TO INDIAN COOKING
& COOKING ARTICLE
any art form, the foundation of Indian cooking is based
on technique. There is a body of knowledge about the
food itself - the vegetables, the spices, the herbs,
the sauces - but this information is meaningless unless
applied with sensitivity. I use the words sensitivity
and knowledge in all of their nuances: knowing when
a vegetable like the bitter melon, karela, is perfectly
in season; understanding how to remove the bitterness;
and, finally being aware of its healing properties.
There's a perfect moment to eat karela, just as there's
an appropriate time for an Indian raga to be played.
There are monsoon ragas, morning ragas, and ragas that
are played when the lover has gone. Music and food are
always respected for their ability to cleanse the soul,
cooking has always found a willing companion in art
and music. They always seem to go together. Any musical
gathering first begins with prayers to the gods and
offering of food to them. Just as emotions are a part
of music so are they a part of cooking. Thus in India
one finds that to evolve ones palate one also studies
the appreciation of music and art. In the Indian kitchen
one entertains spices or masalas. The seeds, stalks
and powders are all found. There are masalas that can
set ones palate to receive taste sensations in the most
profound ways. There are those that can alter feelings.
Grains are an integral part of cooking throughout India.
A vegetarian cuisine that would otherwise be nutritionally
weak is complete by the mixing of lentils, beans, rice
and vegetables. Rice has been know in India for over
5 thousand years . . . maize, barley, semolina, millet,
countless types of lentils and beans and many peas form
a crucial part of the Indian pantry.
many ages and several dynastic rules later, cooking
in India has been honed into a fine art in itself. One
of the older civilizations known to man, this country
also proudly boasts a culinary repertoire that is eclectic
at the least. Over the length and breadth of India,
in the different homes in India, of the rich and the
poor, one comes across a wide range of flavors, styles
and tastes. Many styles of cooking seen in different
parts of the world can also be found in one or the other
part of India. In India one can find Indian-Chinese
cooking, Parsee cooking, Baghdadi cooking and within
that the Jewish cooking of that area, Portuguese influenced,
French influenced, British inspired and then the well
known Mughal cooking. One sees these styles emerge from
the invasion of India by many of these foreign powers
and then in the case of the Parsee community, one sees
the creation of a cuisine by a people that came as refugees.
The Parsees are Zoroastrians who came to India to flee
religious persecution in the middle east. Today they
seem as much a part of India as any other segment of
the population. They speak Gujerati, their food is loved
by one and all and they are welcome members of the community.
There is a very small Jewish population scattered across
India. It may be small in number, but has been able
to maintain itŐs clean status and has kept its cultural
independence. Their foods and their customs are still
a part of that heritage that makes India so diverse.
In Cochin, in Calcutta and in Bombay one sees how these
small pockets of a minority community has managed to
influence a larger community and also taken from the
other community. It is this secular fabric of India
that has kept a vibrancy in an otherwise very old culture.
India one sees society, culture, language, food and
people change dramatically as one goes from North to
South or East to West. A country that has a couple of
dozens of languages and several hundred dialects, also
boasts of many different art form and food styles. It
is this change from region to region that gives India
a very mixed blessing. It adds greatly to the cultural
wealth of this country and is a great teacher for a
hungry traveler. But it also brings with it a mixed
socio-economic bag. Each region, each state and each
community in India, is steeped in local traditions.
Many of these traditions are based upon the history
of that region, the religious fabric of its people and
the agricultural diversity. In India all the culinary
styles are based upon the local produce found in that
area. Thus to study Indian food as a whole one studies
the regional influences that shape its many styles.
which today signal the advent of cooking are found in
abundance in India. Most come from that region and many
have been studied not just for the culinary uses but
also for the healing powers. Spices and fresh herbs
are used in good measure and are a very intricately
woven part of Indian life. Food, prayer and medical
uses are some of many roles played by these inanimate
ingredients. Turmeric is revered as an antiseptic, asafoetida
to fight flatulence, carom to counter nausea and ginger
as an aphrodisiac. Fenugreek and cumin seeds are given
to nursing mothers to aid secretion. How a spice is
used and when it is added to a meal can easily tell
you where the food is from and who it has been cooked
kitchen has a masaal-daan, a spice box. In this box
are found seeds, stalks, barks, stems and leaves that
exalt Indian cooking. What combination one sees is typical
of that chefs repertoire or of the region. In the north
one would see whole garam masala, cumin seeds, coriander
seeds, turmeric, red chili powder, fennel seeds and
some other spice blends. In the south one would find
mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds, curry leaves, whole
red chilies, urad daal and chana daal, and other spice
blends. In each of the region one will also find spices
that are used in the other. This shows how deep the
fusion of the styles is already. Each day, after the
vegetable vendor has made his trip, the cook then plans
a menu and will prepare the spices accordingly. Spices
are ground daily to ensure freshness. A mortar and pestle
is used most often as this gives the cook control over
how fine to grind them. There are dishes for which one
needs very finely ground spices and then there are those
that require coarsely ground powders.
region of India has its own staple cooking medium, or
fat. There is mustard oil in the north and the east,
peanut oil in the south and the west. There are also
other oils used from region to region. The one common
fat used across India is clarified butter or ghee. Often
recipes call for mixing the two. Ghee adds a very distinct
flavor to dishes and makes them seem very organic. Every
home makes its own ghee. Ghee is made with butter from
cows milk. The preparation of ghee is almost a religious
chore as ghee is also used to burn the oil lamps in
the home temple. It is also the medium with which most
navaidyum is prepared. Navaidyum is the food that is
first offered to the Gods and then eaten by families.
This is the case in most traditional homes. One sees
less and less of this in big cities today.
and yogurt are found across the country. In home cooking
one often sees wide usage of yogurt. Yogurt is used
as an end to a meal with just some sugar. Yogurt is
mixed into curries to reduce use of fat. Yogurt is mixed
with flour to make sauces that replace those made with
any vegetables. Yogurt can be the sauce by itself with
bean dumplings. Yogurt is used in dressing Indian style
salads like chaat papri. This shows the affinity Indians
have for dairy. Yogurt is believed to aid digestion.
Yogurt also gives protein to an otherwise vegetarian
diet. Cows are holy in India. This has been a part of
Indian tradition for as long as India has been there.
In old India cows milk was fed to babies that had lost
their mother at birth. It was because of this that cows
were treated as another form of the mother goddess.
Cow milk is used in making all the many desserts that
are offered to the gods and then help sate the Indian
is said that during the days of the rule of the Kauravas
and the Pandavas, the Mahabharat setting, Indians lived
decadently. The cuisine was very rich and very complex.
India which is predominantly vegetarian today seemed
to have enjoyed eating many different meats. Curries
were made from cow, deer, wild boar, goat, sheep, poultry
and other animals. Meats were grilled and roasted and
broiled. They were cooked on spent flames, on spits
and under a hot flame inside the ground. Often larger
animals were stuffed with smaller and so on until there
could be no more stuffing. These were then cooked under
the ground below a flame that was kept alive overnight.
Meats and rice were cooked together. In the north fruits
and vegetables were mixed with these rice and meat preparations.
The old texts mention the use of milk instead of water
to cook some rich savory casseroles of meat and rice.
Spices were used generously and dried fruit and nuts
were added during and after cooking to add to the lavishness
of a meal.
was only after this excessive era that one finds a change
in the eating habits. What was mostly a meat enriched
diet now became vegetarian. Decadence was replaced by
humble simplicity. Vegetarianism found new appeal. Brahmans
the stalwarts of Hinduism became ardent supporters of
this austere vegetarian diet. As Buddhism and Jainism
came along, they furthered the rise of vegetarianism.
Within these religions one saw other factors develop
that changed the cuisine. Hindus encouraged not eating
onions and garlic as they had aphrodisiacal properties.
It was believed that these ground vegetables would arouse
people. Widows and certain other classes of society
were forbidden their use. The Jains believed that eating
root vegetables would harm the organisms that lived
alongside them. But then there were contradictions to
the rule. In Bengal the brahmins ate fish, calling it
the gourd of the ocean. In the south certain brahman
communities also ate seafood with the same reasoning.
In Kashmir the brahmins eat all meat other than beef
and pork. There have been socio-historical reasons for
that occurrence. But for the most part India was now
a vegetarian society and thus began the exploration
of how to make an austere practice seem lavish. With
their desire to eat meals with meat and yet a ardent
faith that said otherwise, cooks took it upon them to
come up with recipes that would make a meatless diet
seem just as tasty. It was with regards to their food
that the brahmins take most excessive precautions. They
are never allowed to touch meat and this includes not
only anything that has had life, fish included, but
also anything that has contained even any form of life,
such as an egg.
were cooked by themselves, whole, stuffed, steamed,
sauteed, fried and cooked as mince. Dumplings were made
with grains, lentils and beans. Rice and beans were
cooked together. Lentils and beans were prepared as
soups and into stews with mixed vegetables. Patties
were made with vegetables and grains. Fritters were
prepared. Yogurt was added to the curries and chutneys
and preserved were prepared. The murrabas (preserves)
and the aachaars (pickles) were used as condiments and
also for their medicinal use. These pickles and preserves
also enabled one to have the flavor of certain vegetables
and fruits all year long. It is thus no surprise that
mango chutney has remained ever popular today just as
it was then.
made a come back in the realm on Indian cooking. With
the arrival of the Afghans, Turks and other Central
Asians there was another introduction of meat to India.
The non-vegetarian cuisine of India is very different
from the muslim cooking of other Central Asian nations.
The common roots exist but the changes are stark and
clean. One can see how local ingredients and the influences
of the societal structure have played a huge role in
the development of this cuisine. Onions, garlic, ginger
found a robust re-entry. Rice which had been found here
for ages was made into Pilafs seasoned with the many
spices found in India. Layered with different meats
and vegetables, teased with dried fruits and nuts and
tempered with saffron and screwpine essence and served
as biryanis. The Muslim invaders also brought with them
communal eating. They reintroduced pomp and extravagance
into Indian society. Multi course meals were made in
homes. Week long festivities were planned on special
occasions. Music, dance and drinks accompanied good
food. Eating became a revered ritual and good cooks
were guarded carefully. Each family had its own secrets
and these were passed on only by word of mouth through
members of the family alone, lest anyone else find out.
play a very important role in the Indian diet. The Muslim
invaders realized that the barren northern plains did
not bare some of their loved fruits. This led to the
import of melons, cantaloupes and grapes into India.
India has a natural abundance of Mangoes, some of the
most flavorful and varied ones found in the world. Oranges
of many varieties, guavas, figs, plantains, berries
of many different kinds, mulberries that are delectable,
shareefas (custard apples) that exude an aroma that
can change any persons mood for the better, and pineapple.
Pomegranates were introduced into India and quickly
became a favorite and also became an ingredient to cook
savory dishes with.
the entry of Europeans into India, many exotic ingredients
entered the Indian kitchen. Potatoes, chilies, tomatoes
and cheeses came into India and were used generously.
Tomatoes were not a favorite of many old fashioned Indians
as the vegetable seemed very fleshy and the color blood
like. Indians have traditionally rejected any vegetable
whose roots or stems grow in the shape of a head. Thus
onions, garlic and mushrooms have had trouble finding
there place. In this era, all of these vegetables were
given a gallant re-entry and more and more dishes were
made using them. Jams, jellies, yeast risen breads,
pastries and casseroles were prepared with hints of
Indian spices. Chilies, potatoes and tomatoes found
much love in India and have become staples of the Indian
kitchen. Most Indians would not even realize that these
were until very recently unknown ingredients.
the partition of India in 1947 into Pakistan and India,
the northern states had an influx of refugees from Central
Asia. Tandoori foods that were found mostly in stately
homes were now made a part of the local cuisine. Frontier
cooking took over the regional cooking in popularity.
Vendors who would have traditionally sold chaats and
fritters and vegetable patties now started selling kebabs,
tikkas, kormas, pasindas and other meat laden curries.
This led to the introduction of Mughlai food across
India. In the United States we most often see restaurants
serve food that has been inspired by the establishments
in India that serve this food. Also important in the
evolution of Indian food has been the joint-family system.
Cooking that has never been a static art form, was evolved
with the wisdom of many minds and tastes sharing its
creation. Each person brought with them to this home
their own families recipes and secrets. Now in a new
family they would share those with the secrets of the
other family members and create a new style of preparing
something classic. Over the years new classics were
created in this manner. Many accidents have also surely
been responsible for the creation of new dishes. It
is thus that I suggest to all those coming to learn
from me to keep trying and learning by practice. With
many hands working together, there also seemed luxury
of time. More effort was made in the preparation of
food and more elaborate and cumbersome dishes were prepared.
Thus to date, the best food from any region of India
is found in the homes of its people. It is safe to say,
magic happens in the Indian Kitchens - Rasoi.
Suvir Saran, 2001
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comes from a web site which gives a first class insight
into Indian Cooking, what it is about and how to create
some of the recipes in your own home.
is the web site of Suvir Saran, a native of New
Delhi, India, who was raised on traditional Indian cooking.
He is a passionate and inventive cooking teacher as
well as a sort of unofficial ambassador of Indian culture;
wherever he goes (in India, Europe and the United States)
he finds himself teaching people - colleagues in classes
and jobs, strangers in airports and on the street -
to love the food and culture of his native country.
learn more why not visit Suvir Saran's own
web site - click
Hub-UK : firstname.lastname@example.org