Indian Cuisine

Indian cuisine tends to be intensely flavored and heavily spiced. Dishes are usually complemented by an array of curries, chutneys, and sauces, which create an even more complex flavor profile. The whole region is called South Asia and consists of India, Pakistan, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, and a few others. That is an awful lot of people to feed- almost 2,000,000,000 as of August 2020 (almost 25% of the world’s population!). From a culinary standpoint, the region’s ancient cuisine has been defined by ancient kingdoms, invaders, geography, neighbors, climate, economics, and too many religions to count.

Flavor Profile: Dishes are heavily spiced, sometime hot and other times not. There is an abundance of vegetables and lentils, as well as chati (Indian flatbread) and white rice eaten at every meal. Served at one time in small bowls, an Indian meal usually consists of an array of curries, chutneys, and relishes, which create a more complex flavor profile complemented by creamy/sour/sweet. Although the ingredients used in Indian cooking vary from region to region, there are a few common ingredients used across the subcontinent:

Cooking Oil – Some Indian families use vegetable oil to cook, but many use ghee, which is clarified butter that can withstand higher temperatures than normal butter. Other commonly used oils include mustard oil, coconut oil, peanut oil, sunflower oil, and canola oil.

Vegetables– vegetables are the base of most Indian dishes and almost every Indian recipe starts with onions, tomatoes, garlic, and ginger. Other commonly used vegetables include potatoes, cauliflower, spinach, mustard greens, okra, peas, carrots, eggplant, and green beans. Cilantro in India is commonly called fresh coriander.

Spices- Black mustard seeds, cumin (ground and seeds, fennel seeds, cardamom (ground, white and black pods), cinnamon (ground and 2-inch sticks), coriander (ground and seeds), turmeric (ground), fenugreek (seeds or powder), garam masala (powder), hot red pepper powder (Kashmiri or cayenne), bay leaves, curry leaves, asafoetida (powder), and dried ginger (ground).

Grains – The grains used in Indian food depend largely on the region, but some popular ones include lentils or split peas (which come in the red, black, green, and yellow) and chickpeas. Many Indian dishes are gravy-based and served either with bread or rice. The rice used in India is commonly a long-grained variety called basmati. Bread can be made of many types of flour depending on the region include wheat flour, chickpea flour, and rice flour.

Meats – The meats served in India are largely influenced by religion. Firstly, around 40% of India is Hindu vegetarian meaning that they don’t eat any meat and avoid garlic and eggs. The most eaten meats in India include chicken, mutton, and fish and most restaurants will not offer other options for meat dishes. Beef is not served at all in most parts of India due to the religious importance of cows in Hinduism. Pork is also not commonly served due to the country’s large Muslim population.

Dairy – Yogurt, milk, cream, fresh cheeses, clarified butter (usli ghee).

Notable Indian Dishes – Chaats (savory snacks), Aloo Podina Chaat (cold minted potatoes) Samosas (potato filled savory pastry), Chana Masala (chickpeas in spicy Tomato Sauce), Masala Dal (boiled spiced lentils), Rogan Josh (lamb curry with spices, tomatoes, ginger and garlic), Gosht Dopiaza (meat smothered in Onions), Hyderabad Biryani (basmati rice cooked with meat (lamb, goat, or chicken), yoghurt, onions and spices), Mughlai Pulao (lamb rice pilaf), Murgh Makhani (butter chicken), Tandoori Chicken (chicken leg quarters roasted in a clay oven), Vindaloo (chicken legs or pork with spicy vinegar sauce), Kerala Moilee (shrimp or fish in spicy coconut milk), Malai Kofta (vegetarian meatballs), Saag Paneer (curried spinach with cheese cubes), Naan (leavened flat bread cooked in a tandoori oven), Roti (unleavened flat bread), Raita (cucumber and yogurt salad), Jalebi (Fried Dough w/ Saffron Syrup), Gulab Jamun (fried pistachio balls in saffron syrup), Keer (rice pudding).

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The Indian Table

Once the meal is announced, everyone will wash and dry their hands and proceed to the table. Instead of individual portions, there will most likely be several dishes of food from which you can help yourself to. Most Indian meals are comprised of rice, chapati (flatbread), meat, vegetable, dal (lentil) dishes, salad, yogurt, and pickles. Indians never, ever, use their left hand to eat as it is considered rude because the left hand is thought to be ‘unclean’. Indians will never offer anybody food from their own plate or help themselves to someone else’s.

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