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An Introduction to Indian Cooking

Indian Cooking is known for its use of spices, herbs and flavorings. The dishes from this country range from mild creamy kormas to the hot curries of the south. The most common ingredient is the perfect blending of the spices to the right proportions so that each of the dishes have a distinct flavor.

Indian dishes including sweetmeats are seldom cooked without spices. The most commonly used spices for the sweetmeats are elaichi[cardamom] and/or kesar[saffron]. A special way of serving both savoury and sweets is to use Varq or edible beaten silver leaf. Another item that is largely used in the Indian cooking is called "Ghee" which is nothing but melted butter. Rubbed into meat and made into masalas by combining with cream, yougurt or coconut milk makes it blend into a rich smooth sauce with spices especially applicable to the authentic Indian cooking. For best results try to get the fresh spices and grind them when you need them, thus preserving their aroma & flavor.

Many Indian dishes owe their fiery flavor to the chillies, ginger and garlic. A typical Indian meal in the south may consist of rice, one or two vegetable dishes, a spicy hot chutney and a curry. A typical north Indian meal may include rotis or parathas, a meat dish, one or two vegetable dishes, a dhal and yogurt.

Due to the variety in culture, each state has developed its own way of preparing dishes especially with variety in rie based items. Typically long grain rice is used on a daily basis, but speciality items of rice is made with a special aromatic rice called Basmati.

Another common variation to the Indian cooking is the "Mughalai Khaana", which is the food that was eaten and relished by the Indians during the Mughal period in the Indian history. It lays stress on good ingredients, low flame cooking and rich spices. Ingredients such as Badam[almonds], Khus-Khus[poppy seeds] and flavoring spices such as Elaichi[cardamom], Dalchini [Cinnamon], Laung[cloves], Jaitri[mace] and Jaiphal[nutmeg] are used to prepare Mughalai food. Curds and cream form the gravies having less stress on tomatoes. Onions are usually deep fried to a golden brown color and then blended to a paste and used in the gravies. Kebabs are the speciality of Mughalai cooking and served as snacks as well as meal time accompaniments. Rice preparations such as Biryani holds a special place in Mughalai food.

Punjabi people are robust people with robust appetites. The Punjabi tandoori cooking is celebrated as one of the most popular cuisines throughout the world. Huge earthen ovens are half buried in the ground and heated with a coal fire lit below it. Marinated meat, chicken, fish, paneer, rotis and naans of many types are cooked in this novel oven and the results are absolutely scrumptious!

Bengal's greatest contribution to the food heritage of India is a magnificent spectrum of sweets made from burnt milk and curd. 'Rasogullas', 'gulab jamuns', 'cham cham', 'malai sandwich', 'chena murki', 'anarkali', 'rajbhog' - the list of mouth-watering delicacies is endless. 'Mishti dhoi' or yoghurt sweetened with jaggery is a must in every Bengali home. Guests are always welcomed with 'sandesh' or sweets made from burnt milk and 'singadas' or crisp samosas. Besides sweets, the Bengalis eat fish with great relish and most of the popular Bengali dishes are made from fish.

Gujaratis have truly perfected the art of vegetarian cooking. From the simplest lentils and vegetables, they create a mouth-watering variety of food. Gujarat is known as the land of milk and butter. Predictably so, yoghurt and buttermilk are a part of the Gujarati's daily diet. While in Gujarat, a 'thali' dinner - literally meaning a meal served on a silver platter- is a delight you must not miss. An endless procession of fresh vegetables cooked in aromatic spices, a variety of crisp, fried snacks and an array of delectable confections typically appear in the 'thali'.

Maharashtrians are by and large, meat eaters. The cuisine includes subtly flavoured vegetarian delicacies and hot, aromatic meat and fish curries. Their crunchy, crisp sweets are made mostly from rice and jaggery. The exotic 'Konkani' and 'Malwani' cuisines also have their origins in this region. To spice things further, Bombay has it's own pot-pourrie of dishes like 'vada pav', 'misal' and 'pav bhaji' - the Indian answers to fast food!

Kashmiri cuisine is essentially meat-based. Lamb, goat's meat and chicken form the basis of many a famous dish. The abundance of dry fruit like walnuts, dried dates, and apricots also inspire the Kashmiri connoisseur to use them lavishly in puddings, curries and snacks. Cottage cheese or 'chaman' as it is called, is also a popular accompaniment to many meats and vegetables.

The cuisine of UP is reminiscent of the Nawabi and the Mughal glory. Each city offers a different but equally inviting cuisine for the gourmet. Banaras is famous for it's bazaars full of 'jalebis', sweetmeats and a myriad variety of 'kachoris'. The 'pethas' from Agra are popular all over the country. And Lucknow offers the most exquisite mix of Nawabi food.

The ancient princely state of Rajasthan gave rise to a royal cuisine. The Rajas who went on hunting expeditions ate the meat or the fowl that they brought back. Even today, Rajasthani princely feasts flaunt meat delicacies that are incomparable. In contrast are the vegetarian Rajasthanis. Their food cooked in pure ghee is famous for it's mouth- watering aroma. Rajasthan's tastiest curries are based on the use of pulses or gram flour. Dry fruits, spices and yoghurt are used in many delicacies. Rajasthan can also boast of a vast array of savouries and sun-dried snacks.

The southern region is a gourmet's dream. A typical meal here would be based on rice, pulses, peanuts, coconuts, vegetables and a vast storehouse of spices. What's most interesting about this cuisine is that it is cooked with very little fat. The meal is usually served on a fresh green banana leaf. 'Idlis', 'dosas' and 'vadas' are a few of the dishes that are very popular all over the country.

Well, that is the brief history and the facts behind the Indian style of cooking. Speaking of which I guess it is time to move on to the next page which will give you a brief description of the glossary of terms used in the Indian cuisine. I hope you will enjoy these recipes as much as I did preparing them for you. As always feel free to email your comments and suggestions.

Last but not the least, a sincere thanks to MY MOTHER for moulding me to be an excellent cook like her and who taught me the ABC of cooking.

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