About Indian cooking
A country of more than one billion people with over a dozen languages, 800 recognized dialects and several religions, India is as diverse as it gets.
The geography is so varied – with mountains, rivers, vast deserts, and extensive plains. This translates into a wide array of crops, flowers, wildlife and climates – all of which are reflected in the diverse food culture of the country.
India’s food has been influenced by the multitude of invaders throughout the country’s history. The Mughals, Turks, Europeans, and Portuguese have all left their mark. By adding their own cooking styles and ingredients, they provided a rich diversity, resulting in a unique cuisine.
What holds this diverse cuisine together are the aromatic and flavorful spices. The art of Indian cooking is in blending the spices so they are in perfect harmony with each other.
The diverse Indian landscape provides a variety of fruits and vegetables. In addition, the abundant coastline provides a lot of seafood.
Each region in India is known for its own distinct cuisine – largely influenced by the physical and social environments. In each region however, food is served in a similar way – all at one time, as opposed to the Western way of serving food in courses. Tables are also laden with condiments like pickles and chutneys – adding more flavor to any meal. Regardless of the region, Indians are known for their incredible hospitality.
Northern Indian cooking is rich in meats, dairy, nuts, and amazing breads. The cuisine of Western India focuses on lentils and rice. The eastern coastline has abundant seafood, which is incorporated in many dishes. Southern India is known for its fiery vegetable dishes and savory crepes, along with its legendary pickles and chutneys.
Religion also influences the cuisine a great deal. There are sects if Indians who don’t eat any root vegetables, the Muslims don’t eat any pork, and the Hindus don’t eat beef. There are special ingredients used to prepare religious meals, specifically for the purposes of breaking “fasts.”
Indian cooking categorizes foods into six tastes – sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter, and astringent. A well-balanced Indian meal contains all six. This is accomplished in part by accompanying the dishes with a wide variety of condiments.
Cooking with Spices
To purchase Indian spices, we recommend Kalustyans and Spice Corner.
Using spices in Indian cooking is a 3000 year old tradition. Ancient Indian texts focused primarily on three characteristics of spices – medicinal properties, their ability to preserve food, and to season food. Ayurveda, the ancient art of healing, teaches that food plays an essential part in one’s health and sense of well-being. For food specifically, it says that you should have all the six tastes in the same meal, or at least in the day; this helps balance out your sense of taste. Spices help provide all these flavors. Spices also add depth and complexity to food.