Wednesday, March 12, 2008

1001 Basic North Indian Curries

The eight states of North India - Kashmir, Punjab, Haryana, Himachal Pradesh, Uttar Pradesh, & its daughter Uttaranchal, Madhya Pradesh and its daughter Chhattisgarh, cook up a bewildering array of curries. But look beyond the facade and you can see the basic building blocks are all alike. Almost all North Indian curries share the following characteristics.

1. They are built from milk, yogurt, onion - tomato, spinach or lentils.
2. They are mostly flavoured by fried cumin, ginger-garlic and garam masala.
3. They are generally eaten with flatbreads like Chapati.

The key point to remember is that almost all North Indian curries are built on milk, yogurt, onion-tomato, spinach or lentils. You’ll repeatedly encounter various combinations of these basic building blocks in all North Indian curries.

What makes the curry of one state taste different from another is the differing emphasis on the basic blocks. For example, Kashmiris use yogurt in almost all their curries. Parts of Madhya Pradesh like Gwalior and Indore use milk and cream extensively.

Curries across regions use different fats for cooking. Homemade ghee is preferred in Haryana and Mustard oil in Kashmir. Refined vegetable oils are now used across regions.

Each region has it own speciality vegetables. Lotus stalk and karam sag ( a type of spinach) are used in Kashmir curries, turnips in Himachal Pradesh, tinda and ghia ( a sweet gourd) in Haryana curries.

These regional variations makes the curries of these eight northern states look and taste very different. But at their core, they are built from the same five building blocks.

All eight states use almost similar spices for flavouring. However, different regions use different combinations of these basic spices.

Cumin seeds fried in oil is probably the most common flavouring used in all North Indian curries. Almost all recipes start with “Heat oil, add a pinch of cumin”.

The next most common are spices like coriander seeds, cumin, turmeric. Garam masala (a powdered mix of various spices) is the most commonly used readymade spice mix. Asafetida is not used in North Indian cuisine except in Kashmir and in the hills of Uttaranchal. Tamarind is not used as a souring agent. Instead yogurt / tomato / dry mango powder is preferred. Rock salt / Kala namak is used in some curries, which for the uninitiated can cause a cuisine shock with its sulphurous odour.

Food does not respect man made boundaries. This is why there is no clear-cut geographical division between curries of different states. As you move across the land, you’ll see the curries morph and change, reflecting local availability and local beliefs. And this is why it is a fallacy to talk about ‘pure’ or ‘traditional’ recipes. Recipes keep changing all the time and even the most traditional of recipes is cooked differently across regions. Only the basic building blocks remain relatively unchanged over time.

The chief goal of this cookbook is to give you a bird’s eye view of the general principles used to cook up a vast array of North Indian curries. Once you get the big picture, you’ll rarely go wrong in cooking up dozens of local variations. The following are the major curry familes cooked across North India :

Raw yogurt curries (Raita)

Mix anything edible with yogurt, add a pinch of salt and your instant raita is ready. A variety of salad vegetables like onions, tomatoes, cucumber are normally used for raitas. Boiled vegetables like potatoes are also used. Cooked stuff like roast and crushed papad, boondi ( fried gram flour paste) can also be used.
Roopa's Beetroot Raita
Prema's Capsicum Raita
Ruchii's Potato Raita

Blended curries (Chutney)
Blend anything edible with a spoon of lime juice and a chili and you have your instant chutney. A variety of salad vegetables / herbs are normally blended with chilies and lime juice to make spicy chutneys.
Priya's Cilantro Chutney
Vanaja's Mint Chutney
Prav's Tamarind - Date Chutney ( Tamarind is not commonly used in North Indian cuisine, but for the chutneys)
Anita's Mint and Walnut Chutney

Lentil curries (Dal)
Boil and mash lentils , mix in salt , chili powder and flavourings and your basic dal is ready. The humble dal made chiefly from tuvar dal, masoor dal, mung dal and urad dal is a cornerstone of North Indian cuisine. A variety of dried pulses ( mainly chickpeas and Red kidney beans) are also used to cook up numerous curries. Unlike lentils, these larger pulses need to be soaked overnight, drained and cooked for 4 whistles in a pressure cooker before they can be used.

Cauliflower Dal
Mandia's Toor Dal Fry
Meena's Chana Dal Tadka

Spinach curries (Saag)

Boil and mash up spinach, mix in salt and chili powder and you have your basic saag ( spinach puree). A variety of locally available greens are used for creating an array of spinach curries.
Anita's Sarson ka Saag
Mike's Saag
Dhivya's Sarson ka saag
Happy Herbivore's Saag and Red lentils
Freida's Saag Paneer

Dry Vegetable curries (Sukhi subji)

Chop up and boil a vegetable, add salt and chili powder, add a bit of flavouring and your basic dry curry is ready. A large variety of vegetables are cooked up into these dry curries.
Richa's Cauliflower dry curry
Vysh's Green gram dry curry

Yogurt - gram flour Curry ( Kadi)
Mix yogurt and gram flour together, add turmeric powder and some salt, cook for a few minutes and your basic kadi is ready. A variety of vegetables and other goodies are gently simmered in the kadi.
Punjabi Kadi

Dairy based mild, rich curries (Korma)
Mix nut paste with Milk / cream / yogurt , add spices and vegetables, cook for a few minutes and basic kurma is ready. (South Indian kurumas use coconut paste as a base, whereas the North Indian kormas use nut paste).
Navratan Korma ( Not exactly Navratan, but a Korma nevertheless)
Sheela's Vegetable Korma

Model Recipes
If you have a North indian curry recipe and would like to share it, mail me the link ( siramki at gmail) or use the comment form. Thanks !

4 comments:

Roopa said...

Thank you Ramki! i was going through your previous posts and it is very useful, I liked several posts , like the one to cook when you are travelling and also the steps and tips to make meals for a crowd. I will be posting your link as a reference in my blog :) will be coming back here for more tips :)

Vysh said...

Hi Ramki,
This is a great attempt for the first time cooks!

Pravs said...

This is really a wonderful work from your side. Thanks for linking me. Love to be a part of this. I will learn a lot from your blog too.

DK said...

Oh this is simply wonderful! I have always tried searching for something like this when I first started cooking! Am sure this is going to be v v useful for so many!

And am grateful to you for mentioning one of my recipes. Thank you :)

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"It is extraordinary to me that the idea of creating thousands of recipes by mixing building blocks takes immediately to people or it doesn’t take at all. .... If it doesn’t grab a person right away, ... you can talk to him for years and show him demos, and it doesn’t make any difference. They just don’t seem able to grasp the concept, simple as it is". ( Thanks Warren Buffett !)

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Okay, let me start from the very beginning. 1500 crore years ago, with a Big Bang, the Universe is born. It expands dramatically. Hydrogen forms, contracts under gravity and lights up, forming stars. Some stars explode, dusting space with the building blocks of life. These condense into planets, one of which is Earth. Over time, self replicating molecules appear, multiply and become more complex. They create elaborate survival machines (cells, plants, animals). A variety of lifeforms evolve. Soon, humans arise, discover fire, invent language, agriculture and religion. Civilisations rise and fall. Alexander marches into India. Moguls establish an empire. Britain follows. Independence. Partition. Bloodshed. The license raj is in full sway. I'm born. India struggles to find its place. Liberalisation. The Internet arrives! I move from Tirupur to Chennai. Start a company. Expand into Malaysia, Singapore and the Middle East. Poof! Dot com bust. Funding dries up. Struggle. Retire. Discover the joy of cooking, giving, friendships and the pleasures of a simple life. Life seems less complicated. Pizza Republic, Pita Bite and Bhojan Express bloom !

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