- Food and Cooking
Indian Regional Cuisine and List of Spices Used
A little bit about Indian regional cuisine.
Central India consists of the states of Rajasthan, Madhya Pradesh and Uttar Pradesh. Rajasthan is especially known for its fried snacks and the Samosa is very popular indeed here. In Madhya Pradesh we find the Islamic influences in the many stuffed dishes, especially Aubergine. In Uttar Pradesh the Kebabs and creamy Koftas reflect this influence too, but this time the richness is tempered with the age old use of dhals, chutneys and interesting breads such as parathas.
Here we group together the states of Orissa, Bihar and Bengal. The Bengalis are especially known for their love of fish of which many exotic varieties are fished from the deep sea waters of the famous Bengal Bay. Their cuisine reflects the abundance of fish of which they cook using a variety of fragrant spices. Assam is a major world tea grower and many Indian sweetmeats we enjoy as desserts come from this area.
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Gujarat, Maharashtra and Goa are all coastal states and their menus naturally feature a wide range of delicious fish dishes. The Bombay Duck, famed as a dried condiment throughout the Indian sub-continent, is in fact a sun-dried fish called Bummaloe. Bombay is very much a commercial capital for the area.
While no-one is sure where the word ‘curry’ comes from, the old city of Madras in Tamil Nadu is world famous for its range of dishes based on a very special blend of spices known as Madras Curry Powder. In Karnataka they enrich their curry sauces with lentils and in Andra Pradesh they use a little more meat or poultry in their dishes, while in Kerala they make an especially light sauce called a Sambhar in which familiar vegetables such as marrow, tomatoes and cauliflowers are lightly cooked. The whole of the South is known for its obsession with crisply fried wafers called Poppadoms.
The Kashmiris use a great deal of butter, ghee and cream in their dishes. These robust flavorings suit the abundance of meat and poultry found in the region. The cuisines of Humachal Pradesh, Haryana and the Punjab all feature dishes cooked in the egg-shaped Tandoor. Meat and poultry is first marinated in a rich cocktail of spices, yoghurt, lemon and a little food colouring. The Tandoor then rapidly cooks the food with its combination of convection, radiation, conduction, steaming and smoking. Breads such as Naan and Chapatis are thrown against the oven walls where they cook to perfection in this special fragrant heat.
The Robusts Group are shown here with a yellow dot, the Aromatics with green and the Pungents are marked in red.
Different Levels of Spices
An Indian dish can contain one solitary spice or as many as twenty. Popular combinations have evolved over the years. In India these are called Masalas while in the West these same blends have come to be known as Curry Powders. A good Curry Powder will contain of Robusts for flavour, Aromatics for character and Pungents for heat.
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The Robust Spices
- A Mildly citrus flavour, an essential ingredient in Curry Powder.
- A hard yellow root which when ground gives a golden colour to curries.
- A nutty spice which releases its full fragrance when roasted or fried.
- A powerful spice which enhances the sweetness of many vegetable dishes.
- Powerful sun-dried onions add a savoury note to Indian sauces.
- In powdered form this spice gives a mellow deep flavour.
- The most Indian of spices. Instantly evokes the atmosphere of the Orient.
- These pretty balck seeds make an idea savoury ‘garnishing’ spice.
- A lingering bitter spice which deepens the effect of the lighter spices.
- A sweet spic used for its colour and mild ‘Eastern’ flavour.
- Said to precipitate exotic daydreams. This is the traditional pudding spice.
- Called grains of paradise. A powerful seed with a fragrance of ‘pine trees’.
- A most expensive spice. Fortunately a little goes a long way.
- Both seed and weed have an affinity with vegetables, especially salads.
- The flavouring in liquorice; intensely sweet and good with rich meat.
- The lacy covering of the nutmeg. Especially good with green vegetables.
- Its woody sweetness is excellent with both savoury and dessert dishes.
- When crushed their floral scent adds an exotic note to dishes.
- Rare crocus stamens which bestow a yellow colour and light fragrance.
List of Pungent Spices
White & Black Pepper
- The universal pungent spice. Gives a dish its warm farewell.
White & Black Mustard
- A throaty pungency which suits robust meat or potato dishes especially well.
- In a thousand different strengths. Give immediate heat to a dish.
- The warmest spice. Gives a lingering pungency and a unique aroma.
- A spice which loses a lot in the drying so look out for the knobbly fresh root which is full of precious juice. Peeled and puréed with salt and oil it will keep in the freezer.
- Chillies come in many strengths. Fresh chillies have a different pungency to dried chillies. The green pods are the unripened versions of the red type and are especially good chopped straight into a dish.
- The Moghul warlords introduced these fresh green leaves to the Indian sub-continent where, like its root system, the influence of mint in sweet and savoury dishes and drinks spread throughout the land.
- A contentious spice; reactions ranging from addiction to loathing. However it is an essential in most of the world’s cuisines. Excellent fresh, it is available now as a delightfully convenient purée in a tube.
- So called because they have the composite flavour of a delicately blended curry powder. They are especially popular in the South and few Sr-Lankan dishes would be complete without them.
- Sometimes sold as Cilantro or Chinese parsley. Its powerful aroma and flavour is unique and some say an acquired taste. It is easily grown from seed and instantly adds an authentic Eastern touch to foods.
- Commonly known as lentils. In India, all split pulses are known as dhals, thus this popular form of orange lentil, which turns brown and very soft when cooked, is called Masoor Dhal.
- Rarely seen in its fresh form in the West, this fruit cans particularly well when its bright pink color gives a designer-look to the dinner table. The hard yellow pips are something of a novelty.
- These black-eyed-peas appear in many simple cuisines of the world. They look very pretty in a dish, have a very earthy flavour and combine especially well with tomatoes and mushrooms.
- Essentially a wild crop, the mango combines the texture of peach with a flavour all of its own. The soft yellow varieties make delicious eating while the firmer varieties are used in chutneys and pickles.
- A favourite in vegetarian dishes, it has a satisfying meaty quality. It should be well fried in good oil or briskly baked and well-basted to yield its best flavour.
- Many forms of split peas can be grouped under this heading. The most common are yellow and green. They have a nutty flavour and cook down to a rich cream.
- Known a kabbi, these peas have a very mild flavour and a chestnut texture but have the unique ability to hold together no matter how prolonged the cooking time.
- Also known as Bhindi, Bamia or Ladies Fingers. These little vegetables add an interesting soft texture to a dish, creating their own thin viscous sauce. They absorb spices very well.
- Fresh from the palm tree, the milk is a popular drink while the flesh is ground up to from the rich base for many savory as well as sweet dishes. Creamed Coconut is an excellent substitute.
- Known as Saag or Palak there is an enormous variety amongst this genus. Small leafed, large leafed, mild or mustardy the green color keeps well in cooking and the leaf absorbs sauces beautifully.