Spice Up Your Life With Indian Cuisine - The Basics
Indian cuisine is a varied and exciting as the lands and peoples from which it comes. When prepared from fresh ingredients, nothing can top its rich, unexpected combinations of flavors and textures, marrying succulent lamb or chicken with fresh, sweet fruits such as melons, mangoes, or pineapples, then spicing it with fiery chilies, sharp, pungent cilantro, and a squeeze of fresh lime. Topped off with a swirl of coconut milk or a splash of yogurt - heaven on rice! Or on fresh, warm naan bread if that is your preference.
What ever your taste, whether you prefer mildly spicy or fiery hot, Indian cuisine has something to appeal to any palate, and the wide range of regional dishes and flavors is staggering in its diversity. There are a few basics, though, that are common to most areas - a few basic methods and ingredients that are the building blocks of everything from simple, tasty snacks to a fabulous feast.
Staples of Indian Dance
Staples of Indian Cuisine
Though there are wide variations from region to region, and many dietary restrictions depending on largely on religious beliefs, there are some common threads in Indian cuisine. Lentils, pulse crops (beans and legumes), and rice make up the the foundation of much of Indian cooking.
Basmati rice, native to the Himalayas, is perhaps the most widely recognized. Basmati has a longer, thinner grain than most rices, and a delicate nutty flavor that is enhanced by aging the rice for up to a year. Most often served as an accompaniment to meat or vegetarian dishes, rice is sometimes eaten plain as well.
Another thing that characterizes Indian cuisine is its use of bread as a dietary staple. More prevalent in the north, but found in some variation in most parts of the country, the bread is generally made from wheat flour.
The bread is usually unleavened (flat-bread), and can be folded to scoop up the meal. Sometimes the flat-bread is filled with seasoned rice and vegetables, or meats, and is either baked or fried. Naan bread is leavened with yeast, but maintains its typically flat shape, something like a fluffy tortilla.
Fresh produce plays a large role in Indian cooking as many Indians are vegetarian. Familiar to most westerners, such vegetables as peppers, tomatoes, squash, root vegetables (including potatoes) are typical of Indian cuisine.
In areas where meat and dairy are used, the preferred choices are chicken, goat, and lamb. Dairy products such as ghee (clarified butter) and yogurt are often used.
Renown for its spices, one of India's best known exports is curry, actually a misnomer, or miscommunication. The word curry has come to refer to both the spice and the dish, but the spice westerners call curry is actually a blend of spices. In India this blend is referred to as masala. There are as many variations of this as there are regions, and each chef seems to have his or her own preferred blend.
Garam Masala, a well-known type, is a brown blend which varies by region but typically contains black pepper, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, cumin, and coriander. It is most often added to meat and poultry dishes, though it is also excellent on shrimp, and then served with rice or flat-bread. Kashmiri Masala is a much milder blend, and Taaza Masala is a green paste made with mint.
Boiled rice may not sound exciting, but properly cooked Basmati rice is a staple accompaniment to many Indian dishes, and no feast is complete without a bowl of fragrant Basmati. This light, fluffy rice is equally at home with beef stroganov, chicken masala, and boneless pork loin with wild mushroom gravy. Basmati also makes a nice change-up with stir-fry, though it cannot take the place of sticky rice in Asian cuisine - but that's another series.
For the best results, use a large saucepan that can accommodate rapidly boilging water without spilling it over.
Basic Rice Method:
- Rinse 2 cups Basmati rice under cold water, then soak in just enough cold water to cover the rice in a large bowl - soak for 15 minutes, then drain the rice
- Bring a large pan of water to a rolling boil. Salt the water and add the drained, soaked rice
- Reduce heat and cook, stirring a few times, over medium heat until the rice is tender - about 5 - 7 minutes
- Drain the rice and serve immediately. If not serving immediately, run hot water through the rice for to remove the excess starch, and keep warm 'til ready to serve
Variations for flavor:
- Soak a pinch of saffron strands in 2 - 3 tablespoons of warm water fro about an hour. Drizzle the water and saffron over the freshly cooked rice and stir through with a fork
- In a frying pan, heat about 2 tsp. cumin seeds in a small amount of oil. Swirl the seeds to avoid burning, for about 30 seconds. Pour the cumin and oil over the rice and gently mix in
- Add 4 whole cloves, a cinnamon stick and a bay leaf to the cooking water. Bring the water to a boil and cook the rice as usual. Discard the seasonings before serving
This delicious flat-bread does use leavening, and is rolled out and baked on a griddle.
- 5 cups All-purpose flour, sifted
- 1 tsp. salt
- 1/4 tsp. Baking powder
- 2 tsp. Active (instant) dry yeast
- 2 tsp. castor sugar (superfine)
- 6 Tbsp. Butter, softened
- 2/3 cup Milk, warmed
- 1/2 cup Plain yogurt
- Butter, melted, for brushing on the finished rounds
Indian Recipe Sites
- Introduction to Indian Cuisine
Easy Indian Cooking, Indian recipes, Indian Cooking We will go over the basic fundamentals of curries, and also learn how to make Indian bread. It is the exotic Indian spices that make Indian cuisine so
- Step-by-step Indian Cooking and Recipes
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- All India Site - Recipes Index
This page provides an index of pages providing recipes for Indian food, plus an archive of Indian recipes.
- Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together, and stir in yeast and sugar
- Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, or rub in with your fingers, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs
- Combine milk and yogurt, and gradually add to four mixture, blending to form a soft dough
- Turn onto floured surface and kneed until smooth
- Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size
- Punch the dough down and let it double in size again, then divide into 12 equal pieces and cover with a towel
- Preheat a griddle over medium heat, preheat the oven broiler to 500 F
- While it is heating, roll out one of the balls into a rough oval, about 1/4 inch thick
- Cook the bread on the griddle until the cooked side is golden
- Transfer the round to a cookie sheet and brush with melted butter
- Place under the broiler until the top is puffed slightly and golden in color
- Keep the rounds warm under a clean tea-towel while you repeat the process with the rest of the rounds until all are baked. Serve warm, covered with a clean napkin
- Indian Cooking Utensils and Equipment
Learn about various cooking utensils and apparatus used for cooking Indian cuisine. Amaze yourself, family and friends with your Indian cooking skills.
- Indian Utensils and Cookware Guide
Indian cuisine and food has the misconceived notion of being elaborate and difficult to make, so people assume they need special equipment to cook it too.
- Essential Utensils for an Indian Kitchen
The most comprehensive and detailed guide to the essential utensils for an Indian Kitchen, extensively illustrated with colour images
Indian Cuisine Basics
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