Indian Cooking Tips For Dummies
Are you looking to be challenged in the kitchen? It's a common misconception that curry and chillies dominate Middle Eastern cuisine, when in fact, you probably won't find a native cuisine anywhere else in the world that is as eclectic, healthy or adventurous as Indian. And the options aren't limited to exotic vegetarian concoctions. Whether a tender Lamb Madras or lightly spiced Chicken Masala Stew, Indian cuisine is a smorgasbord of delicious recipes guaranteed to excite the taste buds. Make your journey to gastronomic enlightenment that little bit easier with our dummies guide to Indian cooking tips. You never know, you could be the next Atul Kochhar!
Tip #1 - Experiment With The Chilli Scale:
Contrary to popular belief, Indian cuisine isn't just about spice and heat. Granted, Ghost Chillies are used to add kick to numerous popular dishes in the West, but traditional regional dishes are actually far more subtle in heat and flavour than you might realise. From the rich, virtually non-pungent fruitiness of the Byadagi (Kaddi) grown in Dharwar, to the legendary Sannam S4, known for its mind-blowing pungency, Indian chillies run the gamut of intensity and flavour. Explore the native-grown varieties used in Indian cuisine before cooking; you'll find that many dishes aren't intended to be as hot as the one's served in restaurants!
Tip #2 – Use Raw or Fresh Ingredients Wherever Possible:
While there's nothing wrong with substituting secondary ingredients in a dish now and then, replacing the foundation of a sauce with something completely different in both consistency and flavour is only going to cause problems. Many hobby chefs switch coconut milk for normal cow's milk, often thinking it will have no impact upon the flavour of the dish. In fact, cow's milk is ten times more likely to curdle than coconut, and you'll also have to rely on desecrated coconut to add in flavour. The lesson here? Don't cut corners with convenient alternatives – it can mean the difference between a smooth, rich Korma and a bland, lumpy mess!
Tip #3 – Invest in Proper Cookware:
Learning to master traditional Indian dishes is an exciting and fulfilling experience. However, so many people get caught up in the 'shopping phase' of cooking, they forgo obvious considerations such as whether their current pots and pans are adequate enough for new techniques. While it may be tempting to use your trusty old frying pan, investing in the proper cookware will ensure there's less likelihood of something going wrong – like under-cooking a fish-based dish, such as Fish Amritsari. A durable, good quality stainless steel karahi (deep wok) is ideal for both stews and traditional curries, but can also be used to master the art of sautéing on a low heat!
Tip #4 – Ease Up On The Rice:
It may be one of the staple foods of India, but the fact is, rice just doesn't go with everything. Vegetables play a vital role in enhancing the flavour of traditional dishes – particularly those deemed “hot” or “intense” by Western standards. Legumes, such as lentils and sprouted beans, are commonly added to recipes as an alternative, lighter variation on rice. Indian cuisine is also built on the principle that “less is more”, which is why many dishes are small, light and served with a host of other finger foods like Roti and Alu Ki Tikki (potato patties).
Tip #5 – Don't Over Marinate:
White meats, such as poultry and fish, are far less hardy and long-lasting compared to lamb and beef. Their skins also have a tendency to react with the natural enzymes in fresh herbs and spices when left to marinate for too long, breaking down proteins and causing it to become mushy and over tender. As a general rule of thumb, you should never exceed 8 hours marinating time for chicken, and 60 minutes for most types of fish.
Tip #6 – Learn The Art of 'Layering' Spices:
Indian cuisine is typified by the use of aromatic spices and herbs to enhance certain flavours in meat and vegetables, however, there is a certain art to getting it right. Unfortunately, the prospect of experimenting with so many ethnic flavours is too exciting for some, and they rush headlong into creating concoctions that end up marring the flavour of an entire dish.
Layering is a great way to educate yourself about the types of herbs and spices that work in harmony. Start by researching one basal ingredient used to enhance flavours, and two additional accompaniments often used in Indian dishes. By experimenting with different cooking methods, and using just three flavours, you'll begin to get an idea of how spices are used to enhance certain natural flavours.
Tip #7 – Never Substitute Ingredients For Western Alternatives
Nearly every cookery novice will, at some stage, make the fatal mistake of substituting authentic ingredients for less expensive Western alternatives. Unfortunately, opting for a low fat spread instead of ghee is guaranteed to have some impact upon the end flavour of your dish. Western spreads and butters have a higher salt concentration than traditional Indian ghee, coupled with a lower smoking point. Once butter is heated beyond its smoking point, it can quickly become bitter and far too inflexible for shallow frying – effectively causing the natural flavours within meat and vegetables to diffuse far too quickly. If you're really serious about getting to grips with Indian cuisine, substitutes should be avoided at all costs!