Three Tips for Successful Indian Cooking

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Food and everything to do with it is one of my loves and is supposed to be one of the aspects that make up this blog. I realise however, that that hasn’t been the case – I have written precisely one post under the category Food! The reason has everything to do with the fact that Food – and the cooking and eating of it – hasn’t exactly been at the top of my list of priorities in the recent and not so recent past. But since this blog IS all about my inherently intermittent journey with reacquainting myself with my ‘loves’, I shan’t be too hard on myself. I shall however, endeavour to right this wrong!

Since I am Indian, I thought perhaps I would begin with something to do with Indian food. After a bit of pondering I came up with my ‘Three Tips for Successful Indian Cooking’. (Yes, I know. Who the hell do I think I am! Madhur Jaffrey!?) Anyway, if you find any of these tips helpful, do let me know!

1. Powder your own masalas

Indian food is all about the coming together of a variety of spices or masalas. Some dishes use just two or three spices, others can use up to fifteen or even more. The various combinations and within the combinations, the slight alterations in the proportions of spices used are what allow for hundreds of different types of flavours that send your culinary senses reeling and more often than not, begging for more. You can create subtle flavours or intense ones, but the key (according to me) is that the spice you are using should deliver to its full potential. Today we use ready made powdered spices – the most common in everyday Indian cooking being chilli powder, jeera (cumin) powder, dhania (coriander) powder and haldi (turmeric) powder and I find that these do not deliver adequately, either in terms of potency or flavour. While following recipes from cooking books, I often find that I need to increase the quantity of spices used (except for, perhaps, the chilli powder) to avoid a ‘watered down’ flavour and I think this has something to do with using ready made powdered masalas. In fact, I’m sure it does, since I have some proof. My father loves to cook as well and he powders all his own masalas. His food is definitely more flavoursome! Also, I am fortunate to have access to pepper, cardamom, cinnamon and a few other spices directly from the estates on which they are grown. I promise you, I can no longer use store bought, powdered pepper in my cooking! The two simply cannot compare.

So as far as possible buy the whole spice and powder it yourself. Most of them can be ground in a regular coffee or other dry grinder, though they can leave a residual flavour, so be sure to clean the apparatus thoroughly after you finish grinding the spices, unless of course, you are trying to experiment with cinnamon, cardamom or pepper flavoured coffee!

2. Don’t be afraid to substitute the star of the show

Indian recipes, especially the vegetarian ones, often work just as well (and sometimes even better!) when you substitute the main ingredient for another. This can be true even of meat dishes. For example, beef isn’t commonly eaten in India, so most of the recipes you will find for red meat are for mutton or lamb. But every recipe where I’ve used beef instead, has turned out really well. I recently also came across a Methi Chicken recipe (methi is fenugreek, the leaves in this particular case) that worked brilliantly with lamb. So if you read a recipe and think another main ingredient might work equally well, don’t be afraid to try it out. Experimenting is half the fun of cooking after all, isn’t it!

3. Let those onions get a good tan

Browned onions add a certain flavour that is vital to a good Indian curry. I find that many recipe books do not specify whether onions should be sautéed lightly or fried till brown. Some say “fry for 3 – 4 minutes, till brown.” In my experience it takes more than 3 – 4 minutes, so don’t go by time, but rather by what the desired result is. I would recommend that unless otherwise specifically mentioned, always fry onions on a low flame, till brown (brown, not burnt) when making a curry.

Well, that’s it for now. I do hope this is the start of many more posts under my ‘Food’ category.

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4 thoughts on “Three Tips for Successful Indian Cooking

  1. Can I come and do an Indian cookery course with you? I love Indian food but I can never quite recreate it myself. I agree about the browning of onions, recipes always seem to be very optimistic about how quickly it happens.

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  2. Pingback: The versatility of Indian Cooking | Sleeping Frogs

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