The velvety aromas of cardamom, cinnamon, fennel, coriander and the faintest hint of nutmeg waft on the breeze outside Saffron Table’s vibrant yellow doors in Bozeman, Montana. These are the traditional South Asian scents that Andleeb Dawood grew up with in Pakistan’s coastal city of Karachi.
Inside the restaurant is anything but traditional. The decor is crisply modern in a Montana kind of way — wood tabletops pair with polished concrete floors and shiny black metal bistro chairs. It’s spare and clean, hip and welcoming in its simplicity. The design intentionally sets the tone for dinner here. It is authentic Indian food, with characteristic spices and timeless recipes made from scratch, yet it has a fresh ambiance.
“I wanted the restaurant to be approachable to people here in Bozeman,” says owner Andleeb Dawood. “It is something familiar even though the food is exotic.”
Open since 2014, Dawood recreates the recipes of her own family’s table with a refined twist, utilizing ingredients that are fresh and local. That translates to Yellowstone Grassfed Beef in the Korma; Willow Spring Ranch Lamb in the Farm 51’s goat for the Kofta special.
“The style of food isn’t Fusion,” explains Dawood, “It’s Contemporary South Asian Cuisine.”
The Mama’s Chicken Curry is straight from her childhood table, Dawood says. Many of the dishes remind her of home in Pakistan, where the table was always set for 18 people. Growing up in a big family meant helping in the kitchen. Her happiest memories revolve around the taste of home, where her mother tosses in “a little bit of this and a little bit of that” into a pot that results in the most flavorful meals.
The most important ingredient to any Indian food recipe is the spice blend. Most South Asian cooks mix their own spices, or masala, toasting seeds and herbs in oil and then blending the mixture to be used sooner rather than later. The spices lose their flavor quickly, so the shelf-life is only about three months. The common ingredients include cardamom, dried chile, cinnamon, clove, coriander, cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mace, nutmeg, red and black peppercorn, poppy seed, sesame seed, saffron, tamarind, and turmeric. Dawood orders palettes of spices directly from a South Asian importer and has her team of chefs meticulously follow her recipe.
While Dawood isn’t a trained chef, she is a fixture in the kitchen. She works closely with chefs, first perfecting family recipes through practice and tasting in a home kitchen, incorporating the flavors of Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Maldives, Nepal, India, Pakistan, and Sri Lanka. There are buttery flavors of the Goan Seafood; unique spices from Dehli in the Mughlai Chicken and Mushroom Curry; and Jasmine rice is harvested in Nepal at the foothills of the Himalayas. The chef training, according to Dawood, is intense because it requires a different set of skills than Western cooking.
“Indian food is very involved,” she explains, “The recipes and preparation require nuance and, really, the engagement of all your senses because the succession of ingredients is essential — being able to see that the oil is the perfect temperature, to smell the aroma of a spice as it opens up and browns but doesn’t burn — it takes practice and skill.”
While the restaurant offers the casual curry-house standards, such as a variation of the spicy Vindaloo, samosas and pakoras, the dining experience can be an elegant series of courses to be savored with assorted wines (the list ranges from spritzy Prosecco to weighty California Cabernets); a family-style smorgasbord of many-plated sharing accompanied with the Masala chai and mango Lassi to drink; or a lighter small-plate taster’s feast at the sleek bar, while sampling a range of beer or wine.
The cuisine can be tidily summed up with the Saffron Table tagline, “Local Food, Exotic Flavors.”
Saffron Table’s Beef Korma
Serves 4 to 6 people
1 medium red onion diced
4 tablespoons of cooking oil
2 lbs of meat — beef chuck roast is great for this dish, also substitute lamb shoulder or boneless chicken breast
3 black peppercorn
2 green cardamom
1 black cardamom (optional)
1 stick of cinnamon
1 tsp salt
½ tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp cayenne powder (if you want the dish less spicy, reduce the amount of cayenne. If it isn’t hot enough, you can always add more cayenne at the end when adding the yogurt and tomatoes)
1 tsp coriander powder
1-2 cups of water
2 tablespoons whole milk plain yogurt
1 medium roma tomato
fresh coriander leaves (also known as cilantro)
Put a heavy-bottomed pot on a medium flame and fry the onions in oil past the point at which they are transparent until they start to brown on the edges. While the onions are frying, lightly crush the black peppercorn, cardamom, cloves and cinnamon in a mortar and pestle; set aside.
As the onions start to brown, add the crushed peppercorn, green cardamom, cloves, and cinnamon and continue to fry as the onions darken in color. You should be able to smell the aromas of these spices infusing in the oil as they fry. When the onions are a nice toasty brown, add your meat along with all the remaining spices and salt, turning up the heat to sear the meat and quickly seal it with the flavors of the spices and onions.
Once the meat is browned on the outside, add enough water to cover the meat, cover the pot with a heavy lid and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer for an hour and a half to two-hours depending on the type of meat (Lamb will need to cook longer, for instance.). After a couple of hours on a low simmer, the meat should be very tender so that it shreds easily without a knife. If it isn’t fork-tender, keep covered on a low simmer checking every twenty to thirty minutes until it is tender. Once the meat is cooked well, uncover the pot and turn up the heat to reduce any excess water.
At this point, adjust the salt or cayenne seasoning depending on whether your preference for spicy heat. Gently stir in two tablespoons of yogurt to thicken the sauce and one chopped tomato, cover the pot again for about thirty minutes or until the tomatoes are softened and dissolved into the dish. The sauce should be fairly thick with a gravy-like consistency and it should coat the meat well. Give the dish a good stir, transfer to a serving dish, garnish with fresh coriander (cilantro) leaves and enjoy.
1511 W. Babcock Street
Bozeman, Montana 59715