T.J. Sarkaria and Mauli Sarkaria share with us three staples from the menu of It's a Punjabi Affair.
“Everyone thinks Indian food is basically curry,” says T.J. Sarkaria, who founded It’s a Punjabi Affair with his brother, Aman, and sister-in-law, Mauli. “That is not true. Yes, there’s curry involved, but not every dish or every meal that we eat is curry-oriented.” The family opened their small restaurant in order to introduce Indian cuisine to Amarillo apart from the usual buffet restaurant. “We wanted people to get comfortable with Indian cuisine.”
For this issue, we asked them to share with us three staples from the menu of It’s a Punjabi Affair. The loaded samosas are a deconstruction of the triangle-shaped puff pastry. “We deconstruct it and then build it back up with lots of toppings,” T.J. says. “It has lots of flavors and is a perfect appetizer that can be shared by a couple of people.”
Detox lentils is one of the most popular dishes at the restaurant, based on a recipe passed down from generations. The Punjabi region is known for its agriculture, and the Sarkaria family history includes farmers who raised lentils on their land. “We wanted to go back to our roots and introduce this to the people,” he says. The tandoori chicken is another Indian staple, based on a dish cooked by street vendors in clay ovens called tandoors. “It’s one of my favorite dishes, low in fat and high in protein,” T.J. says.
½ cup seasoned chick peas
3 ounces raita (yogurt sauce)
3 ounces raw onions, sliced
3 ounces pickled onions, sliced
2 ounces fried onions, sliced
2 ounces mint chutney
2 ounces tamarind chutney
Make samosa by cutting pastry dough into semi-circle shape. Deep fry in oil until golden brown, about 5 minutes. Make raita: Combine plain yogurt, diced onions and tomatoes, chopped cilantro and salt and pepper to taste. Stir well. Place samosa in bowl and top with chickpeas, raita, onions and chutney. Garnish with ginger flakes and cilantro to taste.
Makes 1 serving
2 tablespoons oil
2 tablespoons white vinegar
Salt to taste
1 teaspoon garam masala
1 teaspoon coriander powder
1 tablespoon ginger paste
1 tablespoon garlic paste
2 bone-in chicken breasts
Combine first seven ingredients in large bowl. Place bone-in chicken breasts in Ziploc bag and cover with marinade. Marinate chicken in sauce for up to 12 hours. Grill chicken for 20 minutes, until meat pulls away from bone or chicken has reached a temperature of 350 degrees. Serve on a bed of rice or with garlic naan bread. Garnish with mint chutney and sliced onions.
Makes 2 servings
½ cup Indian brown lentils
½ cup red or orange lentils
½ cup green gram lentils
½ cup yellow split peas
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup kale
1 tablespoon ginger, diced
1 tablespoon garlic, diced
1 tablespoon garam masala
8 cups water
1 tablespoon salt
2 medium Serrano peppers, finely chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon coriander seed
2 large tomatoes, diced
2 cups onion, finely chopped
Mix lentils together. Rinse well. Pour into pressure cooker and cover with water. Add salt, turmeric, Serrano peppers, and kale. Stir well; cook for 20 minutes on medium heat. In separate pan add onion and olive oil; cook until medium brown. Once onion changes color, add ginger and garlic. Let cook for 5 minutes; add garam masala, coriander and tomatoes. Simmer for 10 minutes. Once lentils are cooked, add to tomato mixture and continue cooking on low heat for 5 more minutes. Serve lentils with steamed rice and garlic naan bread. Garnish with ginger flakes and diced cilantro to taste. The lentils can also be served as a soup.
Makes 4 servings
Meet the Cooks: T.J. Sarkaria and Mauli Sarkaria of It’s a Punjabi Affair
Born in the Punjab region of northern India, both T.J. Sarkaria and his sister-in-law, Mauli, found their way to Amarillo via the service industry, working for Hilton Hotels. A veteran of the Indian Navy, T.J. spent 15 years as director of operations for Hilton Hotels in Amarillo. Mauli served as director of sales for Hilton Garden Inn, and hails from the same region of India.
T.J.’s father is a retired colonel in the Indian army, and his mother spent her career teaching English. “Mom was always an excellent cook and used to cook some amazing dishes,” he says. “As a child, I always watched her cook but didn’t do much cooking [myself] until I came to the U.S.” Beyond his time in the Navy, T.J. also served a few years in the merchant marine, and his travels introduced him to a variety of world cuisines. “I always had a great palate for excellent cuisine.”
Mauli shared that passion, and the family loved having friends and coworkers over for meals – “It’s fun to cook when people like to eat,” T.J. says. Members of the family often catered weddings and other events in the Indian community. Together, they had always dreamed about opening a restaurant. “We were heavily into food and concoctions. We talked about it all the time.”
One Saturday in the fall of 2015, they learned that a small, hole-in-the-wall shack on a unique triangular lot at Bushland Boulevard and Western Street was for sale. “We couldn’t believe it,” he says. “We saw it the next morning at 11 a.m. and fell in love with the space. It was a blank canvas. Next morning, I wrote a check as earnest money.”
On Dec. 31, 2015, both T.J. and Mauli had given three months’ notice to Hilton. From the start, they wanted to introduce the tastes and dishes of northern India to their West Texas neighbors. “Everybody thought, when I was opening an Indian restaurant, that I was opening it for the Indian community,” says T.J. “But if you’re Indian, you’re cooking your own food at home. Indians don’t go out to eat Indian food. Indians go out to eat burgers or fries or something. My prime target was the American community.”
The restaurant menu includes a number of Indian staples like butter chicken, lamb curry, and the restaurant’s popular detox lentils, which features three kinds of lentils prepared with fresh turmeric, fresh ginger, and other spices. “It’s one of our No. 1 vegetarian dishes,” T.J. says of the family recipe. “It shows Indian food is a lot more beyond just tandoori chicken and chicken tikka masala. We run out of it so fast.”