Putting the right grind in Indian cooking

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By Jill Sabulis

The following article appeared in Atlanta Journal Constitution on 01/08/03 http://www.accessatlanta.com/ajc/news/atlanta_world/bazaar/010803.html

Each week World Bazaar seeks out shops and markets in Atlanta that cater to the increasing number of world cultures here. 

As a stay-at-home wife cooking traditional Indian meals in her Atlanta home 20 years ago, Andal Balu laboriously ground the spices and mixed the special pastes by hand. Or she burned out yet another American blender.

Cooking favorite dishes without the tools common in kitchens across India was frustrating. “We had to change the composition of our recipes to suit the appliances,” said Balu, an accomplished home cook and mother of two teenage daughters. “The [domestic] blender was not tough enough. I struggled with it.
“The kitchen lacking the basics made for more work assembling almost any dish, she said. “We could do it, but it took a lot of effort.

We were always looking for something to make Indian food with less effort.”

Finally, Balu said, “Rather than change the recipe, instead we changed the appliance.”

Thus,10 years ago, a successful business was born. Balu, an agricultural research scientist in India, entered the American work force by starting Inno (for “Innovative”) Concepts, importing and selling household and commercial kitchen appliances used specifically in Indian cooking.

“In India, everybody has these” appliances, said the 47-year-old entrepreneur. But the gadgets are manufactured to suit India’s 230-volt electrical current and thus are incompatible with the United States’ 110-volt standard. So for those moving to the United States, it wasn’t a simple matter of packing up the chapathi maker, the idli steamer and the masala grinder.

That’s where Balu came in. She started importing Indian-cooking appliances built to American specifications and then selling them to retail and commercial customers over an Internet site. Metro buyers can visit the warehouse in Roswell.

She started with one appliance, the Sumeet. At 550 watts, the motor of this blenderlike appliance makes short work of grinding masalas, powders of herbs and spices used to flavor various dishes. (She has added her own brand, the Innomix.)

Today, the product line includes six home appliances and three for commercial use, which are sold wholesale usually to restaurants and temples.

The irony, says her husband, Balu Balasubramanian, a pharmaceutical technology consultant, is that none is limited to Indian cooking. Latino customers purchase the Chefmaster instant chapathi maker as a tortilla maker, for example. The company also counts among its customers a Filipino baker.

The most popular choice is the Ultragrind, which comes in two sizes and is indispensable for making dough for idlis,the rice cakes that are a staple in the couple’s home city of Palani in the state of Tamilnadu in south India.

Designed in an almond and purple color scheme, Ultragrind is sort of a cross between a blender, a food processor and a granite mortar and pestle. A heavy granite disc sits in the bottom of the stainless steel mixing bowl. Two cone-shaped granite grinding rollers do the ork. The best-selling unit is 47 pounds, costs $300 and operates whisper-quiet.

Both Balu and her husband remember childhood days — before these handy kitchen helpers were available — when the home cook’s most important tool was a son or daughter to help with the hand-grinding.

“Our mothers had these huge grinders, mortar and pestle-type grinders, only really large,” Balasubramanian said.

“Oh yes, we took our turn helping our mothers,” Balu said, laughing.

The long-term goal for the company is to “bring Indian ingredients and cooking into mainstream use,” Balasubramanian said. “Our first demographic is young Indians here.”

The way to achieve that goal, the couple says, is to make cooking easier and standardize the results.

“The same recipe seldom turns out the same for two people,” he said. “That’s because cooking is an art.”

Inno Concepts: 9:30 a.m.-5:30 p.m. Monday-Friday. 115 Hill St., Roswell. 770-594-1815. www.innoconcepts.com

Read Jill Sabulis’ Personal Shopper column Thursdays in Living. Catch more of her tips on WAGA’s “Good Day Atlanta” on Thursdays.

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