s as a neighborhood joint.

Speaking of Indian food, I have just returned from Manhattan where I took an intensive master’s class in Indian cooking. I am teaching these classes in Venice starting in September at the Culinary Training Program. I learned all about the spices and how to use odd ingredients such as kokum, tamarind seeds, long ridge squash and asafetida.

Here is a sampling of what I learned. The results will impress those who get to enjoy this dish.

Amanda Cushman is a culinary educator who has cooked professionally for 25 years. She teaches privately for groups of two to 20 students. She has developed hundreds of recipes for cookbooks as well as food magazines and Web sites. She can be reached amandascooking@gmail.com.

Curry Chicken with Tamarind Sauce

Serves 6


1 inch round tamarind pulp

1 cup hot water

Spice paste

2 tbs. coconut vinegar or sherry wine vinegar or rice wine vinegar

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 tsp. grated fresh ginger

3 tbs. finely chopped onion

1/2 tsp. turmeric

1/2 tsp. ground cumin

2 tsp. ground red chili powder

2 tsp. paprika

2 tsp. kosher salt, or to taste

2 pounds chicken thighs and drumsticks, skin and excess fat removed

Spice mixture

One 1 1/2 inch piece cinnamon stick

5 whole cloves

4 whole green cardamom pods

1 tsp. mustard seeds, crushed

1 medium-sized yellow onion, finely chopped (about 1 cup)

4 tbs. canola or olive oil

6 baby eggplant, left whole- slit open like a radish


1. Place tamarind in a bowl and add the hot water. When cool enough to, handle, crush tamarind pulp with fingers and extract pulp clinging to fibers. Strain the juice into a cup and discard the fibrous residue.

2. Combine the spice paste in a large bowl. Add the chicken and rub it in. Set aside for at least an hour or overnight in the fridge.

3. Combine the spice mixture in a small bowl and set aside.

4. Heat the oil in a large sauté pan over high heat until very hot. Add the spice mixture. Cook, stirring often, until the onion is light golden, about 3 minutes. Add the chicken and cook, tossing and turning, until lightly seared, about 6 minutes. Add the eggplant and tamarind juice and bring to a boil. Lower the heat and cook, covered, until the chicken is tender, about 20 to 25 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning and serve.

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