Campus Dining staff get a lesson in Indian home cooking

When Campus Dining chefs and managers visited her kitchen, Sadhna Agrawal found herself repeating the same suggestion, "Don't be afraid to use more spices." She says American food often uses only pinches and sprinkles. In her home country of India, recipes call for spices by the spoonful.

"The group was bowled over when they saw how much flavor there was in my dishes," Agrawal said. "And they saw that they weren't hard to do, and that got them excited to try it in the dining commons."

The staff visited Agrawal's kitchen to learn a few tips on home-style Indian cooking. Although Indian entrees have always been available in the dining commons, Agrawal offered to help expand the menu. The collaboration will increase the amount of ethnic choices, as well as vegetarian and gluten-free options on dining commons menus.

This fall, many of the recipes will be available in all six of the on-campus dining commons. The idea came about when her son, a Penn State student who lives on campus, brought home some friends.

"My son invited about 25 of his friends over," she said. "It was all Indian food and the boys cleaned it out … and they said they wanted to come back again for more."
This gave her the idea to contact Residential Dining Director Lisa Wandel about expanding the menu to include more home-style Indian options. She invited the staff to her house for a full-on Indian home cooking experience. The experience was fun and educational for both the staff and Agrawal, as well as beneficial for the diversity of on-campus dining.

"It's always good to learn new things, especially from someone with such expertise," Executive Chef Mark Kowalski said. "We went through the recipes and picked the ones we can add to our weekly menus. We got great feedback. The cooks are all trained. We're looking forward to the semester to start cooking these new recipes."
Kowalski held a demonstration of the new menu items at Findlay Dining Commons in June. Campus Dining cooks got to see how to make the unique dishes, and Agrawal was on hand to critique and offer feedback.

"They got it completely right. They did a great job," Agrawal said. "I look forward to staying in contact with Mark and Lisa, and hopefully help the Indian selection continue to evolve in the future."

Agrawal and Kowalski said it's good for students to try different tastes from around the world. Agrawal added that it helps them to be open to trying new things and become aware of other cultures and cuisines.

"We've always served Indian food, but this will be a little different," Kowalski said. "These are vegetarian friendly, some of them are gluten-free. And it's all authentic."

"I appreciate their openness the most," Agrawal said. And as for her son, "He is very excited. He is still living on campus and it will be nice to have some of the Indian-style vegetarian choices for him and his friends."

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Last Updated September 06, 2011