Advertisement

Make Indian Pizza Your New Dinner Party Flex

Khushbu Shah shows why spicy, cheesy Indian pizza is the heart of a good party.

<p>Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Natalie Drobny / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva / Hair & Makeup by Danni Katz / Shot on location at Westholme House, Los Angeles</p>

Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Natalie Drobny / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva / Hair & Makeup by Danni Katz / Shot on location at Westholme House, Los Angeles

The list is long when it comes to great American inventions — airplanes, Bubble Wrap — but my favorite of them all is Indian pizza. It turns out that the flavor-packed sauces, vegetables, and heavily spiced proteins from the Indian subcontinent are particularly delicious when spread across a chewy pizza crust, blanketed with fistfuls of cheese, and baked off until perfectly melty.

History tends to credit the invention of Indian pizza to Dalvinder “Tony” Multani, the owner of Zante Pizza and Indian Cuisine, a formerly Italian-run pizzeria in San Francisco named after a small Greek island. Multani, who previously made pizzas in New York City, took over the aging restaurant in 1986. He kept the pizzas and added a full menu of traditional Northern Indian dishes like tandoori vegetables, chicken tikka masala, and garlic naan. A popular customer request was for Multani to combine his two menus into one super-menu of Indian pizzas. Multani obliged, and his Best Indian Veggie Pizza and Best Indian Meat Pizza were instant hits. He quickly expanded his offerings, which today include a paneer tikka masala pizza that comes topped with housemade paneer, fresh spinach, and a special masala sauce.

Multani’s innovation has slowly caught on. Over the past couple of decades, Indian pizza concepts have opened across America, including Namaste Pizza in the Bay Area, Pizzawala’s in Michigan and Illinois, and media darling Pijja Palace in Los Angeles, where a steady stream of hopeful diners lines the block nightly waiting for a table and a chutney-topped pie. There’s even a chain of Indian pizza shops: Curry Pizza House has several locations across Northern California, Nevada, and Texas that sling pies topped with everything from butter chicken to aloo gobi.

When I started to put together my cookbook, Amrikan, which catalogs and celebrates the foodways of the Indian American diaspora, I knew I wanted to have a chapter dedicated solely to Indian pizza. There are few combinations that feel so equally Indian and American at the same time and that work so naturally without feeling forced. Some might turn their noses up at what they may consider to be a “fusion” dish, but the intersection of cultures is where food evolves — and this evolution is particularly delicious.

<p>Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Natalie Drobny / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva / Hair & Makeup by Danni Katz / Shot on location at Westholme House, Los Angeles</p>

Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Natalie Drobny / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva / Hair & Makeup by Danni Katz / Shot on location at Westholme House, Los Angeles

None of the Indian pizza shops across the country have a dedicated style of crust, so I decided to create my own. I wanted it to be a simple recipe that didn’t require an overnight rise (because I always forget to make dough until the day I actually want to make the pizza), and I added cumin and nigella seeds into the dough for additional flavor in each bite. Best of all, you only need a regular home oven for stellar results. (Of course, the brilliant thing about Indian pizza is how flexible it is. You can use any crust you like: Want to keep it simple? Store-bought naan will do. Want to go all out with a crust that requires a 48-hour ferment and a fancy pizza oven? Go for it.)

Next is the matter of sauces and toppings. I didn’t want to just spread leftover Indian food on the crust, cover it with cheese, and call it a day; the goal was to create pies with balanced flavor and texture. For the Cheesy Masala Corn Pizza, inspired by one of my favorite street-food dishes of spicy, buttery, lemony corn, I make a quick béchamel as the base. The creaminess helps to counterbalance the heat and the acidity of the corn — and offers a playful riff on a white pizza. For the Achari Paneer Pizza, I like to make a base of Indian-inspired tomato sauce rippling with fiery Kashmiri red chile powder and garam masala. I then marinate cubes of creamy paneer in a mixture of yogurt and whatever achar (Indian pickle) I have handy, which gives the paneer a rich, tangy flavor. Additional toppings like pickled jalapeños and thinly sliced red onion add sharpness, which cuts nicely through the double cheese (paneer and mozzarella).

While I value a solo pizza dinner, Indian pizza parties have become my new favorite type of relaxed dinner party. My approach is simple and surefire. First, I pick a couple of pizzas to make. Then I fill in the table with a handful of sides and a couple of desserts (all of which can be found in my cookbook as well). I like to have a fresh, crunchy salad on the table — in my version of pizza math, having vegetables on the table neutralizes my extravagant use of cheese.

As for dessert, I like to serve a Mango Pie with a perfectly jiggly, bright orange interior set in a buttery graham cracker crust. When it comes to drinks, I am a fan of all types of bubbles — seltzer, soda, and sparkling wine — but there’s no incorrect choice. The only wrong move, in my book, is never having an Indian pizza party of your own.

Cheesy Masala Corn Pizza

<p>Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Natalie Drobny / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva</p>

Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Natalie Drobny / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

This creamy, cheesy pizza draws inspiration from masala corn, an Indian snack that combines charred corn kernels with butter, lemon juice, and chaat masala, a spice blend that includes cumin, coriander, and amchur (mango powder). Here, the tangy, sweet-hot corn is paired with a wonderfully gooey mozzarella cheese sauce. For extra heat, add pickled jalapeños; omit them if you prefer a milder pizza.

Get the Recipe

Achari Paneer Pizza

<p>Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Natalie Drobny / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva</p>

Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Natalie Drobny / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

This flavor-packed pie is topped with cubes of paneer, a fresh, firm Indian cheese with a mild flavor, that's first tossed in a zesty marinade of yogurt and achar (spicy pickles). The marinated cheese takes on a tangy, piquant edge that pairs well with the garlicky, garam masala– and Kashmiri chile powder–infused tomato sauce.

Get the Recipe

Basic Indian Pizza Dough

<p>Aubrie Pick</p>

Aubrie Pick

Infused with cumin seeds and nigella seeds (also called black cumin or black caraway), this smooth, easy-to-work-with dough yields a golden, pillowy crust with crunch around the edges that beautifully complements the flavorful toppings in Khushbu Shah’s Achari Paneer Pizza and is sturdy enough to hold up to the creamy sauce in the Cheesy Masala Corn Pizza. Be sure to allow one and a half to two hours for the dough to fully proof. The recipe makes enough for two pizzas and can easily be doubled if you’re making pizza for a bigger crowd.

Get the Recipe

Mango Pie

<p>Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Natalie Drobny / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva</p>

Eva Kolenko / Food Styling by Natalie Drobny / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

Mango pulp combines with cream cheese and gelatin to become a glossy, jiggly filling in this easy-to-make pie. Blending the filling gently at a low speed helps to prevent air bubbles from forming. Be certain to choose mango pulp rather than mango puree; mango pulp is thicker and essential for achieving the correct texture to set up the pie. The homemade graham cracker piecrust is full of warm cardamom flavor.

Get the recipe

For more Food & Wine news, make sure to sign up for our newsletter!

Read the original article on Food & Wine.