According to its menu statement, Kanak India offers exotic cuisine for which India long has been known. The statement goes on to describe the offerings as prepared with “a gentle blend of herbs and spices” that is authentic to the Northern Indian region famed for its savory tandoori oven dishes and its curry recipes.

Asked about the flavor profiles of Northern India, management suggests the answer may be found in looking far afield to Afghanistan and points north and west of its border. Those foreign lands have had an outsized influence on the cuisine of India in general, and especially the Punjab region in particular. One major influence on the cuisine of the area resulted from the British colonial incursion in the region, where France and England struggled for dominance in the waning years of the eighteenth century. The Brits won out, and as a result introduced butter and cream to North Indian kitchens. In addition, the British empire served as a conduit for the introduction of Indian food the world over.


Dal makhani, a creamed lentil dish with butter and spices

That area of India — the Punjab — is farmland in the main, producing a cornucopia of vegetables that include baby eggplant, squash, spinach, potatoes, okra, peas, cauliflower and more. Since vegetables dominate markets there, logically they became the focal point of recipes where curries and other spices are used to create flavor profiles.

Foods of Northern India tend to be richer in range and taste than do those of the south, where more heavily spiced foods dominate due to extremes of heat near equatorial regions. The northern regions utilize more cream and butter in their preparations. In the south of India, one finds more fish and seafood, with preparations featuring coconut-based ingredients, and spices that once acted as preservatives.

How does all that translate into menu choices at Kanak India? Many vegetarian dishes are specialties of the house. One of my favorites is saag bhartha, aka spinach cooked with eggplant. This entrée is both tasty and filling, leaving me satisfied in a way that some other vegetarian dishes do not. Another favorite, and a dish widely celebrated as uniquely Indian, is the saag paneer. This specialty features house-made cheese cubes, slow-cooked with spinach and cream. Again, tasty and filling, and a favorite among ethnic Indian diners at Kanak, according to management. Saag paneer generally is a side dish but can be eaten as an entrée as well.

Garlic naan

In all, there are 25 dishes under the heading of Vegetarian Specialties on Kanak India’s menu. If your tastes are similar to my own, you’ll find two mushroom dishes that stand out among the veggie selections. One is mushroom mater, which features mushrooms and peas that are cooked in a sauce made of tomatoes and cream. The entrée is loaded with mushrooms and peas, which is the way the ingredients should be balanced for this recipe. Too often, the mushrooms and peas can be few are far between. The second entrée is saag mushroom, in which the mushrooms are combined with spinach and cooked in a cream sauce. Both mushroom dishes are among my favorites at Indian restaurants. Generally, they are mildly spiced and offer textures that are delightfully chewy and flavorful.

One way to find one’s tastebud bearings at Kanak India is to enjoy the luncheon buffet. On the daily lunch buffet, you will find several entrée selections from the various categories of the menu, along with soups and desserts and more.

A shot of tandoori chicken at Kanak India

For those who have a taste for spicy entrée options, aloo vindaloo and aloo gobhi should deliver the kick you desire. The vindaloo dish features potatoes cooked in a spicy-hot sauce. This dish can be somewhat less potent on the buffet and can be spiced to your personal taste if ordered from the menu. In fact, the spiciness of any dish can be adjusted to your taste by the kitchen, according to management.

One delight not to be overlooked is the bread section of Kanak’s menu. Here you will find a variety of flatbreads, some stuffed, all baked in the tandoori oven. Reading down the list, my favorite would be the garlic naan, pictured. In general, naan is an ideal complement to any Indian dish since it serves as a means to scoop up the food on the plate. There are more than a dozen choices in the bread section of the menu, many with vegetables, some with beef and chicken, and traditional plain naan without embellishment.

See you at Kanak India!