I asked Indian cooking teacher Shankari Easwaran (who has classes coming up at Whole Foods Market October 6 and 22; her Web site is www.shankari-rajesh.blogspot.com) for tips for getting started with Indian cooking:
“The first thing [most novices] do is start buying spices and groceries—and then they sit in the pantry for years. Instead, go to Whole Foods or the [Sacramento Natural Foods] Co-op, and pick up a few of them in bulk. In my class, I have them smell, touch and feel the spices; they get an introduction to cooking and what they can do with the spices in their pantry.
“Start off with dishes where the spices are friendly to you—take cumin; you see that in Mexican cooking as well. Take a dish that has simple steps and few spices and try that; if you like that, then you can go further. Find a friend who’s Indian, a home cook, [and] uses simple ingredients and recipes.”