Radha at night. Mughal painting ca. 1650., from Wikimedia commons
Are you looking for a healthy, flavorful, whole foods approach to cooking? Wherever you are on the vegan to meat-eating spectrum, Indian food offers a wide variety of tastes, colors, and textures guaranteed to appeal to every palate.
The most popular Indian cuisines — North Indian, South Indian, and Bengali — evolved over thousands of years, and reflect the cultural influences, topography, and climate of the regions.
North Indian cuisine uses lots of dairy, like paneer (cottage cheese), ghee (clarified butter), and yogurt. Also featured are nuts and dried fruits, and a variety of bread, rice, and greens. North Indian curries have thick broths. The predominant spices are coriander, cumin, dry red chillies, turmeric, chilli powder, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, fennel, and asafoetida (hing).
South Indian cuisine is rice and lentil based and hotter than North Indian cuisine. It makes extensive use of fish, coconut, peanuts, tamarind, chillies, curry leaves, dal (lentils), fenugreek seeds, cilantro, garlic, onions, and ginger. South Indian broths (Sambars and Rasams) are thinner than North Indian curries.
East Indian (Bengali) cuisine uses fish, dal (lentils), a variety of vegetables, and rice. The predominant spices are mustard seeds, nigella seeds, fennel, turmeric, poppyseeds, ginger, garlic, coriander (seeds and leaves), coconut, and fenugreek. East Indian cuisine is famous for its sweets.[Krishna teasing the Gopis with butter and curds.]
Digital ID 1632767, New York Public Library
My favorite cookbooks:
Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking by Julie Sahni
My first Indian cookbook I came to rely on! It's remained my favorite for over 20 years. These flavorful vegetarian recipes taught me how to temper, using onions, garlic and/or ginger, and spices — a must for almost all types of savory Indian cooking. Timing is essential!
Classic Indian Cooking by Julie Sahni
I've used this cookbook for almost as long as Classic Indian Vegetarian and Grain Cooking. (Both cookbooks are falling apart!) In addition to vegetarian, this cookbook contains some really great fish/seafood, poultry, and meat recipes.
Lord Krishna's Cuisine: The Art of Indian Vegetarian Cooking by Yamuna Devi
The second Indian cookbook I came to rely on, this is both inspired and comprehensive. I've been using this book for almost 20 years and am still cooking my way through it!
1,000 Indian Recipes by Neelam Batra
I just discovered this cookbook. The vegetarian curry section has allowed me to expand my repertoire. There is so much information in this fantastic book!
Here's a recipe that I've adapted from Neelam Batra's 1,000 Indian Recipes:
Baingan Bharta (Creamy Mashed Eggplant with Baby Peas)
2 roasted, mashed eggplants
4 large or 6 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped
2 cups (one bunch) cilantro, stems included, roughly chopped
4 T. ghee
2 large vidalia onions, diced
5 cloves garlic, minced
3-6 serrano chillies, chopped
2 T. ground coriander
1 t . hot red chilli powder
1 t. paprika
1 t. garam masala
2 t. ground cumin
3 t. salt (or to taste)
2 cups baby peas, defrosted
1/2 cup 2% Greek yogurt
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Score each eggplant with knife along its length at about one inch intervals. Wrap in aluminum foil, and roast for one hour, rotating on the oven rack every 15 minutes, until soft. Remove from oven and peel. Place eggplant in a bowl, and roughly chop until you have a mash with bite-sized pieces. Set aside.
In food processer, blend tomatoes and cilantro until smooth. Set aside.
Heat ghee in large frying pan. Add onions and saute until golden-brown, five to 10 minutes over high heat. Add garlic and chillies. Stir for about one minute. Add spices and salt, and stir for a few seconds to temper.
Lower heat to medium and add tomato-cilantro mixture. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for five to seven minutes, or until the oil separates from mixture (you'll see it around the edges of the pan). Add mashed eggplant, cover, and cook, strirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Then add peas, stir, cover, and cook for five minutes more.
East India tamarind., Tamarindus indica orientalis.
Digital ID 1125940, New York Public LibraryMeanwhile, put yogurt in a small mixing bowl and stir until smooth. Stir a few tablespoons of the eggplant/peas into the yogurt, and then add it all back to the pan (this will prevent the yogurt from curdling). Mix well, remove from heat, and serve over basmati rice, or with a dollop of yogurt on top.
Serves four to five people, generously.
Where to buy spices:
Some great links: