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A Guide to Indian Food

By Yann, published on 17/10/2018 Blog > Arts and Hobbies > Cooking > A Beginner’s Guide to the Basics of Indian Cuisine

“Food is everything we are. It’s an extension of nationalist feeling, ethnic feeling, your personal history, your province, your region, your tribe, your grandma. It’s inseperable from those from the get-go.” -Anthony Bourdain

Food connects us to our own culture and makes us feel drawn to others. It brings friends, families and even foes together. Conversations around a dinner table can be insightful, inspiring and emotional. Food has the power to break down stereotypes and social barriers when individuals savour new dishes that become their favourites.

Whether its Italian, Greek, Mexican, Brazilian, Thai, Vietnamese, Malaysian or Indian the power of international cuisine causes us to get new cultures. 

Indian food is very beloved and has the same effect of pizza: available practically everywhere!

The spices, flavours and aromas of Indian cuisine take people to its roots and make them envision being in a street market in Mumbai or sampling delicacies from food stands in Delhi.

Butter chicken, chicken tikka masala, samosas, chole, naan bread, papadums, tandoori chicken and rogan josh have become favourites in all the corners of this earth. Many Indian immigrants have moved to other countries and have shared special recipes from their motherland with us.

The tastes of Indian are unique and have influenced other culture’s cuisine. In the United Kingdom, Indian food has become British citizens favourite takeaway due to the variety of restaurants available in most towns and major cities.

Without further ado, Superprof is here to show budding chefs a basic guide to Indian food. There is so much to learn before planning your next dinner party and filling your kitchen with India’s aromas.

How is Indian Food Adapted Around the World?

aloo samosas Samosas are commonly known in all parts of the world. Some countries have slightly modified the way of preparing them and their flavours. (Source: Visual Hunt)

According to the Ministry of External Affairs in India, there are over 31.2 million Indians living outside of India. The countries that have the most Indian immigrants are the United States, Saudi Arabia, Malaysia, the United Kingdom, Canada and South Africa.

It is a very common fact that wherever there is a community or influx of Indian immigrants, there will be authentic Indian restaurants offering delicious dishes to customers.

North Indian and Punjabi dishes are the most commonly known to people living outside of India. 

Although there are many Indian restaurants, the authenticity of Indian food has been slightly modified in different cultures. For example, in North America Indian curries have been toned down to be less spicy and staple ingredients such as butter and cream have been completely cut from typical recipes to please consumers.

The demand for Indian food is growing in North America with over $40 million in profits but still not as popular as Mexican or Hispanic food taking a $1.4 billion share of the $2.2 billion ethnic food market. 

South America is not known for having an abundance of Indian immigrants and restaurants. However, there are some typical options in the major cities of Bogotá, Buenos Aires, Lima, La Paz, Rio de Janeiro, Sao Paulo and Santiago. It is important to mention that when there are not a lot of Indian immigrants working in Indian restaurants food is less typical and more of a fusion dish.

Other countries in Asia such as Singapore and Malaysia widely accept Indian influences in their typical dishes and can readily savour typical Indian food due to all the eateries available. Many other nations such as Thailand, Indonesia, the Philippines and Vietnam have Indian food elements in their typical cuisine.

Typical Indian dishes such as roti canai and nasi kandar have experienced a Malaysian twist. 

The majority of Indian restaurants in Europe can be found in the United Kingdom. The first Indian restaurant in the UK was opened in 1810. That means that Brits have been enjoying delicious curry infused meals for over 200 years! The Indian influence is so strong in the UK that the authentic dish chicken tikka has been modified to being called chicken tikka masala and has been hailed as being “a true British national dish.”

Due to many Indian immigrants in Australia and New Zealand, these two Oceanic countries have various authentic Indian restaurants that are cherished by all citizens.

In Western Africa, Indian immigrants during the colonial period introduced curry that is still used and known as Mchuzi. Also, due to the constant influx of Indian immigrants, South Africa has always enjoyed Indian delights such as samosas, biriyani and curry. A cheap and filling dish called bunny chow was even invited for poor black citizens which consist of a hollowed out bread and a bean curry.

What is Traditional Indian Food?

Since India is densely populated with over 1.3 billion inhabitants and geographically large with many regions, territories and states, there are unique flavours and typical dishes in each section of the country.

Northern Indian cuisine is what foreigners are most familiar with. Authentic North Indian dishes include rogan josh, aloo samosa, butter chicken and almond malai kulfi. There are many more recipes that make North Indian cuisine an absolute delight but the aforementioned are the most popular.

The east of India is known for having rice as a staple food, the constant use of mustard seeds in recipes and delightful sweets. No other Indians like their desserts as much as Indians living in the East on the Bay of Bengal. The most typical and authentic recipes from the East of India include Jhaal-Muri, Sandesh and Rasgulla. The latter two are desserts that are indispensable at the end of each meal.

The South of India is very humid and surrounded by water. Due to this fact, many of the dishes in this region feature seafood and tropical ingredients such as coconut. The most authentic foods from this area include dosas, Hyderabadi biryani and idlis. Many of the typical dishes in this geographical region as known as being India’s most spicy.

Western India has a strong influence of Hinduism and this makes many of the inhabitant’s vegetarians. Gujaratis love their snacks and Goans enjoy their seafood. Some of the best authentic recipes in this area are pork vindaloo, laal maas and ghevar (a delicious disc-shaped dessert served in August for the festival of Raksha).

Authentic dishes from all over India can be easily cooked in the comfort of your own kitchen if you have the right ingredients, patience and time.

Top 20 Indian Recipes

the best Indian bread Probably the most commonly known Indian bread, naan is served in Indian restaurants everywhere. (Source: Visual Hunt)

It’s almost impossible to limit the absolute best Indian recipes or dishes to only 20 because there are so many delicious recipes from all over India that suit everyone’s distinct tastes.

Nevertheless here are Superprof’s 20 best Indian recipes divided into 4 categories.

Five Most Classic Dishes

  1. Butter chicken: this Punjab dish is a classic in Indian restaurants all over the world. Chunks of chicken, yoghurt, spices and butter on top, what’s not to like?
  2. Tandoori Chicken: typically cooked in a tandoor (clay oven) with a tandoori masala spice mix. This turns a normal chicken into something memorable.
  3. Chicken Tikka Masala: one of Britain’s favourite dishes that is made with chunks of spicy chicken cooked in a tomato paste sauce with ginger, chilis and garlic.
  4. Naan Bread: a worldwide favourite that is made with yoghurt, brushed with butter and topped with coriander when finished.
  5. Samosas: crispy on the outside and filled with many delicious ingredients on the inside.

Five Best Vegetarian Recipes

  1. Khali Daal: also known as “mom’s lentils” is fantastically filling and great comfort food on a rainy day.
  2. Malai Kofta: a great vegetarian option for meatballs that is best made when having a group of friends over.
  3. Palak Paneer: a simple dish that features two prominent ingredients, spinach and paneer (Indian cottage cheese).
  4. Rajma: also known as red kidney bean curry. This simple recipe takes less than 30 minutes to make and is cooked in a single pan.
  5. Bhapaa Aloo: delightful little potatoes cooked in a special Bengali five-spice mix with mustard paste and coconut. A very unique dish that comes highly recommended.

Five Best Curry Recipes

  1. Chole: known as chickpea curry and is typically served when guests are visiting or at a wedding feast. This North Indian dish is filled with many captivating spices.
  2. Goan Prawn Curry with Coconut, Chilli and Coriander: destined to impress dinner guests because of its delicious ingredients such as king prawns, Goan vinegar and creamy coconut milk.
  3. Gutthi Vankaya Curry: baby eggplants are stuffed with onions, garlic, coconut and roasted lentils just to name a few ingredients and then cooked in curry to enhance flavour and tenderness.
  4. Keralan Chicken Curry with Chillies and Coconut Milk: this dish originates from the South of India and features cassia bark, fennel and cardamom seeds and red chillies.
  5. Red Lentil Tadka Dal: this dal recipe is a great starter for curries and other plates. Very spicy but can be toned down with a few scoops of yoghurt.

Five Best Indian Meat Recipes

  1. Rogan Josh: literally means “red lamb” gets its colour from Kashmiri red chillies and the meat is tender due to mixing with yoghurt.
  2. Pork Vindaloo: Portuguese inspired dish that is full of flavour and can be cooked with a pressure cooker or in a pan on the stove.
  3. Banjari Gosht: a lamb dish that gets its flavour from Rajasthani spices.
  4. Slow Cooked Lamb Curry: 1kg of lamb is cooked in a pan with ingredients such as garam masala, mint leaves, garlic and cumin.
  5. Muya Bai Wahan: delicious pork that is made with bamboo shoots, raw papaya and lemon juice to increase flavour.

Indian Dessert Recipes

the best sweets Northern Indian desserts such as Gulab Jamun and Jalebi are extremely common all across India. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Indians like most other residents of the world have a sweet tooth and love to indulge in delicious desserts after a meal. Every region and state has their own specific sweets.

In Northern India, there are various desserts that can be enjoyed at any time of the day such as:

  • Gulab jamun: sweet dumplings that have been soaked in rosewater sugar syrup after cooking.
  • Jaleb: a dessert made of maida and sugar syrup that is best served crispy with a Masala tea.
  • Ras malai: dumplings made of cottage or ricotta cheese that is served in cardamom flavoured sweetened milk.

The East of India is best known for its wide variety of desserts sure to please anyone’s palette:

  • Cham-Cham: this delicious dessert is known as “pleasure boats” and is made by boiling milk until it curdles, handing the curds in a cheesecloth, forming little balls and then cooking. The process is long but the result is worth it.
  • Sandesh: no meal is completed for Bengalis until these are eaten for dessert. Typical ingredients such as paneer and cardamom powder are needed to make these iconic “cookies.”

The South of India has no shortage of desserts, therefore, here are some of the most famous ones:

  • Mysore Pak: a famous dessert made with gram flour, sugar and ghee. It can be tweaked to suit your taste buds by adding dried fruits and nuts.
  • Kesari Bhath: a sweet orange pudding that gets its colour from the turmeric powder. Made with rava (cream of wheat), sugar and dried fruits.

Last but definitely not least, there are wonderful dessert recipes that be tried at home originating from Western India. Here are some of the most recognized:

  • Modak: coconut and jaggery are used to stuff the inside of the soft and spongy dumpling. Beloved by Indians of all regions and ages.
  • Puran Poli: takes only 30 minutes to make and features simple ingredients such as chana dal, flour, cardamom and sugar.

Indian Cooking Classes

eating yummy Indian food The United Kingdom has many cooking schools offering Indian food cooking classes due to the constant influx of Indians immigrating. (Source: Visual Hunt)

Since the United Kingdom is home to more than 1.825 million Indian immigrants there are many private chefs and cooking schools offering authentic Indian food cooking classes.

No matter where you live in the UK, you are sure to find a cooking school near you that offers Indian cuisine cooking classes. 

Here are pour picks of the most highly recommended cooking schools in the United Kingdom to learn tricks and tips about Indian cooking:

  • Spice Monkey: located in North London classes are hands-on and the instructor teaches cooking strategies and secrets of Indian food that were taught by his mother. Courses cost between £75 and £140 per person and depend on the skills you wish to acquire while cooking Indian food.
  • Sweet Cumin: situated 15 miles away from Bristol in Somerset this cooking school has glowing testimonials from past students. Prices start at £85 and clients can choose between different courses such as Adventures of India, Indian Bread Making and Flavours of India.
  • Indian Home Cooking: Farzana Ullah is a private Indian chef offering cooking classes to budding chefs in her kitchen or yours in the Greater Manchester Area. She teaches your favourite Indian meals and how to correctly plan an Indian themed dinner party. Half day cooking classes are priced at £130 and full day courses cost £200 for two people.
  • Indian Cook School: located in Perth, Scotland this humble cooking school has earned many awards in the past few years such as cookery school of the year and the Scottish curry award in 2018. Prices are reasonable at £99.95 for classes that start at 9:45 am and finish at 3:45 pm. During classes, many useful recipes are taught.

Indian cooking is fun, flavourful and fragrant. Learning the basics of Indian cuisine can cause you to host an Indian themed dinner party in style!

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