Indian Food – Lynley Ruck
Describing “Indian” food is like describing “Italian” food, you don’t. Indian cuisine reflects the many diverse geographical regions, cultural and religious beliefs with each offering various tastes, textures and aromas. The combination of fresh ingredients, ancient spice mixes, and centuries of knowledge often culminates in food that not only offers great flavour depth, but is often extremely healthful also.
Pulses or beans and lentils are a main source of protein for the millions of vegetarians in India and are very versatile. My favourite when eating out is Dahl Makhani and it is easily recreated at home for a quick nutritious curry. I like to serve cumin rice with curries.
Lentils, chickpeas and kidney beans can be bought pre-cooked in tins or dry – in which case they often need soaking overnight and then simmered for up to 1-2 hours depending on the variety being used. Asafoetida, a powdered herb that smells like, and sometimes replaces, onion is often added to combat flatulence.
To anyone else walking into the Aladdin’s Cave that are the Indian Supermarkets it can be a little overwhelming, the sheer number of spices on offer, the exotic aromas and foreign labels may seem difficult to comprehend. But forget the labels and just enjoy the experience, you can be sure that most common spices are recognisable and extremely fresh, most often due to the high turnover of stock. This is important if you prepare your own spice mixtures from scratch, the incredible flavour garnered from freshly roasted and ground spices just cannot compare to a cardboard packet that has vegetated in your pantry for any longer than 6 months.
But for those of us a little less adventurous these stores a chock full of ready made spice pastes and powders, it just takes a little investigation and imagination and you can walk out with a number of semi-instant meals for very little outlay. Chickpea curry or Chana Masala is another favourite of mine and if you buy some premixed garam masala you are half way to a very tasty vegetarian dinner. Garam Masala means hot (Garam) spice (Masala) and is not a spice in itself. It is a spice blend used throughout India. This blend of spices is usually fried at the beginning of cooking to add a subtle flavour, garam masala is added in small quantities or it can be overpowering. Many different recipes can be found depending on the region and personal preference. Garam Masala does not however keep well for extended periods and you are advised to buy it fresh as required.
Of course the gorgeous spice mixtures go perfectly well with various types of meat. A particularly tasty Chicken Curry comes to mind – and well worth trying with chicken thigh cutlets that are often at a good price in the supermarket. Bone in gives more flavour and is a more traditional way of eating chicken. Ensure you allow plenty of time for marinating and you will not be disappointed.
I think in these times of increasing global food shortages, food miles with an ever increasing amount of land being used to produce feed for animals as opposed to humans – a couple of vegetarian meals a week will go a long way to mitigating our impact – and these recipes not only give spectacular flavour – but wonderful health benefits as well. Enjoy.