Thursday, October 8, 2009

Indian Cuisine-An Introduction

In order to understand any art, craft or language and especially the cuisine, one has to know something about the region, the people, their traditions, cultures, climatic conditions, their local produce. That way we can get a grip over the style of cooking. At least I believe in this.
I am going to introduce to you, our Indian Cuisine in a series of posts so that you can learn something of our lives, culture and traditions related to our cuisines.
Indian cuisine is as diverse as our people, languages and cultures and varies from region to region, culture to culture and even family to family. So we can say that our cuisine is a potpourri of many regional cuisines. Our cuisine has been influenced to a great extent by;
  • Many invaders and traders form other parts of the world since the ancient times, like Turkey, Arab, Persia, China, Central Asia, Europe etc
  • Especially during the colonial period, by Continental cuisine
  • Various religions, beliefs, traditions, cultures, taboos,
  • Especially, the diversity in geographical climatic conditions ranging from tropical, arid, alpine conditions,
  • Different and varied local produce such as vegetable, spices fruits, due to different climates
  • The most important factor being on the one hand, the tolerance, flexibility existing here which allow the intermingling of cultures, yet the taboos and strict adherence to traditions which maintain the purity on the other hand
Brief History:

Thus our cusuine is sophisticated and is unique in its own way, due to the use of various spices, herbs and condiments, widespread vegetarianism, a wide assortment of delicacies and cooking styles and techniques.
As early as the Indus Valley Civilisation, wheat , barley, sesame, brinjals, etc were known to Indians. In the later periods, turmeric, cardmom, black pepper, mustard and many other herbs were known to the people. It is believed that many recipes were used during the early Vedic times,when food consisted of agriculture produce, hunting and forest produce and included vegetables,fruits, grains, honey, meat, fish and dairy products, etc. Later as people embraced the Ahimsa or non violence, vegetarianism became wide spread, strengthened by Buddhism and Jainism.

It is believed that, the invasions Arabs, Persians and others new vegetables, like potatoes, tomatoes and chillies were introduced as well as some baking techniques. Mughlai Cuisine which is rich and lavish, was the result of the blending of Indian and Islamic cuisines which led to, tandoori style of baking or cooking, dishes like Biryani, Pulao, Kebabs, Nans, using of fruits like the melons, peaches, apricots, walnuts, almonds etc.

Indian Food-Basic Elements:

Here are the basic elements of Indian cuisines which are frequently used in general. When I am dealing with specific regional cuisines I will go in depth.
  • Staples-Rice, Wheat (whole wheat flour), Jowar, Bajra, Corn and Ragi
  • Pulses- Bengal gram (chana dal), Red gram (masoor), Pigeon pea (tuvar), Black gram (urad), Green Gram (moong)
  • Oils-Ghee, Butter, Peanut oil, Mustard oil, coconut oil, Gingely oil and Hydrogenated vegetable oil.
  • Mostly vegetable oils are used for cooking.
  • Spices-Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, Nutmeg, Saffron, Turmeric, Cumin, Fenugreek, Coriander seeds, Caraway seeds, fennel seeds, dried red chillies(peppers), black pepper, dried ginger, fresh ginger, Garlic, Bay leaf, coriander greens, Fenugreek greens, Mint leaves and Curry leaves, fresh and dry coconut, dates, cashes, almonds, raisins and many more.
In most of Northern and Western India daily fare consists of Breads roasted on hot pans or fire called Rotis, Naans, Kulchas made of whole/refined wheat flour along with curries made of vegetables or non vegetarian, like chicken mutton etc, chutneys, pickles, milk, curds, buttermilk, ghee, butter,Cottage cheese (Paneer). Tea is the most popular beverage.

In Southern Eastern and parts of Western India, daily fare consists of mainly, Rice, veg and non veg curries including sea food and coconut in coastal areas, Sambar and Rasam (something like soup), Curds, buttermilk, ghee, pickles, chutneys and Poppadoms. Most widely used beverage is Coffee.

Sweet dishes, desserts, fruits and other snacks etc are of course consumed through out India. Some are common through out but some of the delicacies are unique to particular regions. However, its common sence that the delicacies or dishes will contain those ingredients which are mostly produced locally.

This is a typical South Indian Masala (spices) Box, containing split bengal gram, split, black gram, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin seeds, dried red chillies, turmeric, red pepper powder, curry leaves. Whats missing here is the Asafoetida. All these are used for seasoning the dishes.

Here you can see dried ginger in the center, bay leaf, cloves, onion seeds, cinnamon, green and yellow cardamom and black pepper. These are only a few of the many spices we use.
Red peppers and garlic exposed to the sun for few minutes before pickling. Andhra Pradesh is very famous for its pickles which includes mango and red chilly pickle.

So in the next post I will discuss various regional cuisines....till then.....

Wednesday, October 7, 2009


I have been busy during these last few days, and could not post any recipes as yet.

But I am going to shortly. What I would like to do is post recipes of course but would also like to discuss our spices and condiments and local produce, our traditional methods of cooking so that my friends across the seas would get to know more. My only problem would be that I don't have enough of pictures to go with my posts and I cannot cook many dishes at once to get the pictures. Any way i am trying to tackle that issue as best as I can.

Friday, October 2, 2009


Welcome to my blog. As a child and a teenager I was interested in eating a variety of dishes, but was never interested in learning what went into them or how they were cooked. Since I was from a typical South Indian Brahmin family, we had completely a vegetarian meals, no meat, no fish, no garlic and on religious occasions not even onions.

My mother and maternal grandmother were great culinary experts. No they did not learn or educated themselves in some fashionable culinary institutions. They learned it from their mothers and grandmothers, the recipes handed down over the generations and of course traded recipes with their friends. But they were devoted to their families, had complete interest in what they were doing, even every day simple cooking.

After I joined college, my group of friends consisted of girls from various regions of India. This is when my taste buds for the first were exposed to the beautiful and varied cuisines of other regions of India. Every day we used share our lunch boxes and I used to play this little game of guessing the ingredients that went into the various dishes. My accuracy was nearly 95% surprisingly for a person who could not even boil water.

My friends were being trained in all the skills a home maker should possess as is a tradition in India and were fairly good cooks. So I started learning the recipes from them, as by then I was hooked properly. I used to try them out on week ends and experiment on my friends and family. First I tried the recipe as it was. Then as I gained confidence I started experimenting and creating new ones. With in an year I was a big hit with my family and friends.

Till today my favorite hobby is trying out all the new dishes that I come across at least once and if I like them I guess the ingredients and cook them till I succeed. I have collected  a number of recipes from various cuisines; Oriental, Chinese, Thai, French, Continental and as well as from India like Tandori, Mughalai, Gujarathi, Rajasthani, Andhra, Hyderabadi, Chettinad and others.

Many a time I have helped my friends by sharing the recipes they wanted. They are the ones who have motivated me to start this blog since they keep reminding me that "Knowledge shared is Knowledge multiplied". I will also be learning more from you by sharing. So keep watching my blog.....