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Spice Up Your Life With Indian Cuisine - The Basics

Updated on April 25, 2016

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

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worlddance.com

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.

Bhelpuri, navaratan dal, kadai spinach & paneer, shahi pilaf, laccha parantha & mango chutney from commons.wikimedia.org
Bhelpuri, navaratan dal, kadai spinach & paneer, shahi pilaf, laccha parantha & mango chutney from commons.wikimedia.org

Boiled Rice

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.

A feast in the making - magnetmagazine.com
A feast in the making - magnetmagazine.com

Method

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

Naan Bread

This delicious flat-bread does use leavening, and is rolled out and baked on a griddle.

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bscstudent.buffalostate.edu

Ingredients

  • 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

Instructions

  1. Sift flour, salt, and baking powder together, and stir in yeast and sugar
  2. Cut in the butter with a pastry blender, or rub in with your fingers, until the mixture resembles coarse crumbs
  3. Combine milk and yogurt, and gradually add to four mixture, blending to form a soft dough
  4. Turn onto floured surface and kneed until smooth
  5. Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Leave in a warm place until doubled in size
  6. Punch the dough down and let it double in size again, then divide into 12 equal pieces and cover with a towel
  7. Preheat a griddle over medium heat, preheat the oven broiler to 500 F
  8. While it is heating, roll out one of the balls into a rough oval, about 1/4 inch thick
  9. Cook the bread on the griddle until the cooked side is golden
  10. Transfer the round to a cookie sheet and brush with melted butter
  11. Place under the broiler until the top is puffed slightly and golden in color
  12. 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 Cuisine Basics

5 stars from 1 rating of Naan Bread

© 2010 Imelleda

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    • anglnwu profile image

      anglnwu 7 years ago

      I love Indian food and cook some Indian dishes too. My favorite is Palak Paneer--a spinach mint light curry with cheese. Love your layout and detailed explaination. Very nicely done and more people should definitely visit your hub!

    • Imelleda profile image
      Author

      Imelleda 7 years ago from East of the Sun, West of the Moon

      Thanks so much, anglnwu! Palak Paneer sounds yummy. It would make me very happy for more people to visit ;)

    • Om Paramapoonya profile image

      Om Paramapoonya 7 years ago

      Thanks for the naan bread recipe! I'll try it some day. My boyfriend loves Indian food. When we go to our favorite Indian restaurant, he usually orders alu paratha, a kind of wheat bread with potatoes in it. But I prefer naan bread. It's simpler and probably a bit less fattening. :)

    • profile image

      wordscribe41 7 years ago

      Oh boy do I love Indian food. Darnit this hub, now I've got myself a craving. I love Malai Kofta, veggie balls in a tomato/cheese sauce. And naan, oh I love garlic naan. Gonna have to get take out now. Great hub, very informative!

    • Imelleda profile image
      Author

      Imelleda 7 years ago from East of the Sun, West of the Moon

      I have a recipe for that potato bread, and it is great, but I love the naan bread, too. You are most welcome!

      Most welcome - I have a lot ot learn about Indian cuisine, too, but am developing some real favorites! Thanks, wordscribe41.

    • profile image

      wordscribe41 7 years ago

      I'm waiting for my Indian food right now, thought I'd let you know!!! I wasn't kidding about you setting off my craving. I guess that tells you the hub was great, huh?

    • hypnodude profile image

      Andrea 7 years ago from Italy

      In such a short time you're becoming a great hubber, I mean your hubs are so well done after three weeks that I guess you'll have an amazing success. What's your secret?

      Anyhow great layout and great pictures. Here in Italy it's 8am and I'm already hungry. :)

      Rated and stumbled.

    • Imelleda profile image
      Author

      Imelleda 7 years ago from East of the Sun, West of the Moon

      wordscrice41, thanks so much! And congratulations on your work in the Health contest! Well done!

      hypnodude, I do write on other sites ;) as well, I have read lots of hubs, and looked for who does the best - than I try to emulate them. Thanks so much, for the rate and stumble! I really hope to do well here.

    • candle62 profile image

      candle62 6 years ago from London

      WOW this looks lovely, I will definitely try the naan bread out, I tried making naan bread before but it never tastes like the ones my best indian restaurant make, but looks like things are about to change. Thankyou

    • Imelleda profile image
      Author

      Imelleda 6 years ago from East of the Sun, West of the Moon

      You are most welcome - I am sure you'll love how it turns out!

    • Five One Cows profile image

      Five One Cows 6 years ago from Moo Town

      Sounds tasty, and I'll have to try some of your suggestions out.

    • Imelleda profile image
      Author

      Imelleda 6 years ago from East of the Sun, West of the Moon

      Thanks so much for stopping by to comment, Cows - love your hubs, btw!

    • profile image

      indian spices 5 years ago

      I am very happy to read your articles it’s very useful for me,

      and I am completely satisfied with your website.

      All comments and articles are very useful and very good.

      Your blog is very attention-grabbing. I am loving all of the in

      turn you are sharing with each one!…

      Indian Spices

    • Imelleda profile image
      Author

      Imelleda 5 years ago from East of the Sun, West of the Moon

      Thanks so much for stopping by to comment, indian spices.

    • profile image

      indian spices 5 years ago

      I am very happy to read your articles it’s very useful for me,

      and I am completely satisfied with your website.

      All comments and articles are very useful and very good.

      Your blog is very attention-grabbing. I am loving all of the in

      turn you are sharing with each one!…

    • tonymead60 profile image

      Tony Mead 5 years ago from Yorkshire

      Hi

      I love Indian cooking and all the related food, I enjoyed your hub and found it very interesting. I watched your video on naan bread, although, I have to admit I don't like how the woman who is making the bread cooks, I've seen her on TV and don't rate her recipes at all.

      good luck

    • Imelleda profile image
      Author

      Imelleda 5 years ago from East of the Sun, West of the Moon

      indian spices, thanks for stopping by to comment. I have some more new recipes to share soon :D

      tonymead60 - the video was the best I could find at the time for sound quality. Wait until I have one of my daughter-in-law making naan - you will love her.

    • rumanasaiyed profile image

      Rumana 4 years ago from Sharjah, UAE

      Hi your hub is amazing. I just love Indian Food and I have written many hubs on it.

    • Imelleda profile image
      Author

      Imelleda 22 months ago from East of the Sun, West of the Moon

      Thanks so much! So nice of you to stop by and comment

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