Monday, April 29, 2013

Indian Cooking Tips For Dummies

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 Рlike 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 saut̩ing 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!

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Top 5 Locations Newbie Travellers

The first time you travel abroad is bound to be a nail-biting experience. Greeted by an alien culture, huge language barriers, and traffic on opposite sides of the street, it's understandable you're going to feel a little apprehensive about your first trip beyond the comfort zone you call 'home'. If you haven't travelled abroad before, you will likely want to start off with a destination that is novice-friendly to minimise the risk of a complete culture shock. Before you give in and settle for that coach excursion across your country's own border, check out these tried and tested locations for newbie travellers. It could herald the start of a lifelong wanderlust!

Tokyo, Japan

If you yearn to savour the exotic sights and smells of Asia, Japan is the perfect introduction. Tokyo is a frenetic, tourist friendly metropolis mapped out in almost grid-like fashion, so you'll never have problems navigating your way from the Tsujiki Fish Market in Tsukiiishijo, to the famous Senso-ji Buddhist temple at Asakusa. With a well developed tourist infrastructure, and handy signposting in all number of languages, first time visitors feel at ease almost as soon as they touch down.

You'll find Japan's citizens are far more polite and welcoming than in neighbouring countries – mutual respect being an inherent quality of Buddhist culture. Tokyo is a hotch-potch of intertwining train, bus and tram networks, but getting around is a breeze if you stick with known operators such as JR East (trains) and Tokyo Metro (trams). If in doubt, stick with the Yamanote circular train route. It encompasses all major tourist attractions, as well as the trendy Shinjuku shopping and entertainment district.

Paris, France

If you long to sample continental Europe, but can't quite bring yourself to book a five-country weekend excursion, Paris is a great starting point. Despite being the French capital, Paris' citizens are a largely English speaking bunch with a sympathetic attitude to non French-speaking tourists. Whether you need directions to the Louvre, or assistance deciphering your French city guide, you'll find most people are more than willing to oblige. Paris is a cosmopolitan city, but that doesn't mean activities are limited to trawling galleries of post-modernist art. The city is brimming with internationally recognised icons, such as the cultural Center Pompidou, and Place Beauborg with its animated street entertainers and kinetic sculptures. By far the best way to get around is via the city's metro system. There are 16 lines traversing the various districts of the city, however, even these are colour coded and numbered for ease of recognition!

New Zealand

If you're looking for a place that is beautiful, laid back and versatile, look no further than Middle Earth (or New Zealand, as it's better known). New Zealand's East Coast is Mother Nature's adventure playground; an all-inclusive destination prime for caving, bungee jumping, scuba diving and a myriad of other extreme adrenaline sports. There is another side to New Zealand. A land of tranquil valleys, vast forests abundant with wildlife, and huge smoking volcanoes, such as Whakaari on the East Coast, accessible via daily ferry. New Zealand is small enough to be easily navigable by car, however, there are numerous long-distance bus services linking the likes of Wellington with outlying areas. Wellington's natives are an eclectic and welcoming mix of friendly old timers and younger professionals, so you'll find equal proliferation of bars and laid back pubs to suit.  

Goa, India

The first thing that springs to mind at mention of Goa is backpackers, yet there's far more to this Bohemian idyll than cheap accommodations and knock-off souvenirs. A former Portuguese outpost for over 400 years, Goa still retains much of its colonial heritage – particularly in quaint Margao with its huge colonial square and Municipal Gardens. This, coupled with its paradisical white beaches, swaying palms and abundance of native wildlife makes it ideal for those seeking something a little more raw from a holiday experience. Goa is India's smallest and richest state, meaning that it is both easy to navigate, and the quality of transport exceeds that of even the busiest cities. By far the best way to get around is by train; the Konkan Kanya Express serving both Panaji and Margao en route to Mumbai,  but be prepared to pay a small commission if buying tickets in advance.

Amsterdam, Holland

There's a stigma associated with the Dutch capital that prompts many to avoid it as  potential weekend break location, however, Amsterdam isn't all about sexual freedom and debauchery. In fact, despite its relatively compact size, Amsterdam manages to cram in a host of fascinating attractions sure to tempt the novice traveller, such as Anne Frank's House and the Heineken Brewery. Much of the city is flat and pedestrianised, affording the best way for visitors to get around and see the sights.

For those who don't like walking,  dedicated tram services serve much of the city, and aren't all that difficult to understand once you get your head around the “honor” system and checking on/ off with your yellow travel card. Fortunately Amsterdam is extremely tourist friendly; most of the signs being in English, as well as Dutch, and English being spoken by a significant proportion of natives. Unlike many cities that attract a younger crowd, Amsterdam's hostels are decidedly upmarket for the prices being charged. If you want to experience a slice of Amsterdam's cafe culture, be sure to nab yourself a room in trendy Leidseplein. Hip, bohemian and crammed full of exotic restaurants, its the place to see and be seen in Europe's most backpacker friendly city!