Food & Drink

Easy Indian: Bring the flavors and spices of India to your home

Do you wait for that special occasion to dine out in a fine Indian restaurant? Well, wait no more because you can now prepare and enjoy those same delicious Indian flavors in your own home.

Even though Indian cuisine is varied, diverse and distinct — it is easier to make than you think. This interesting cuisine has unique, strong flavors that are derived from spices, seasonings and nutritious ingredients such as leafy vegetables, grains, fruits and legumes. Vegetable and lentil dishes, along with rice and delicious yogurt or cream-based sauces are prevalent in Indian cuisine because many Indian religious practices limit or forbid the eating of meat. Indian food is an attractive choice for vegetarians or those just looking to eat less meat.

There are four different regions in India — North, South, East and West — and each one has its own traditional and distinctive cuisine. Not only does every region have its own style of cooking, but also individual households within the regions differ in their preparation of the same dish.

Spices are synonymous with Indian food, curry especially, and are the common thread that unites all Indian regions and cuisines. Spices play a very important role in Indian cooking and are what gives the characteristic aroma and flavor to the food.

Masala is the Indian word for spice. When a combination of spices, herbs and other condiments are ground together, it is still called masala. Water, vinegar, yogurt or other liquids are sometimes added to ground spices. This wet mixture is called a wet masala and is used as a marinade or the mixture is sautéed in oil to release the delicate flavors of the spices before adding in the main vegetable or meat.

If you are just beginning to dabble with Indian cooking, start out by building your Indian pantry with basic ingredients that are common to most dishes. Buy in small quantities (spices

lose their strength and aroma if kept too long). Build and add the more exotic ingredients as you grow familiar with Indian cuisine. Many spices can be found in most supermarkets and for all others, go to your nearest Indian or Asian grocery store. Here is a list of ingredients to get you started.

Getting started

Black pepper: Quite common in every pantry and is sometimes the main spice used in a recipe. If this is the case, fresh ground black pepper is best. Start with whole black peppercorns and crack them to a coarse powder with mortar and pestle or spice (coffee) grinder — otherwise, use ground black pepper.

Cardamom: Native to India and a member of the ginger family. The seeds can either be used whole or ground, toasted or not. Cardamom has a very distinct flavor.

Cayenne: The heat source in Indian food. It can be in the form of dried chilies, hot red pepper flakes or ground cayenne pepper.

Coriander seeds: Toasted, ground or left whole, they are added to many Indian dishes. Fresh coriander (cilantro) is often used as a garnish.

Cumin: Similar to coriander. Both are important spices in Indian cooking. Buy seeds to toast and grind yourself or grab the ground cumin, which is available in most stores.

Curry: Known as garam masala, this all-important powder is actually a mix of spices that is added to dishes along with other spices to enhance their flavor and aroma. The better the quality of the ingredients, the tastier the garam masala as well as the resulting dish in which it is used. A garam masala mixture (curry powder) is usually a combination of cardamom, cumin, black pepper, cloves, bay leaf, cinnamon, sometimes coriander seeds, nutmeg or mace; however, the combinations may vary.

Fennel seeds: These have a distinct anise flavor (like licorice). If you need ground fennel for a recipe, it is best to buy the whole seeds and grind them.

Fenugreek: Widely used in Indian cooking. The seeds are small, yellow and flat and are best bought whole and then ground.

Mustard seeds: Buy whole, black seeds if you can.

Lentils, chickpeas, beans, and other legumes: Are the base of Indian cooking, actually, more than in other cuisines. As you begin your Indian cooking adventure, the common lentils and beans found in the grocery store are fine to use; however, as you progress, you may want to try the Indian split red and yellow lentils as well as the red and black beans found at a specialty store.

Rice: Use what you like, but Basmati is a popular choice.

Saffron: A treasure as well as a spice. For many years, it has been the world’s most expensive spice. Saffron has a rich, smooth but distinctive flavor and intense yellow color. It has a long shelf life so you can buy it in larger quantities to get a better price.

Turmeric: A spice with a bitter flavor and gives food a strong yellow color. It is almost always used together with other spices. Do not use it as a substitute for saffron as the flavor is completely different.

Ginger, garlic, bay leaves, cinnamon and cloves are also popular ingredients to have on hand when preparing Indian food. I love the boldness of Indian spices and the delicious flavor combinations that can be created.

Garlic, ginger, and green chiles are an important flavor trilogy in Indian cuisine; they are sautéed in oil as a first step in many recipes.

Most Indian food does not require special cooking equipment; in fact, you probably have most of the utensils in your kitchen already. What you don’t have won’t get in the way of you trying out most dishes.

Indian cooking categorizes foods into six tastes — sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent. A well-balanced Indian meal contains all six however; the thought may be overwhelming for a beginning dabbler. This “taste” principle explains the use of numerous spice combinations and depth of flavor in Indian recipes. Side dishes and condiments like chutneys, curries, lentils (daals) and Indian pickles contribute and add to the overall flavor and texture of a meal and provide a balance.

Spicy Indian Dahl

1 cup red lentils

2 tablespoons ginger root, minced

1 teaspoon mustard seed

2 tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro

4 tomatoes, chopped

3 onions, chopped

3 jalapeno peppers, seeded and minced

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon ground coriander

6 cloves garlic, minced

2 tablespoons olive oil

1 cup water

Salt to taste

Cook the lentils by boiling (follow package directions) or pressure cooking until they are soft.

In a skillet, heat the oil and add the mustard seed. When the seeds begin to flutter, add the onions, ginger, jalapeno peppers, and garlic. Sauté until the onions and garlic are golden brown. Add the coriander and cumin, stir then add the chopped tomatoes. Sauté the mixture well until the tomatoes are well cooked.

Add the water. Boil for 6 minutes. Add the cooked lentils and salt to taste, stir well. Add the finely chopped cilantro and remove from the heat.

Serve hot.

Source: Diabetes Control for Life Recipe

Indian Style Rice

2 cups long grain rice, preferably Basmati

8 cups water

2 teaspoons salt

2 cloves

2 cardamom pods (see note)

1- 2-inch piece of cinnamon (see note)

3 tablespoons vegetable oil

1/2 teaspoon dark mustard seeds

1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 teaspoon chile flakes

1 medium onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves, chopped

1/4 teaspoon turmeric

Place the rice in a sieve and run cool water through it to rinse it until the water runs clear. Soak the rice in the cool water for 30 minutes. Drain.

Bring the 8 cups of water and the salt to a boil in a large pot. Add the rice and stir. Add the cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon and simmer for 10 minutes.

Taste the rice, and test to see if it is done to your taste; rice can take more or less time to cook depending on how old it is. If still too firm, cook a few minutes longer. When the rice is cooked the way you like it, drain it into a colander and rinse with cold water to stop it from cooking. Remove the cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon and discard. Set the rice aside to drain.

In a large pan big enough to hold the rice, heat the oil over medium-high heat. Add the mustard, cumin seeds and chile flakes. Cook until the mustard seeds start popping, then add the onion.

Saute the onion until it begins to brown, about 5-7 minutes. Add the garlic and sauté another 2-3 minutes. Add the rice and mix well.

Sprinkle the turmeric over the rice and mix well. Cook for another 3-4 minutes, stirring often.

Serves 4-6.

Note: substitute a pinch of ground cardamom and cinnamon for whole spices.

Source: Simple Recipes

Middle Eastern Chickpea Burger

2 cups cooked chickpeas or 1-15 ounce can, drained and rinsed chickpeas (spritz with fresh lemon juice and a pinch of sea salt)

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground coriander

1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon

2 teaspoons minced garlic

1 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 tablespoons freshly squeezed lemon juice

2-1/2 cups cooked brown basmati rice

3 tablespoons finely diced red bell pepper

1/4 cup loosely packed minced fresh flat-leaf parsley

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees and line a baking sheet with parchment paper.

Combine the chickpeas, salt, turmeric, paprika, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, garlic, ginger, olive oil and lemon juice in a food processor and process until smooth and well combined, scraping the sides occasionally. Transfer the mixture to a bowl and fold in the rice, bell pepper, and parsley. Moisten your hands to keep the mixture from sticking, and then shape the mixture into 1/4–inch thick patties about 2-1/2 inches in diameter.

Place them on the prepared pan and bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until the patties start to get dry and crisp on the outside. They will firm up as they cool.

Makes 17 patties.

Variations: For a crispy burger, heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a skillet over medium heat and cook the patties for about 3 minutes on each side, until golden brown.

Dip for fresh, raw veggies: The chickpeas and spice puree from the food processor makes a delicious hummus.

Source: The Cancer-Fighting Kitchen by Rebecca Katz

Coriander Crusted Fish

3 tablespoons ground coriander

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon pepper

4 fish fillets (salmon, tuna or swordfish; 1-1/2 pounds)

2 tablespoons olive oil

Preheat a large sauté pan on medium-high for 2-3 minutes.

Combine coriander, salt and pepper; then coat both sides of the fish.

Place the oil in the pan, then add the fish; cook for 3-4 minutes on each side or until 145 degrees and the fish flakes easily.

Serves 4-6.

Source: Aprons Simple Meal