I really wanted to write about Patel Brothers, the Indian grocery chain with a strong presence near me in New Jersey. I really did, but something I found while shopping there stopped me dead in my tracks: 99¢ packages of pre-cooked imported Indian food by Swad. These days, 99¢ for a meal—potentially even two given the portion size—is worth stopping for. At the same price point as ramen, mac and cheese, and other lazy-mood foods from a box (or can, or in this case, bag), this is a cheaper alternative to ordering Indian takeout.
Ready-to-eat Indian dishes aren't that new, and there are several brands: Kitchens of India and Tasty Bite. They've spread from suburban mega-Indian shops like Patel Brothers to smaller urban Indian markets, and now to imported food stores and even Trader Joe's.
Swad packs a sealed, laminated pouch inside a colorful, contemporary, cardboard box with the "Micro Curry" (microwaveable curry) logo on the front and side. I filled a gym bag full of them and headed to Serious Eats HQ recently for an official tasting.
We tasted the palak paneer, channa masala, bhindi masala, and navratan korma Micro Curries. Our biggest complaint: The texture was off. The chickpeas (channa) were undercooked and many of the other dishes lacked the pleasing texture that local restaurant and home cooking versions offer. But if you're considering Indian takeout, and don't need a culinary revelation, these will fill you up.
Brian: "Pleasantly acid."
Alaina: "I like it less puréed, a little sour for me."
The undercooked chickpeas stopped the discussion.
Erin: "I expected firm okra texture, but it turned out to be a pile of slime."
Alaina: "A little on the sweet side, my favorite so far."
Erin: "Tastes like a squash or turnip...has the right proportion of sweet and spicy."