Friday, December 18, 2009
Posted by Bina
A perfect example of an oxymoron! I bet it's what some of you are thinking. Especially if you believe a common misconception about Indian cooking; that it is complicated and time-consuming. In reality, it's quite the opposite. Just look at the delicious, quick and healthy Indian meals made with little fuss in millions of Indian home kitchens everyday. Food that makes its way into lunch boxes packed early in the morning, evening meals with family and leisurely meals with friends. You can do it too. It is not difficult, I promise!
The series will hopefully inspire you to cook Indian food in your own kitchen. The recipes over the next few months will be simple, vegetarian dishes that are typical to everyday meals-vegetables, legumes (lentils and beans), rice, breads, snacks/appetizers, chutneys and desserts. Don't be fooled by their simplicity though. Many of them are also great for entertaining, and show up on my table when friends just drop by and stay for a meal, as well as for formal parties.
All the recipes are fairly quick but factor in some time for prep work like chopping vegetables, soaking beans etc. You can, of course, use frozen vegetables when possible. Canned beans are really convenient but make sure they are rinsed well before cooking. As far as cookware and tools go, you will need a very basic coffee grinder for the spices and a blender for the chutneys. I know many Indian cookbooks suggest using a kadai (a wok shaped vessel) for cooking but it isn't a must. I use regular, heavy-bottomed pans (nonstick and stainless steel) and only use the kadai for deep-frying.
Any talk of Indian cooking is immediately followed by that of spices. The seemingly endless variety can be very daunting. It's true....there are a lot of spices used in Indian cooking in general. However, you don't need to have all of them in your pantry, and not all of them are used together at the same time. Usually, it a combination of just a few spices that go into the making of a dish. Speaking of spices, a wonderfully detailed explanation about individual spices can be found here.
The initial recipes will use spices that are easily found in your grocery store. As we move along, we will add others like fenugreek, asafoetida, curry leaves etc. that might require a trip to the local Indian or Asian store. You can buy most of the spice powders/mixtures readymade. I do. Except coriander powder and garam masala, which I make at home. It is really not hard to do and makes a huge difference to the taste. Garam masala is quite possibly the most recognized among all the Indian spice mixtures. Many recipes for garam masala are very elaborate and are jealously guarded secrets. Mine is simple and not a secret at all!
3 tablespoons cumin seeds
6 tablespoons coriander seeds
1 1/2 tablespoons black peppercorns
3 tablespoons cardamom seeds
3 sticks whole cinnamon (about 2 inches long)
1 tablespoon nutmeg, freshly grated
1 1/2 tsp whole cloves
Herbs and stuff
Ginger, garlic, mint and cilantro are easily found in stores. You can use jalapeno, serrano or other hot peppers instead of the Indian or Thai chillies. The curry leaves will require a special trip to an Indian and Asian grocery store. I have found that the best way of storing them long term is by freezing. However, directly freezing fresh curry leaves results in the leaves turning black over time and also having an off taste. Flash-frying it first and then freezing works very well for me. Just remember to add the frozen leaves directly to the dish while cooking and not in the tempering oil (The moisture in the frozen leaves makes the oil splutter). When added during cooking, the leaves get rehydrated and look and taste very much like the fresh ones.
The following recipe can obviously be scaled up or down based on your needs.
1 cup curry leaves
3/4 tbsp canola/peanut/vegetable oil
- Wash and dry the curry leaves (A salad spinner is great for this)
- Spread them on a kitchen towel and leave them for about 10 minutes.
- Heat the oil in a wide skillet (not nonstick). The oil should get very hot but not smoking
- Add the curry leaves and stir lightly for about a minute on medium heat. The leaves will make a crackling sound and start turning crisp.
- Transfer to a plate and cool completely.
- Put in a ziploc bag and freeze for upto 6-8 months. (I have frozen them for a year with no loss of color and flavor).
Stay tuned because future posts are all about recipes that will hopefully have you cooking up a storm!
This post was written by Bina
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