Unity in diversity
In North India chillies, saffron, milk, yoghurt, cottage cheese and ghee (clarified butter) are hot favorites while in the South, folks love pepper, tamarind and coconut and will often even cook in coconut oil. Those in the East love all things mustard and fish while the extremely cosmopolitan West Indians have so adopted western ingredients that their style can quite easily be called fusion.
The common factor, you ask? Indians love their food. It plays a huge part in the countrys culture with festivals all having their own special dishes and certain foods being auspicious or even taboo on certain occasions. Food is a big deal! Even everyday meals are mostly sit-down affairs and comprise of two to three main course dishes, accompaniments like pickles, chutneys and papadums, staples like rice and roti (bread), all rounded off with something to satisfy the sweet tooth! Cooking for and sharing a meal with a guest is the ultimate sign of hospitality. While most people think Indians are largely vegetarian, Indian cuisine comprises of a dazzling array of meat, chicken and fish dishes!
Delicious and healthy too!
While some Indian food is traditionally packed with ingredients like oil and ghee that most of us avoid for health reasons, there is almost no comparison anywhere in the world to the vast variety of fresh fruit and vegetable dishes that form part of its repertoire. As such there is no reason why even the most waistline-conscious among us cannot enjoy good Indian cuisine. The keywords though are in moderation.
Spicing things up
Curry is synonymous with Indian food and curry powder is thought of as its key ingredient. This all-important powder is actually a mix of spices collectively known as garam masala and is added to dishes along with other spices to enhance their flavor and aroma. While the basic ingredients used are the same, each household has its own proportions so that the end result will often differ from home to home. The better the quality of the ingredients, the tastier the garam masala and the resulting dish in which it is used. Most Indians still prefer to prepare their own garam masala just prior to cooking. Making your own can seem intimidating if youre just starting out with Indian cooking, but the recipe (link here) and a good coffee grinder is all it takes! Theres nothing to beat the flavour of fresh garam masala.
Many shy away from trying Indian cooking thinking the ingredients are hard to find. This is no longer a problem since Indian spices can be bought in most supermarkets and what cant be had there is always available in specialist Indian or Asian grocery stores. Most Indian food does not even require special cooking utensils so theres no need for those starting out to buy too many things.
As with all other cuisines, Indian food too is all about finding what works best for you. Never fear to experiment with spices and try your own blends. Recipe calls for four red chillies and you think you can handle more? Go for it! Enjoy!