Friday, January 08, 2010

Building blocks of Indian Curries - The Additives

One Page Cookbooks
Building blocks of Indian Curries (3 of 3) – The Additives

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1.: Fresh Vegetables Bitter gourd, Snake gourd, Ridge gourd, Bottle gourd, Pointed gourd, Ash gourd, Squash, Egg plant, Cluster beans, Broad beans, Okra, Cucumber, Radish, Carrot, Drumstick, Yam, Tapioca, Colacasia, Spinach, Fenugreek leaves, Beetroot, Turnip etc have been used in Indian cuisine for thousands of years. Potatoes, Cauliflower, Tomatoes, Cabbage, French beans, Sweet potato, Mushroom, Bell peppers, Baby corn etc came to be used in the past 500 years and are still not used in orthodox / temple cuisines.

Indian Curries: This cookbook lists the common additives used in Indian curries. Traditionally most additives are simmered in the curry till they are cooked. However, precooking them before adding to the curry greatly reduces the cooking time.

Cooking Vegetables

Easy cook vegetables like carrot, capsicum, mushroom, spinach, ridge gourd etc can be stir fried for a few minutes.

Hardy tubers like potato, colocasia, sweet potato, tapioca are pressure cooked.

Other vegetables like eggplant, gourds , squash etc can be stir fried etc can be cooked in boiling water or microwaved before being added to the curry.

Vegetables like radish, ash gourd, turnips, cauliflower can be directly cooked in the curry or can be boiled / microwaved and then added.

Cooking Paneer

Raw paneer disintegrates when simmered for long. So it is chopped and stir fried for a minute before being mixed in with the curry.

Cooking dry pulses: Chickpeas, kidney beans, black eyed beans etc are soaked overnight, drained, and pressure cooked for 2-3 whistles with water. Fresh pulses cook fast and can be added straight to the curry.

Sprouting pulses: Most dry pulses are soaked overnight in water, drained and bundled in a cloth, which is sprinkled periodically with water to keep it moist. They start germinating in a day and can be used raw in salads / curries. Kidney beans however are toxic and cannot be eaten raw.

Cooking fish / sea food.: Fish / sea food cook fast and can be added directly to the simmering curry and cooked for 5 – 10 minutes. They can also be briefly stir fried and added to the curry.

Cooking Chicken: Add a cup of chopped chicken to a pressure cooker and pressure cook for two whistles.

Cooking Mutton :Add a cup of chopped mutton and half a cup of water and pressure cook for 3 whistles. Beef / pork can be cooked like mutton.

Marination :Meats / seafood can be marinated in yogurt- ginger garlic – garam masala paste before being cooked. This tenderizes them and adds an extra layer of flavour. Lemon juice / papaya paste and a variety of spice powders can also be mixed in the marinade . Tougher meats can be marinated overnight. Fish / seafood need under an hour of marination. Before pressure cooking meats can be stir fried for a few minutes, which caramalises them and makes them flavourful. Marinated / raw meats can also be added directly to the curry and simmered for 30 – 45 minutes.

Using Cooked stuff: Sun dried lentil paste is usually fried and added to curries. Papads can be torn and added raw to curries or roasted / fried and then added. Koftas can be steamed / fried first. Pakodis are deep fried. Spiced lentil balls are steamed / microwaved before being added.

Special techniques: Vegetables like colocasia, some tubers & eggplant are cooked with a bit of tamarind without which they may irritate the mouth. Banana stem is chopped, steeped in water and swirled with a stick, which collects the inedible fibers. Banana flower is peeled from the bracts, the stick like portion removed, chopped up and boiled/ stir fried. Spinach and a whole range of edible greens are stir fried or boiled before being used. Bitter gourd is smeared with salt, which draws out the bitter juices. It is then washed and cooked. Many beans have their fibrous edges peeled before being chopped.

2.: Paneer When an acid ( lemon juice / vinegar) is added to milk brought to a boil, the milk solids separate. These are filtered and pressed in blocks to make the Paneer. Milk was considered holy and ‘spoiling’ it by adding an acid was not accepted. So India had to wait till Paneer was brought in by the moguls. It is chiefly used in North India, which shows the most Moghul influence. Paneer is usually cut into thick chunks, stir fried and mixed in with the simmering curry.

3.: Fruits Mango ( both raw and ripe), pineapple and apple are the most common fruits used in Indian curries. Muglai cuisine uses a lot of dried fruits like figs and raisins.

4.: Fresh / Dry Pulses / Sprouts Smaller lentils like Tuvar dal / Mung dal are used as a curry base, whereas larger peas, beans and lentils are used as vegetable substitutes in many curries. Chick peas, green peas, Kidney beans, whole urad dal, black eyed peas are used. The dried ones are soaked overnight in water, pressure cooked and simmered with the curry Fresh dals are seasonal and when available they can be added straight to the curry. Many dals are sprouted and can be directly added to curries, without any cooking..

5.: Sun dried Vegetables In arid regions, sun drying is the easiest way to preserve food. The sun dried vegetables can be added straight to the simmering curry or shallow fried in oil and then mixed in.

6.: Eggs Chicken eggs are commonly used in many Indian curries. Eggs can be cracked into the simmering curry or hard boiled eggs can be chopped and used.

7.: Fish / Sea food Sea fish is much loved throughout the 7000 kms long Indian coastline. Fish / sea food cook fast and can be washed and directly added to the simmering curry. Coastal areas prefer sea fish (Kerala, West coast, Tamilnadu). Interior regions relish freshwater fish (Bengal, North East). King fish and pomfret are the most popular sea fishes.

8.:.Meat Mutton is the most popular ( and the most expensive) meat used in India, followed by chicken. Beef and pork are used in some regions ( Coorg, Goa, North east). The Portuguese popularized Pork on the west coast. Syrian Christians and Arab Muslims popularized beef throughout Kerala.

9.: Cooked Stuff Spiced lentil paste (fermented or plain) is sun dried in various shapes across India. They can be fried and added to the curry. Lentil dough or a mixture of lentil and cereal dough is rolled into thin circles and sun dried into papads. They are fried/ roasted, crushed and added to curries. Small dumplings stuffed with paneer / mashed vegetables ( Kofta), Pakodi( deep fried, batter dipped vegetables) are also popular additives. They are chiefly used In areas where fresh vegetables are scarce. Spiced lentil balls ( soaked Tuvar dal/ chana dal are coarsely ground with chilies and salt, shaped into lemon sized balls and steamed) is a popular south Indian additive .

10.: Others Regional specialties include Bamboo shoots ( Coorg, North east), Banana Stem, Colocasia leaves, Ridge gourd skin, Snake gourd seeds, Banana flowers, Neem flower ( Tamilnadu), Pumpkin flowers, Young jack fruit, Jack fruit seeds, Tapioca, Raw banana (Kerala), desert berries like Sangria, Ker, Rajasthan), Lotus stems , puffed lotus seeds ( north India), Fermented soy beans ( North east), Cashew nuts, Pistachio, Almonds, Raisins ( Muglai), Peanuts ( Maharashtra), a huge variety of fresh / dried local lentils, Leafy greens ( pan India) etc.. Cereal dough / cooked or raw gram flour dough / cooked and torn flatbreads are added to the simmering curry and cooked in it like fresh pasta in parts of Rajasthan and Gujarat ( Dhokli, Gatta, Pathod, Pathoondri).

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