A Taste of India

We explore the fascinating nuances of Indian Cuisine

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We hope you enjoy this week’s introduction to cooking Indian food in the comfort of your own home. We think you’ll find that it is very satisfying (and delicious)! 

CHARACTERISTICS

Indian cuisine is one of the most popular in the whole world. Known for its diversity, it consists of a wide range of spices and herbs and flavors from subtle to intoxicating. Staple ingredients include rice and breads as well as meat and vegetables and many dishes are made from scratch, with recipes passed down from one generation to the next. In Indian culture, mealtime is an opportunity to spend time together as a family. 

The vast size of India results in a diverse food culture, largely based on the landscape and climate. Religious beliefs also dictate the cuisine type. For example, Hindus do not eat beef. Some of the most important spices in Indian cooking are chilli peppers, cardamom, cumin turmeric, and ginger. One popular spice blend that is called for in this week’s recipes is garam masala, a powder that includes cardamom, cinnamon, clove, cumin, and anise star. Technically, you can blend it yourself but it is sold at most specialty grocery stores.

NORTH VS SOUTH

Northern Indian dishes, such as palak paneer and chicken masala tend to be better known among Americans, but the cuisine of Southern India is quickly gaining in popularity. 

A lot of wheat grows in northern India, so you’ll find lots of breads and curries in the North. Much of what you eat in North American restaurants —such as naan bread, rotis, samosas, and aloo gobi (potato and cauliflower)—is North Indian. You’ll also see a large emphasis on meat, like lamb and chicken, in the north as well. If you’re averse to spicy food, you’ll appreciate the more mild spices used here. 

A lot of wheat grows in northern India, so you’ll find lots of breads and curries in the North.

In general, South Indian cooking is based around rice, lentils, and stews. Dishes such as dosa, idli (steamed lentil rice cakes) and huli/sambar (spicy lentil and vegetable stew) are all from the South. Southern India is closer to the sea, with a lot more vegetable crops, so the cuisine there tends to be vegetarian with some seafood. Southern Indian dishes are said to be some of the healthiest and are popular among vegetarians and vegans. You’ll also find that the south leans towards spicier food, with curries that have a soupier consistency than the creamy, more gravy-like ones in the north.

Both Northern and Southern Indians eat a lot of yogurt, but how dairy is incorporated into the cuisine differs significantly.

Both Northern and Southern Indians eat a lot of yogurt, but how dairy is incorporated into the cuisine differs significantly. For example, Northern Indians put ghee (butter) in a lot of their cuisine, while Southern Indians use coconut milk in many dishes. Sourness is a prevailing flavour in all Indian Cuisine, with amchoor (dried mango powder) being the common souring agent in the north and tamarind in the south.  

All Indian cuisine makes great use of vegetables, with vibrant spices. Whether it’s chickpea curry or paneer-based dishes, you can always look to Indian recipes for creative ways to cook with veggies. Cauliflower is commonly the star of many Indian meals, especially roasted. 

BASMATI RICE

Basmati means “full of aroma” and is a long grain, aromatic rice that grows in Northern India and Pakistan. The key to making basmati rice that is light and fluffy is to soak it in cold water for approximately 25 minutes prior to cooking, otherwise the grains will become gummy and stick together. Basmati makes the perfect accompaniment to Indian Curries.

Basmati makes the perfect accompaniment to Indian Curries.

TURMERIC

Arguably one of the world’s healthiest ingredients, this powerful spice is a staple in Indian cuisine, known for its anti-inflammatory and healing properties. The slightly warm, peppery flavor of turmeric makes it a wonderful addition to savory dishes. As an added bonus, it lends a nice golden colour to your food.

Sliced open, or dried into a spice, the turmeric plant is commonly heated in a fat like oil In Indian cooking, which increases absorption. A member of the ginger family, it has been used in natural medicine for thousands of years. In Ayurvedic medicine, it is applied to wounds to fight infection and is believed to help with diabetes, pain, and even skin conditions like eczema. Be aware that turmeric temporarily stains the hands, similar to how beets do.