While curry is inevitably associated with India, this term is simply used for meats or vegetables cooked in a spicy sauce, usually eaten with rice or Indian breads. Indian food is not limited to the familiar restaurant favourites – it is more wide-ranging and complex than you may ever have imagined.
Each Indian state has its own traditions, culture, lifestyle and food. Even individual households may have their own secret recipes for the powders and pastes that form the backbone of the dish. However, what all Indian dishes have in common is the delicate alchemy of spices that gives them their characteristic flavour.
Over the course of history the various invaders who have passed through India have left their influence on its culture and cuisine. Geography and local produce have also played an important role in shaping regional cuisine
THE INDIAN PANTRY
The most affordable place to get pantry items is at a local Indian grocery store. If you don't have one close by, there are many options for purchasing online.
With a few exceptions (which I'll point out), buy whole spices. Spices begin losing flavor the moment they are ground. It takes only a few minutes, or less, to grind them, and the immediate aroma of the freshly ground spices is almost payback enough for the effort. You can pay $6 or $8 for a minuscule jar of ground spices that has already lost much of its flavor, or you can buy a pound of whole seeds at an Indian grocery store for the same $6 or $8. The seeds will last long after the spice in the jar hardens, and if you don't grind them until a year later, they will still be as fresh as the day you bought them. All that freshness translates directly into flavor.
All seed spices can be used in dishes in at least four ways: added as whole seeds, ground into powder, roasted and then ground, or fried to infuse their flavor into ghee or oil.
Each of the methods imparts a different flavor profile of the spice into the food. Using whole spices will let you enhance and expand your repertoire of spice blends.
Cayenne pepper (ground)
Dals and Beans
If you don't have an Indian grocery store near you, you might find these dals at the bulk bins at specialty grocery stores, where you can buy as much or as little as you want.
If you buy just 1 cup of each, it will cost you a few dollars, and You'll be able to cook them and see which ones you like.
Rajma kidney beans
Split moong dal
Whole urad dal
Two herbs are used more often than any others in Indian cooking: fresh cilantro and fresh mint. Luckily they're both readily available outside of India. While mint is used to flavor and season, cilantro is used to flavor as well as garnish. If you are among the 10 percent of the population who are genetically predisposed to find that cilantro tastes soapy, don't worry about it. Either substitute parsley or leave it out altogether. None of these dishes rely solely on cilantro for their main flavor.
Packaged, Bottled, Canned
There are a few staples you will want to have on hand.
BASMATI RICE. Look for aged Indian basmati, grown in India. Despite extensive taste testing, you have not found American-grown basmati to be anything but an extremely distant cousin to the real thing.
CANNED TOMATOES, DICED. Pressure cooking fresh tomatoes can sometimes yield unpredictable results. Depending on their moisture content, fresh tomatoes can either cook well or burn.
COCONUT MILK, FULL-FAT. While we often make our own coconut milk in India, you find canned full-fat coconut milk—especially the brands with no additives—a perfectly fine substitute.
RAISINS. Golden raisins are often used in desserts such as rice kheer, as well as in chutneys. Having these in your pantry will make last-minute cooking a lot easier.
SAFFRON. Despite its expense, saffron is a spice Use a bit of for special occasions. Nothing comes close to the fragrance and taste that just a few threads can impart.
SHREDDED COCONUT, UNSWEETENED. you often use this instead of fresh coconut, which doesn't last as long and is a lot harder to find. The pressure cooker, with its high heat and moist environment, reconstitutes these shreds in no time. Do not use the sweetened shreds used for baking—they will significantly alter the taste of the final dish.
Can't you just buy the garam masala? Won't any garam masala do?
Yes, you can certainly buy the garam masala, but no, not any garam masala will do. For a while there was an avid debate between people who had made and loved your Butter Chicken recipe and those who found it bland. The ones who loved it could not believe that anyone could've found this flavorful dish bland
The difference was entirely in the garam masala. When you asked people to show me pictures of which garam masala they used, we learned that some brands sold a blend that was almost exclusively paprika No wonder it couldn't replicate the flavors in cinnamon, cayenne pepper, chile, cloves, cumin, and coriander.
Many prefer to buy whole spices, as they are versatile and long-lasting. But if you prefer not to do that, please look over the garam masala recipe in this book and try to find a garam masala that uses all or many of the same spices. Otherwise, you may be making a Hungarian goulash rather than Indian butter chicken
GLOSSARY of Indian Cooking
AMARANTH LEAVES: These have a taste similar to spinach. In India they are commonly referred to as chawli leaves.
AMCHOOR: Literally, 'mango powder', this is sun-dried unripe mangoes, ground into a powder. Amchoor has a distinct tart and fruity flavour. Frequently used as a souring agent, it can be substituted for lemon juice, vinegar or tamarind. It works well as dry seasoning or in a marinade too.
ANARDANA: Used as seasoning, anardana is dried and ground pomegranate seeds. They have a tangy flavour with a sweet aftertaste.
BESAN: Besan is also known as gram flour. When mixed with the right amount of water, it can be used as a substitute for egg in vegan cooking. It is commonly used to make batter.
BHAJI: In India, 'bhaji' is a generic term for any dish made with vegetables and spices. This is not to be confused with 'bhajiya', which are vegetable fritters.
BITTER GOURD: Extremely bitter, this vegetable commonly known as 'karela' evokes either love or hate in Indians. Highly beneficial for diabetes patients, the karela is chopped and fried or stuffed with spices and baked to stunning results.
BOMBAY MIX: A savoury mix of sev, peanuts, dried peas and many other condiments and spices.
BOONDI: A fried snack made of besan. It can be sweet or salty. It is made be dropping the besan batter through a slotted spoon into hot oil and frying the droplets.
BOTTLE GOURD: Similar to a pumpkin in texture, but firmer and crisper, the bottle gourd has a fresh, nutty flavour and is great for taking on diverse flavours.
CHAAT MASALA: A mix of amchoor, cumin, black salt, ground coriander, ginger powder, salt, pepper and asafoetida. Chaat masala is ubiquitous in India, sprinkled over all kinds of savouries, snacks and raitas to spice them up.
CHANA: Roasted kaala chana is referred to as 'chana' in India. It is usually eaten as a snack.
CHANA DHAL: A kind of lentil, also known as 'split Bengal gram'.
CHICKOO: Chickoo is a fruit with a grainy texture. Also known as sapota, it has a very sweet, nutty flavour, reminiscent of caramel.
COLOCASIA: Popularly known as arbi, the starchy root of this plant is eaten boiled or fried with spices. The plant's leaves are used for cooking, too.
DAIKON LEAVES: Indians cook the leaves of daikon radish as well as the root. They taste rather like watercress, but with a bitter tang.
DHANSAK MASALA: A classic Parsi spice blend made of a unique combination of numerous spices.
INDIAN DRUMSTICKS: Not to be confused with chicken drumsticks, these are long, unripe pods of the moringa tree and are commonly referred to as drumsticks in India. Their taste can be likened to that of asparagus.
JACKFRUIT: This fruit is eaten both raw and cooked in India. Green, or unripe, jackfruit is usually cooked in spicy sauces. Ripe jackfruit has a sweet flavour and is commonly eaten as fruit.
JAGGERY: Made of unrefined sugar, this sweetening agent is rich in iron and has a crumbly texture.
KAALA CHANA: Literally, 'black chickpeas', these are darker in hue and sometimes smaller than normal chickpeas. On boiling, they remain firm to the bite, creating texture.
KALI DHAL: A kind of lentil, also known as 'whole black gram'.
KALONJI SEEDS: Called nigella seeds in English, but known as kalonji seeds throughout India, these tiny seeds are triangular in shape and black in colour. They are commonly seen studded on naan bread.
KEWRA ESSENCE: Essence of pandanus flowers, kewra is used to flavour meats, desserts and beverages.
KHOYA: A milk product, khoya (or khoa) is made by thickening milk in an open pan. Khoya gives texture and adds to the consistency of many an Indian sweet. Unsalted ricotta cheese is a good substitute for khoya.
KOKUM: Native to the coastal regions of western India, kokum is also known as mangosteen. Its taste resembles that of tamarind, with a tangy, fruity flavour that particularly complements coconut-based curries. Kokum is usually dried and stored, and is infused in hot water just before cooking.
KURMURE: Puffed rice, similar to crisped rice cereal.
MASOOR DHAL: Split red lentil.
MUNG BEANS: A kind of lentil, also known as 'green gram'.
MUNG DHAL: Dehusked mung beans. These are yellow in colour.
MELON SEEDS: Melon seeds are a common garnish in India. They are also popularly peeled and eaten on many a winter afternoon.
PANCH PHORON: A mix of five whole seeds – cumin, fennel, kalonji, mustard and fenugreek. Also known as Bengali five-spice, it is used to imbue curries with a fragrant, spicy-sweet aroma.
PANEER: Paneer is a firm, bland cheese that is usually available in big chunks that can be easily chopped. A close approximation would be tofu.
PAV BHAJI MASALA: A traditional blend of unique spices used to give pav bhaji its typical taste.
POHA: Beaten rice, commonly soaked and used for making snacks.
SAMBHAR POWDER: A traditional South Indian spice blend made of a unique combination of numerous spices.
SEV: Fried besan snack made by deep frying thin strands of the batter.
SEV PURIS: Small, crunchy puris made of wheat flour, usually deep fried.
SOY BEAN SEMOLINA: Semolina made with soy bean.
TOOR DHAL: A type of lentil, also known as 'split red gram'.
URAD BEANS: A kind of lentil, also known as 'whole black gram'.
URAD DHAL: A kind of lentil, also known as 'split black gram'.
WHITE PEAS: A type of lentil, also known as 'matra' or 'wata ana'.
WHOLE MASOOR DHAL: A type of lentil, also known as 'red lentil'.
YAMS: The starchy roots of these vines are similar to sweet potatoes.
The Indian Pantry
Green cardamom pods
Black mustard seeds
Brown mustard seeds
Amchoor (mango) powder
Curry powder (mild)
Ground black pepper
Dried red chilies
Guajillo or Kashmiri chilies
Red chili flakes
Aromatics, Souring Agents, and Herbs:
Apple cider vinegar
Methi (dried fenugreek leaves)
Cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil
Cold-pressed sunflower oil
Ghee (clarified butter)
In the Refrigerator:
Light coconut milk
Reduced-fat sour cream
Rice, Pulses, and Grains:
Black (forbidden) rice Brown basmati rice Chana dal (split chickpeas/split Bengal gram)
Masoor dal (red/pink lentils)
Mung dal (green gram dal/mung beans)
Toor/tuvar/arhar dal (split pigeon peas)
Urad dal (black gram/black lentils)
Black salt (kala namak)
Himalayan pink salt
Stevia bakeable blend (Pyure)
Stevia sugar blend
Superfine raw stevia blend
Truvia brown sugar blend
Cast iron griddle
Heavy-bottomed pots and pans (preferably cast iron)
Idli stacker/cooker (or poacher)
Mortar and pestle
Dal, a Hindi word that means raw and prepared lentils, is a staple of Indian cuisine and is eaten throughout the country. India is the largest producer of pulses (beans, peas, lentils) today, and it is believed that some forms of dal have been consumed in India since ancient times. Some of the recipes in this book call for several different types of dal. Here is a guide to the different varieties:
Mung Dal (Mung Beans or Green Gram)
Mung dal is a small, kidney-shaped legume with green skin. In the Indian markets you'll often see three forms of this ingredient: whole green mung beans with skin on (green mung dal), split green mung beans with skin on, and skinned and split mung beans (yellow mung dal).
This type of dal is available in Indian markets as either whole green-brown lentils with the skin on (sabut masoor), whole red lentils without the skin, or red skinned and split lentils (dhuli masoor or red masoor dal)
Toor Dal (Tuvar/Arhar Dal, Pigeon Peas, or Yellow Split Peas)
These pale green pigeon peas are most commonly available in stores as skinned and split yellow-gold beans.
Chana (Chickpeas, Garbanzo Beans, Bengal Gram, or Chole)
Chana is the Indian term for chickpeas. There are two varieties available in the Indian market: kala chana and kabuli chana. Kala chana, or black chickpeas, are a smaller, darker variety and kabuli chana are larger, paler, and look like the chickpeas most people are familiar with.
Chana Dal (Split Chickpeas or Split Bengal Gram)
This variety of dal is very similar in appearance to yellow split peas, but is actually made from black chickpeas (kala chana or Bengal gram). Some recipes in this book call for roasted chana dal. You can usually find this already roasted in grocery stores. But if you can't find the roasted variety, you can buy plain chana dal and roast it yourself in a heavy-bottomed pan over medium heat for 2–3 minutes. Chana dal flour is a flour made from the skinned and split black chickpeas.
Urad Dal (Black Gram)
These small black beans resemble green mung dal in appearance when whole. They are available in Indian markets either as whole black urad beans (sabut urad or black urad dal), as split black urad beans with skin on (chilkewali urad dal or split black urad dal), or as white, skinned and split urad beans (dhuli urad or white urad dal).
Rajma (Red Kidney Beans)
These are available everywhere in supermarkets and Indian markets.
Indian Cooking Techniques
Indian cooks rely heavily on their sense of sight and smell while cooking. An experienced Indian cook gets a feel for the doneness of the food from visual cues and aromas. This is something that takes time and practice to master, but once you get used to the techniques of Indian cooking, it becomes second nature.
Toasting and Grinding Spices
This is an important Indian cooking technique to learn, because many of the spices used in Indian cuisine should be toasted and ground before they are added to a dish. Whenever the recipes in this book call for spices or seeds to be toasted and crushed or ground, this is the procedure you should follow.
To toast spices:
Take a dry heavy-bottomed, preferably cast iron pan, and add the spices. Toast the spices over medium heat, stirring and shaking the pan constantly, to get an even toast of spices and prevent burning. During the first 2 minutes or so you won't notice a visual change in the spices, but as the moisture in the spices dries up, they will release their aroma and start to brown. Watch the spices carefully and remove them from the heat before they burn. (Please note that cumin seeds might take less time to roast than other seeds, such as coriander seeds.)
To grind spices:
It's best to grind small quantities of spices using a mortar and pestle. But it you have a large amount of spice to crush, you can use a spice grinder or coffee grinder to powder them. You can also put the spices in between two pieces of wax paper or onto a clean cutting board and crush using a mallet, rolling pin, or the bottom of a clean heavy pan.
Making Bhuna or Indian Sauce/Curry Bases
Curry (the sauce, not the spice) is a gravy base used to cook various ingredients such as seafood, meats, and vegetables. Curries have distinct flavors and aromas based on the various regions of India in which they are prepared. The word curry comes from the Tamil word kari, meaning blends of spices cooked with vegetables. The British created the variation of the dish with various spices and added meat that is popular today, and hence curry came into the culinary world.
The traditional way to make curry sauces is to first heat oil in a wok or pan, then chopped onion, cumin, and other flavors such as ginger and/or garlic and add them to the pan. Once the onions are browned, any desired herbs and spices, and even tomatoes, can be added. Finally, small quantities of water, yogurt, coconut milk, or stock are introduced to the pan if/when the ingredients start to stick. After the oil separates from the rest of the mixture, the main ingredient (meat or vegetable) is added to the sauce and cooked.
Tadka (Tempering Spices)
This is an age-old technique in Indian cooking used for seasoning dal, vegetarian dishes, and some meat preparations.
Tadka, or tempering, is achieved by heating oil or ghee over medium-high heat then adding aromatic seasonings like cumin seeds, asafoetida (a powdered gum resin with an onion/garlic flavor), garlic, onions, mustard seeds, curry leaves, etc. The oil or ghee extracts the essence of the other ingredients during tempering. The seasoned oil is then added to dishes, usually towards the end of the cooking process to give the best aroma and flavor.
Dum (Steaming) Method
This cooking process showcases the ingenuity of the Indian chefs; it is the Indian traditional method of pot roasting. The process starts with adding spices to a heavy-bottom pan and building the flavor base. Then the other ingredients are added, making sure there is enough liquid in the pan to steam the ingredients, and the heat is increased to high. Then a dough is used to cover and seal the pan, essentially creating an oven, and a tight lid is placed over the dough to prevent the escape of any steam.
Tandoori-style cooking has a long history; it originated in ancient India and is one of the mainstays of Indian cuisine.
A tandoor is a dome-shaped oven that imparts a unique taste and flavor to foods. The Indian tandoor is usually made of clay and can reach temperatures as high as 550°F / 288°C. It looks like a rounded beehive. Tandoori is a hotter and faster form of cooking than the western barbecue. Tandoors are used to make naan breads, kebabs, and tandoori meats and seafood. Today there are two types of tandoors available in the Indian markets: home-style tandoors and commercial tandoors for restaurants.
Tandoori cooking requires a tenderization process and a good flavorful marinade, which are the keys to enhancing the flavor and texture of the primary ingredient. If you don't have a tandoor, a similar effect can be achieved by heating your oven or grill to a high temperature (400°F / 205°C or higher for an oven).
This cooking technique is similar to the western method of braising. This technique was influenced by the Mughlai style of cooking during the Mughal Empire. The main ingredient in a korma dish is often seared, then it is cooked in a small amount of a liquid base in a covered container. The base for Indian korma is usually made with yogurt, spices, and/or nuts.
In a saucepan, heat water on a high heat. When the water starts boiling, add the tomatoes to it and remove the pan from the heat. Set aside for 2-3 minutes. Discard the water and remove the tomato skins. They will come off quite easily.
Soak the clams in a large pot of water so that they are fully immersed. Set aside for 5-7 minutes.
Scrub the shell to remove barnacles or any other debris. Rinse under running water.
Drain all water and place the clams in a pan with a lid. Place the pan in the freezer overnight. This will make the shells open up.
Next morning, place the clams outside the freezer and allow to thaw until they are at room temperature.
Twist and break the shell with no meat away. Use the side with the flesh.
Place the crab on a table, belly side up. Pull off the triangular belly flap or 'apron'.
Turn the crab over. Inserting your thumb between the body and the shell at the rear, pull the shell up.
Twist the claws and legs off. (They can also be cracked with a nutcracker.) Also pull off the spongy gills and small paddles at the front of the crab and discard them.
Using a knife, cut the crab's body lengthwise into half, and then into quarters.
Heat a flat pan until almost smoking. Place the ingredients on the flat pan and keep gently stirring for about 2-3 minutes on a medium heat, until an aroma emanates from the ingredients.
In a saucepan, bring the water to a boil on a high heat. Add the rice and lower the heat. Mix well and cook for 5 minutes. Drain the rice in a colander and set aside for 4-5 minutes.
ROASTING VEGETABLES (tomatoes, peppers and onions)
Wrap the vegetables in aluminium foil and place in a pre-heated oven at 200°C (400°F, Gas Mark 6) for 15 minutes until the skin shrivels up and starts turning brown.
Fill a pan with water to the extent that the level of water will be 2.5cm/1in below the bottom of the steamer. Heat the water on a high heat.
Just before the water starts boiling, lower the heat to medium and carefully place the steamer, with the ingredients, into the pan.
Cover the pan and cook on a medium heat for the time specified in the recipe. Be careful of the steam when you uncover the pan.
This technique is used to check whether the consistency of the sugar syrup is right for a particular dessert. It's a simple technique.
Spoon some syrup out and let it cool for 5 seconds.
Dip the tip of your forefinger into the syrup. Then touch your thumb and forefinger together and pull apart gently. Notice the number of syrup threads formed between your finger and thumb.
The more you boil the syrup, the greater the number of threads will be. Keep simmering the syrup on a low heat until you reach the desired consistency. The stages progress fairly quickly, so check frequently.
Mix water and the ingredients in the same proportion. Grind in a blender till smooth.