Indian Cuisine Tickles American Palates

indian cuisine

Exotic foods have always intrigued American diners and Indian cuisine is more popular than ever before. It’s easy to understand when you consider just how many flavors and ingredients the country offers.

There are hundreds of ethnic groups all over India’s 28 states. Each of these  areas has its own style of cooking with uncountable variations provided by the individuals that cook it. Spices take a primary role with complex blends creating unique flavor profiles. Each area of the country has its own way of flavoring and preparing food. Because it is made with a focus on fresh vegetables and herbs Indian cuisine appeals to diners who prefer appealing yet healthy dishes.

Northern and Southern Indian cuisines are what you will normally find in American restaurants. The foods are generally less spicy than their authentic counterparts to allow for the more delicate American palate. These dishes are a great way to cater to vegan and vegetarian diets since it is easy to include meatless dishes on an Indian menu.

Common Ingredients in Indian Cuisine

Although the dishes and preparations are wildly different all over the country there are some common ingredients that you’ll find no matter where you go. These ingredients are prepared using different techniques from one area to another and that is what gives them their individuality.

Chana Dal

Chana dal is merely the kernel of a chickpea that has been split. The whole chickpea is soaked and then the skin is removed. It is used to make gram flour which is then used to make breading and batters.

Urad Dal

This is a bean with a shiny black skin which is also called a black matpe bean. It lends a meaty flavor to the dishes in which it is used due to the glutamic acid contained within the bean. It is often used in dal throughout the country but can also be found in dosa and other recipe

Narial

Narial is what coconut is called in India. It is used in desserts, curries, and the milk is sipped as a refreshing drink. Coconut oil is often used for cooking oil.

Aloo

Even though they weren’t introduced until the 1600s aloo, red skinned potatoes, are the ones most often used in Indian cooking. The have a lower starch content which means that they hold their shapes better.

Saag

Green, leafy vegetables like spinach are sauteed in oil that has been infused with carefully chosen spices. Tofu or  paneer might be added once the greens are done.

Paneer

Paneer is somewhat like cottage or farmer’s cheese. It is often mixed with saag, curries, or made into desserts.

Common Spices

Hundreds of spices are used but the basics are enough for the neophyte Indian cook. With the following spices in your pantry you can create nearly any meal. The technique used for flavoring food with these spices is important. Cooks in India draw out the deepest flavor possible by infusing their cooking oil with them. The oil is heated andthe spices added to season the fat.

  • Brown Mustard Seed
  • Caraway
  • Cinnamon
  • Coriander
  • Cumin
  • Garam Masala
  • Garlic
  • Ginger
  • Paprika
  • Turmeric

One thing to note about turmeric. It has a lovely golden yellow color that adds a blast of color to any dish but it can also leave a stain behind. Be careful of it for this reason.

Give It a Try

Indian cuisine looks complicated and tastes complex but it is a lot more simple that you might think. For the best, most successful plates be sure to get your ingredients sourced locally as much as you can. Indian food is quick and simple so ignore any temptation that might encourage you to make it more difficult than it should be.

photo credit: SweetOnVeg via photopin cc

- Marye Audet

Marye Audet is an author, freelance writer, and editor. Cooking, baking, and recipe development have been a major part of her life since she baked her first loaf of bread at age 13. Luckily, with a husband, eight children, a son in law, and three grandchildren she has enough test-tasters to handle the steady stream of experiments that come from her kitchen.

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