Cooking

Gold Rush

Meet vadouvan, your new shortcut for making super-quick Indian food
Photo: Lizzie Munro/Tasting Table
Vadouvan

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One of the reasons we love garlic is because it's a no-brainer. Is the sauce missing something? Garlic. Marinade needs oomph? Garlic. More oomph? More garlic.

Meet garlic's trendy Indian brother: vadouvan. Golden in hue and featuring a kaleidoscope of spices—including, unsurprisingly, garlic!—it packs an umami boom when pressed onto plump scallops, sliced eggplant, potatoes, carrots and most any savory vegetable giving you attitude in the kitchen.

Vadouvan's roots reportedly trace to a French colony in South India, and it became popular stateside in 2005 after chef Ludo LeFebvre suggested that San Francisco spice company Le Sanctuaire make its own version of it. It did (cleverly adding the word golden in front of it), and sales went through the roof, especially among chefs. Today, vadouvan is the company's best-selling spice.

These days, it's making cameos on menus from coast to coast, from a vadouvan-flecked venison loin on Vikas Khanna's tasting menu at New York's Junoon to an autumnal cauliflower-and-squash risotto at Michael Mina in San Francisco. Indeed, with its gilded shimmer, vadouvan is perhaps the ideal ingredient to usher in fall: Chef Sean Brock spun it into crème fraîche to garnish heirloom pumpkin soup for a recent Thanksgiving at Charleston's Husk.

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You wouldn't think a ho-hum spin on curry powder with a few toasted shallots and garlic bits could be so magical. You'd be wrong.

I was turned on to vadouvan's charms after a Pakistani food writer friend, spying an unopened canister in my kitchen, snapped it up to sprinkle onto scallops he was about to sizzle in a pan. They were gorgeous. I encountered them again in this killer tandoori-style carrots recipe and used them to steal the show at a dinner party.

So here are two great ways to use vadouvan. Be forewarned that, unless you don gloves, your fingers will likely be coated in gold for a good 24 hours. (As is true of garlic, it's nigh impossible to shake.) But don't worry about it. Think of it as the Midas touch.

① Golden scallops. Using a paper towel, pat the scallops as dry as possible. Gently press each side of each scallop into the golden vadouvan to adhere it. Fry the scallops over high heat in hot (but not smoking) grapeseed or olive oil until golden on each side. Serve immediately with lemon wedges.

② Golden eggplant. Buy in-season eggplant (we like the striated Fairy Tale varietal, if you see it). Cut the eggplant into half-inch coins. Line a colander with them. Using kosher salt, season the eggplant generously on one side. Wait five to 10 minutes, until the eggplant is glistening with water. Pat dry, flip and repeat on the other side. Meanwhile, whisk half a cup of Greek yogurt with half a lemon's worth of juice and one large minced garlic clove, and set aside. Press each coin of eggplant into a flat plate containing three tablespoons of golden vadouvan; flip and repeat. Set aside. Add two tablespoons of olive oil to a skillet set over medium-high heat. When the oil is shimmering but not smoking, add the eggplant to the pan without crowding. (You may have to fry in batches.) Remove them from the pan, drizzle them with the yogurt mixture and garnish with chopped fresh cilantro or parsley. Serve.

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