As one of the oldest and most populous civilizations, Indian food is ripe with history and complexity. From the spicy foods of south India to the Chinese- and Mongolian-influenced foods of the north, Indian food is a vibrant blend of spices, curries, breads, and meats.

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Indian cuisine is popular for its curries and spices, but very little credit is given to the wide varieties of beverages that the country has to offer. There’s hundreds of Indian drinks and beverages beyond a hot cup of masala chai or a chilled mango lassi. Some of them may be popular in a particular region, while others are a national superstar. (more…)

Posted by on March 22nd, 2012

Indian Festival Foods

Photo by petrr

As kids, my siblings and I would wake up to the sound of my mom chanting mantras and the voice of a maulvi reciting azaan on the loudspeaker in the mosque not far from our house. The local gurudwara was a regular stop on the way to our Catholic school mostly because we would get some karah (a holy offering to God)usually a warm pudding loaded with sweet puffed raisins. Get the picture?

Hindu family festivals like Diwali and Holi were (and are) of great importance. So were Ramadan and Eid because ansaris, our neighbors and family friends, waited for those days all year long. Irrespective if what religion it belonged to, festivals were a good excuse to meet people and celebrate the day. Food played a significant part in all such celebrations. In India, every festival has its own significance and special dishes associated with it. Here are some of the most popular and beloved festivals that Indians celebrate and the foods that are an important part of the festivities. (more…)

Posted by on November 22nd, 2011

Photo by snowpea&bokchoi

When I was a kid, my dad used to tell me how he missed those thick, piping-hot, fresh off the choolah (clay oven) millet roti (flatbread) that my grandma used to make every day. All the kids and my grandpa would sit in a row with their plates and she would carefully roast each roti, smother it with ghee and serve it with hot lentil soup and a side of salad. I have similar memories of hot, soft rotis from my childhood and I’m sure many others who grew up in an Indian family do, too.

Bread is an integral part of Indian cuisine. In most Indian households, bread is a part of most meals every day. Typically made from whole wheat flour, it contains complex carbohydrates, has a good amount of dietary fiber and is a wholesome component of any nutritious meal. Flatbreads are the most common form of bread in India but the flour and method of making various flatbreads differs greatly from region to region. (more…)

Posted by on September 23rd, 2011

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My earliest memories of chai take me back to childhood—specifically, those lazy Sunday afternoons when a cricket match was on and all the uncles from the neighborhood would meet at our house and crowd around the television while the aunties were busy in the kitchen sending out pots and pots of hot chai with glucose biscuits. Chai isn’t just a beverage; it’s also a way of cherishing the simple things in life, and a way to bring families together and celebrate the present.

Tea is one of the oldest and most common beverages consumed worldwide, and it’s popular in many countries and cultures. The term “chai” is derived from the Chinese word for tea, “cha.” There are dozens of similar articulations for tea used in many languages around the globe. Indian chai is sweetened black tea mixed with milk and various spices, which is known as masala chai. (more…)

Posted by on August 29th, 2011

Photo by WordRidden

In Part 1 of 6 Essential Indian Spices, I revealed the three spices that I could never live without. The list included turmeric (which is so much more than just a coloring agent in Indian food), the  most popular Indian chili powders, and cumin seeds (used to create aroma). Here’s the next installment in the series—the final three spices that are a must in any Indian kitchen.

Asafetida (Heeng)

Smelling asafedita for the first time, it might be tough to imagine using this ingredient in cooking—in its raw state, it has a pungent, sulfurous smell. The odor is native the entire plant, including the stems, from which this spice is derived. Not very common in the Western world, it is a staple in Indian cooking (commonly used in tempering lentils or mixed with ground rice), and it gives a lovely flavor to dishes when cooked in oil.  (more…)

Posted by on July 20th, 2011

Photo by TheGhostWhoSnaps

It has been close to five years since I first stepped into the US—the land of opportunities!—a place that people from all over the world call home. Since my move here, I’ve met and become close to many such people and enjoyed the opportunities to learn about their cultures and cuisines. In return, I’ve also discovered new perspectives on Indian cuisine. What strikes me most is a common belief many people have about Indian cuisine—that it’s all about curry—garam masala, specifically. So would you be surprised to learn that garam masala doesn’t even make the list of my top six essential Indian spices?

I don’t deny the fact that garam masala is a very important part of Indian cuisine, but you can do so much without it—a statement I make on behalf of many seasoned Indian cooks. India is blessed to have fertile soil and a climate that is conducive to growing several crops and varied spices. For centuries, Indians tested, tasted and perfected their spices and blended them beautifully in our cuisine. Every spice boasts its own rich history and cultural significance. Indian spices offer much more than just flavor; each one has its own story as well as powerful, natural healing properties. When I think about the six essential Indian spices I couldn’t live without, here are the first three that come to mind. (more…)

Posted by on May 11th, 2011

So you have an adventurous spirit when it comes to food and you especially have an interest in trying out cuisines from other countries; however, there are those times when you walk into a restaurant, sit down and read menu that literally is in a foreign language. Yikes, what do you do?

Well, the first thing that usually helps is to do a little bit of research beforehand so that you don’t go in blind. Today, you’re getting a jump start on Indian Cuisine because below, you’ll be getting a list of some common dishes and ingredients you may find on a Indian restaurant menu. So are you ready to increase your foodie vocabulary?

Achar: any kind of pickle

Aloo: potato

Atta Flour: (also know as a chapatti flour) whole wheat flour widely used for making unleavened flat breads.

Basmati Rice: the finest Indian long-grained rise grown in the foothills of the Himalayas. It is known as the prince of the rice because of its fine flavor and aroma.

Besan: also known as gram flour, this is made from chickpeas. It is used to flavor and thicken curries and for making Pakoras and bhajias, pancakes and teamed patties.

Biriyani: a rice and vegetable, meat or seafood oven- cooked dish.

Biriyani Masala: This is a special sweet spice mix for biriyani dishes. Grind together the cardamom seeds from 8 pods, 25 g (1 oz) cinnamon stick, 6 cloves and 1 tsp fennel seeds.

Bhoondi: tiny balls of fried besan or gram flour.

Chana Dal: with their sweet and nutty flavor, chana dal is the most popular dal in India. They’re made from splitting a small relative of the chickpea in half and are a dull yellow

Chapati: the bread usually made on a circular cast iron griddle known as a tawa, which is slightly concave to give its distinctive shape. It is cooked without fat, over very high heat.

Chawal: rice

Chick Peas: also called gram or, in America, garbanzo beans.

Cocum: grows on trees along the Western coast of India. Has a deep purple flesh surrounding a large seed. It imparts a pale -purplish color to food as well as a sour taste. It is used by Sindhis in their gram flour curry, and by Hindu Goans in their fish curries. It is also made into sherbets (refreshing drink concentrates made from fruits) on the West coast of India.

Colam Rice: short-grain polished rice widely used in Western India. Most common varieties of shor and long-grain polished rice may be used for Dosas and Uttapams.

Corn Meal: flour made from pure maize (corn) which has been ground fine.

Dals (Pulses): dried split peas, usually bought skinned. There about sixty varieties of pulses available in India. These are dreid seeds of plants such as beans and peas and those most popularly sued include chick peas (kabuli channa), split black chick peas (bengal gram or channa), black gram (urid daal), red lentils (arhar) and yellow lentils (moong).

Dosa or dosha: is a flat bread made with flours, rice, wheat or legumes, cooked like a pancake. It may be served plain with side dishes or with a filling.

Garam Masala: a blend of ground spices used in many savory dishes.

Ghee: Clarified butter made by melting butter and separating the fat from the solids.

Gosht: meat

Gram Flour: made from chickpeas and also known as besan.

Halva: a  sweet dish

Idli: is a bread from the South, almost like a cake, round and thick, made with fermented rice from the Kerala and legume flour (urad), shaped and then steamed (the legumes have a leavening effect).

Jaggery: raw sugar, eaten as it is and used to flavor various dishes, even vegetable curries.

Kalonji  (also known as Nigella): small black tear-shaped onions seeds, used to add piquancy to vegetable curries and Indian breads.

Kewra Water: also sold in the stronger form of essence, kewra water is used for flavoring and has a delicate fragrance.

Khoa: full fat milk powder

Korma: braised meats in a thick, mild creamy sauce

Kulcha: tender, pita-like bread cooked in the tandoor

Lassi: a yogurt drink

Masala: spice blend

Masoor Dal: skinned split red lentils (they actually orange in color)

Moong Dal: skinned split mung beans.

Murghi: chicken

Mustard Oil: a yellow oil made from mustard seeds that is pungent when raw and sweet when heated. Much used in Kashmir and Bengal.

Naan: a kind of bread popular in North India. It is made with leavened dough (chopped onion or cilantro can also be added to it), and is often made from buttermilk or yogurt. The dough is stretched by tossing the piece of dough quickly from one palm to the other to form a thin oval flatbread, slightly thicker around the edges than in the center. Traditionally is baked on the walls of a tandoor oven, brushed with a thin coating of oil or ghee and served hot. It can also be stuffed with cheese, vegetable curry or meat. In this case, the filling is placed on part of the dough which is then folded over on itself before being rolled flat with a rolling pin.

Pakora: fritter dipped in a spicy chickpea batter; can be made with vegetables, cheese, chicken or seafood

Panch Phoran: mix of five spices – cumin seeds, onion seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek seeds and anise.

Paneer: cheese

Pappadum: spicy lentil wafers

Paratha: a bread; richer version of chapati, crispy and cooked in ghee on a griddle. They are very thin and are stacked up like crêpes.

Poori: is a bread fried in hot oil, completed submerged so that it puffs up.

Poppodums and Pappads: the pre-made and precooked flat breads (made from legume flour (urad) and rice flour) that need only be immersed in hot oil to puff up instantly; they are turned with a skimmer so that they stiffen up slightly and then are drained and served while still crisp. Some are plain, others are spiced with mixtures of spices. They can also be prepared under the broiler, thus eliminating the chore of frying.

Pulao: an aromatic rice pilaf

Raita: a cooling side dish made with yogurt

Rasam: a thin, spicy broth

Rattam-Jog: this is the dried bark of a reed like plant grown in India, used mainly to color food. When cooked with meat or vegetables a small piece imparts a deep red color to the dish.

Roti: The name is related to the French word “rôtie,” meaning toasted bread. It is made from whole wheat (aata), millet (bajra) or sorghum (jowar)

Rumali: Toasted bread, or handkerchief bread, which is also found in other eastern countries, is made up of numerous layers of dough like a folded handkerchief.

Saag: spinach, but can also refer to other greens

Sambar: an extremely spicy broth popular in southern India

Sambar Powder: a southern Indian spice mix for vegetable curries.

Samosa: flaky, pyramid-shaped pastry stuffed with potatoes or ground meat; a traditional Indian snack

Silver leaf (Varq): editable silver leaf is used as a garnish over sweets. Silver foil is very thin. it is very fragile and often breaks up during use. It has no aroma or taste.

Tamarind: the most popular souring agent in Southern India. The pods are collected, de-seeded and dried. Before cooking the acid flesh is soaked in water, and the juice is squeezed out. It is this tamarind water that is used in the curry. In some Goan recipes, the tamarind flesh is ground with spices. Nowadays tamarind concentrate can be bought in any grocer’s shop.

Tandoor: A deep, clay oven that has very high temperatures

Tandoori: any dish cooked in a tandoor

Tava: a flat cast iron pan used for making bread.

Thali: a large tray, often of wrought metal.

Toor Dal: a glassy dark yellow split pea, similar to chana dal.

Toran: style of cooking where the dish remains dry.

Uppama: a flat bread whose dough is made from semolina instead of flour. It can be quite rich and may include onions, chilies, ginger, mustard seed, nuts, various vegetables etc.

Urid Dal: polished split black lentils, often used as a spice in southern India. It takes quite a long time to cook.

Varak: silver leaf used as a decoration for both sweet and savory dishes.

Vindaloo: a highly spiced and hot curry, traditionally from Goa.

Wheat Flour (Gehun ka Atta): flour made from whole wheat (usually a variety low in gluten), very finely ground for making bread. A fairly close substitute is whole wheat pastry flour. Regular whole wheat flour gives heavier results and is stiffer and more difficult to work with than chapati flour. If regular whole wheat flour must be used, sift is several times through a very fine sieve (to get a fine flour and to remove bran) and substitute refine flour for half the whole wheat flour in a recipe.

Posted by on January 29th, 2010

When it comes to South Indian cuisine, the Dosa is a staple, but what exactly is a Dosa? Simply, it’s a crepe made with a batter from parboiled rice and black gram left to ferment for 8 hours. Typically eaten for breakfast or dinner, it is thought that the dosa had its roots as street food in the Temple streets of Udupi, a city in Karnataka. Udupi is famous for its Krishna temple established in the 13th century and attracts pilgrims from all over India.

A food for any time of the day, it can be breakfast, lunch or dinner; yet, it could also be street food that can be eaten as a snack at various stalls in cities like Mumbai or Chennai. When it comes to making the dosa itself, there is an art to its preparation. The batter is spread evenly in a warm griddle, from the center outwards in swiftly expanding circles, and cooked to crisp golden color.

The dosa are typically served with a side dish, which varies according to regional and personal preferences. Side dishes could include a pungent lentils and vegetable curry called sambhar, grated coconut-chile chutney, Indian pickles, chicken or mutton curry and more. While dosas can be eaten with fork and spoon, this is one food that’s more fun when eaten with your hands.

While the dosa, as described, above is the most well-known, there are also many other dosa versions and just like the sides could be specific to a region in India. Other dosas include the Chili Dosa, where chili is mixed into the batter or the Roast Dosa, where the dosa is spread thinly and fried until crisp. A couple more include the Chow-Chow Dosa, a dosa stuffed with Indian flavored Chinese noodles and the Green Dosa, which is stuffed with fresh vegetables and mint chutney.

With all these various dosas, one particular one has an interesting story behind it. I’m talking about the Masala Dosa, which is made by stuffing a dosa with an onion and potato curry. In the past, one of the sides for the plain dosa was a separate serving of potato curry without onions. During a shortage of potatoes, the potato was mashed and sautéed with the onions along with some spices and stuffed inside a dosa. This new dosa became the Masala Dosa because Masala means “sautéing of spices.”

Now that you know a little more about the dosa, check out some of the restaurants below to try it for yourself.

Annapurna Ayurvedic Cuisine & Chai House
2201 Silver St. SE
Albuquerque, NM 87106
(505) 262-2424

Namaskar Fine Indian Cuisine
236 Elm St
Somerville, MA 02143
(617) 623-9911

Raja’s Indian Cuisine
33 NE 2nd Avenue
Miami, FL 33132
(305) 539-9551

Surati Farsan Mart
11814 186th St
Artesia, CA 90701
(562) 860-2310

Udupi Palace Restaurant
2543 W Devon Ave
Chicago, IL 60659
(773) 338-2152

Posted by on January 28th, 2010

indianspices

When it comes to mastering Indian cooking, the requirement is having a thorough knowledge of the properties of each spice and how it blends with other spices.  It’s accurate to say that the characteristics of curry really depends on the balance of herbs and spices that go into its creations.  Curries differ from one region to another based on each region’s unique spice blend for their curry.

Masala is a familiar word in the Indian kitchen and itliterally means a blend of several spices. Garam (hot) masala is the most important blend masala and an absolute essential to north Indian preparations, added just before serving the dish to enhance its flavour. The rational garam masala is a blend of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves and black pepper. Masala may be in dry, rosted ground or paste form  Look below for an idea of the types of spices used in Indian cooking, but please note that these are just the tip of the iceberg.

Curry Leaf:  Curry leaves originate from the Kari tree of Southwest Asia. They are mainly used as an aromatic and flavoring for most curries and soups. When starting a curry or soup dish, put the curry leaves into the oil to fry until crisp. For extended use, air dry them completely, and store in an airtight container.

Red Chili Powder:  Red Chili Powder or Lal Mirch (Hindi) Indian chili powder is made from ground chilies. It is much hotter than the chili powder commonly found in most stores here in the US which is mostly a blend of red peppers and cumin, coriander etc. The ground product ranges from orange-red, to deep, dark red. Red pepper is a pungent, hot powder with a strong bite.

Cardamom Pods:  These light green oval pods are known as elaichi in Hindi. Green cardamom pods are highly aromatic and very fragrant, with a sweet, nutty taste. Encased in the pod are 12-15 tiny black seeds that hold the flavor. Cardamom is often used in rices, puddings and simmered dishes. It is best to bruise the pod before adding to the dish to release flavor.

Cinnamon: In India cinnamon is commonly used in meat and rice dishes, and in Garam Masala. It is also one of the ingredients of commercially manufactured curry powder. It may also be used in stick or powder form in sweets, cakes and curries.

Clove:  Cloves are the dried flower buds of the clove tree and are strong, pungent, and sweet. Cloves are used in many meat dishes, marinades, pickles and in many “garam masalas”. It is used whole or in powder form.

Black Peppercorns:  Black peppercorns are sun-dried, fermented green berries from a pepper vine native to Southwestern India. This spice is ever so popular throughout the world. It has a pungent fragrance and spicy taste. Black pepper is evident in almost all curries, dals and numerous spice blends.

Ginger:  This fresh, light-brown rhizome, is used extensively in all forms of Indian cooking. Peeled, mashed or cut, ginger has a clean and aromatic taste with a slightly spicy edge.

Tamarind:  Tamarind pulp or juice is added to bring  a touch of sourness in the curry and is extremely popular with South Indian cooking.

Fenugreek: This very powerful Indian spice plays an essential part in the flavor of curry powder. Its bitter and sweet flavor is used in soups, dals, bean and vegetable dishes, and fish and seafood dishes. It is also used in the sugary balls, ladoos. In North India, fenugreek is used in lamb stews. In the South it used in almost everything; breads, chutneys, curries and dals. In North Africa it is also used in bread.

Now that you’ve learned a little more about the types of spices used in Indian food, here’s a list of Indian restaurants so that you can let your tastebuds do some exploring.

Cafe Maharani
2509 S King St
Honolulu, HI 96826
(808) 951-7447

Ghareeb Nawaz Restaurant
2032 W Devon Ave
Chicago, IL 60659
(773) 761-5300

India Oven
2890 S Colorado Boulevard
Denver, CO 80222
(303) 756-5866

India’s Tandoori
5468 Wilshire Blvd
Los Angeles, CA 90035
(323) 936-2050

Madhuban Indian Cuisine
6930 W State St
Suite 200
Boise, ID 83714
(208) 853-8215

Posted by on November 15th, 2009

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