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Dining Out

Scrumptious introduction to the joys of Indian food

Rang biryani, or saffron rice and vegetables with lamb, shrimp, and chicken.

Josh Reynolds for The Boston Globe

Rang biryani, or saffron rice and vegetables with lamb, shrimp, and chicken.

For years, I avoided eating Indian food. Weren’t some foods so spicy-hot you could barely eat them? Plus, I didn’t like curry. Or did I? Indian food seemed so . . . exotic.

Then Rang opened in Stoneham Square, eight years ago this December.

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“Friends thought I was crazy to open up in Stoneham,” said owner Paramjit Singh. “They said to me, ‘People in the Stoneham area don’t like spicy.’ ”

Laughing off their fears, Singh opened anyway. Experience led the way. His family already owned Passage to India in Porter Square, one of Cambridge’s oldest Indian restaurants; Savoring Indian Cuisine in Maynard, and Monsoon Grill in Acton.

The memory of my first visit to Rang is still clear. We visited a few months after its opening and immediately found ourselves unprepared for this culinary adventure, lost in Rang’s extensive menu listing choices and spices from both northern and southern India. Among the spices: cardamom, star anise, green chilies, coriander, turmeric, and, of course, curry.

It was Singh himself who rescued us that night. Like a dinnertime docent, he asked kindly, while taking the menu from us — would we allow him the pleasure of ordering dishes for us, based upon our preferences?

What happened next changed our palates to this day.

From the aromatic baskets of naan ($2.50 to $4), a flat bread baked in a clay oven, to the gulab jamun ($3), a sweet, doughnut hole-like dessert, Singh led us that night on a Punjabi journey of plates — chicken, lamb, and vegetable dishes — all with foreign names and unfamiliar sauces, though spiced lightly for these novices.

By the end of the meal, it was hard to tell whether Singh or we were more delighted by our culinary epiphany. And our fussy-eater daughters, then 3 and 7, never complained once.

After numerous visits over the years, we no longer feel intimidated by Indian food and recently felt confident enough to share dinner with friends who once lived in England, where Indian food is as popular as pizza is here.

Rang means “colors” in Hindi and begins upon entering. Silky, amber-colored curtains with embroidered outlines of daisies cascade to the floor. It’s almost magical, opening the curtains to enter the 50-seat restaurant.

On this visit, manager Hari Kafle served us. Starting with papad ($1), two slices of very light, black bean wafers, we added two selections of naan, at $4 per dish: kashmiri, which is stuffed with raisins, cashews, and coconut; and garlic, an unleavened white bread stuffed with garlic. For me, the kashmiri could be a viable dessert option.

For drinks, there is a wine list, beer, and mixed drinks. We shared a 22-ounce bottle of Taj Mahal beer ($7). Entrees, vegetable, and rice dishes are also more fun to share and sample, but be sure to discuss spice preferences first.

Kafle suggested Rang mixed appetizers ($11), enough for the four of us, and included vegetable pakora (mixed vegetable fritters), vegetable samosa (crispy turnovers stuffed with spiced potatoes and peas), aloo tikki (potato patties), cheese pakora (stuffed homemade cheese slices, dipped in chickpea batter and fried crisp), chicken pakora (tender boneless chicken breast marinated in lightly spiced batter and fried), meat samosa (crisp turnovers stuffed with ground lamb, spiced potatoes, and peas), fish pakora, and shrimp pakora. It’s a great introduction to Indian food.

We ordered four entrees to share, served with a family-style serving of basmati rice and hot onion chutney. Rang also has vegetarian and gluten-free dishes.

The chicken korma ($15) is a boneless chicken marinated in fresh cream, tossed in herbs, spices, nuts, raisins, then cooked in its own gravy.

My friend’s husband and I dared to venture into vindaloo land. Vindaloo, known to be hot (and labeled such on the menu), is a popular Indian curry dish from the Goa region.

“How hot do you want it, on a scale of one to 10?” Kafle asked us. “A seven? Eight?”

We settled on 7, and ordered chicken vindaloo ($14), which is cooked with potatoes, spices, a touch of lemon, and herbs. Afterward, no longer scared or seared, we agreed we could tolerate hotter next time.

The goa shrimp curry ($17) was hands-down the favorite dish, prepared with fresh ground coconut and a variety of spices. We’ll double-order this dish next time.

My husband decided on the lamb kabab ($14), one of the specials that night, clay-oven-cooked juicy chunks of tender lamb, marinated in sour cream and fresh ground herbs and spices.

Departing from the restaurant, it feels like you’re leaving a friend’s home, but knowing you’ll return — maybe next time with friends making their first foray into Indian food. We know a place where you’ll be in good hands.

Kathy Shiels Tully can be reached at kathyshielstully@gmail.com.
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