Indian food has become incredibly popular all around the world in the past two decades. In fact, a few years back a British survey found that Britons had actually become addicted to spicy foods as a result of eating so much curry and vindaloo!
Despite its reputation for complexity, Indian food can be surprisingly easy to make at home by learning just a few simple techniques. For example, a good first step is to assemble an Indian spice rack containing turmeric, curry, ginger, cardamom, red chili powder, coriander, carom seeds, cloves and nutmeg. If unsure about how to use these spices individually, another option is to buy some commercially prepared garam masala, a mixture of these spices that takes the guesswork out of how to blend them.
Indian cooks often toast their spices to intensify their flavors in a dish. Toasting spices is best done with a castskillet. Place spices into a skillet over medium heat, and toast for about 2 minutes, stirring often to keep them from burning. They’re ready when they give off a strong aroma and turn darker. (The aroma can be overwhelming to cooks who aren’t used to toasting strong Indian spices, so be careful).
Next, learn a few basic recipes that focus on fresh vegetables, along with some dried fruits. Garlic, tomatoes and black raisins are very common to Indian cooking. Favorite vegetables include potatoes, eggplant, spinach, cauliflower, peas and beans, and they appear both as entrees and as side dishes. Most Indian dishes are vegetarian, or contain small amounts of poultry, lamb or fish near the coasts and rivers. Also, if the recipe calls for beef, you can be sure that it is an Indian Muslim dish, since Indian Hindus consider cows to be sacred and do not eat beef.
Indian cooks often fry vegetables and meat before mixing them into a dish, but stir-frying or sautéing in small amounts of liquid also can be used to save calories. Plain yogurt sometimes is used to marinate vegetables and meats before cooking them, especially if they are to be cooked in the tandoori method. Tandoori is a clay oven used for baking. The yogurt coating gives a creamy texture to the dish and helps to balance the hot spices.
If there’s any single dish that says “India,” it has to be curry. However, curry is such a fundamental dish that there’s no one recipe for it. Its combination of vegetables and spices varies from region to region, even from village to village sometimes. Many curry recipes are handed down through generations like precious family heirlooms. The best way to learn how to make curry is to find a recipe that appeals to you and begin experimenting.
Many cooks like to prepare Indian food well in advance of a gathering and warm it in time for the event. Some recipes will freeze successfully for future meals. In fact, many who love Indian food say that it makes the best leftovers because the ingredients and spices have time to blend well together.
When’s time to eat your homemade Indian meal, be sure to serve Indian breads like chapatti and naan. Finish off the meal with a sweet dessert such as puddings containing almonds, pistachio nuts and/or coconut.