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Indian Cooking Explained

May 6, 2008
Indian Cooking is so different from other cuisines in that there is not one style used for all dishes. The taste of each dish depends on the region it originated in.

Indian cooking is considered one of the most diverse cuisines in the world. With the traditional use of varied spices and ingredients, Indian food is not always instantly recognizable as Indian because of the number of influences that have made an impact on the way Indians cook.

India is a country that has several other races and cultures coursing through its veins. Because of this, their cuisine has been molded by immigrants from West and Central Asia, colonizers from European countries, as well as the spread of religions such as Hinduism, Islam and Buddhism. The variations in India's topography has also led to major differences in the cooking done at several of its regions.

One common factor in all kinds of Indian food is the use of pulses. Pulses are leguminous plants that bear one to twelve grains or seeds within a pod. Some common pulses used in Indian cuisine are masoor, chana and mung. Another common part of Indian food is rice or whole wheat flour.

Curries are also a popular ingredient in Indian cooking. In India the word curry actually means gravy instead of spice. Frying spices and vegetables in vegetable oil often makes Curry. Groundnut oil is preferred in North and West India, while coconut oil and Gingelly Oil is often used in South India and Mustard Oil is the vegetable oil of choice for those living in East India.

There are many spices that are often utilized in Indian cooking regardless of what region the dish originates from. Some of these spices are chili pepper, black mustard seed, cumin or jeera, tumeric or haldi, fenugreek or methi, asafetida or hing, ginger or adrak and garlic or lassan. Another popular component are spice mixes, gram masala in particular. Gram Masala is a powder that often combines spices such as cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Goda Masala is also a commonly used spice mix in Maharashtra. Indian food also utilizes leaves such as curry leaves, cassia leaves, coriander leaves, mint leaves and fenugreek leaves. Nutmeg, cardamom, saffron and rose petal essence are often used in the making of Indian desserts or sweets.

North Indian cuisine is distinctive by the high dairy content in its dishes. Their dishes often include milk, yoghurt, an unaged acid-set farmer cheese called paneer and a clarified butter called ghee. North Indian cooking also often centers on the use of a "tawa" or griddle for making flat breads as well as tandoor, which is a large and cylindrical oven that uses coal. Some popular North Indian dishes are samosas, which is a triangular pastry filled with spices and vegetables. Another one is Tandoori Chicken, which uses yoghurt and tandoori masala.

The eastern region of India is known for sweets and desserts like chumchum, rasagolla, chhena poda, chhena gaja, rasabali, sandesh and kheeri. Poppy seeds are also a common ingredient in Eastern Indian food.

South India focuses on rice as the centerpiece of meals. Common ingredients are curry leaves, coconuts and coconut oil. They are also known for a pea and vegetable stew called sambar and a soup made of tamarind or tomato called rasam. The cooking is so varied in the Southern states that each area has its own version of cooking sambar.

West India is known for dishes that use rice, coconut, as well as fish found in the sea. Areas that are located in the hilly locations often use groundnut, wheat, jowar and Bajiri for their food. Those villages near the coast often eat fish, coconuts and rice.
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