Indian Food Recipes

In the Indian Kitchen

It has never been easier for non Indian cooks to capture the diverse and fragrant flavors of Indian food. Once exotic and difficult-to-source ingredients are now commonplace in supermarkets.

Banana leaves - Southern Indian food served on these large, glossy, dark green leaves looks as stunning as it tastes. The leaves can also be wrapped around food before cooking. The leaves are sold fresh in Indian and other Asian food shops.

Basmati Rice (basmati chaaval) - Grown in the foothills of the Himalayas, this is the long grain rice. It is valued around the world for its delicate fragrance and silky grains that remain separate during cooking. Outside of India, basmati rice is synonymous with Indian food, but more than 20 varieties of ricer are grown and used within the country. Consequently, basmati is often saved for special occasions and celebrations. This is the rice to use for lavish biryanis and pilafs.

Basmati rice traditionally requires extensive rinsing and soaking before cooking, but some supermarket brands recommend skipping this step. Always check the packaging before cooking.

Basmati Rice & Coconut To prepare basmati rice, rinse 2oz per person under cold water until the water runs clear. Put the rice in a bowl with water to cover and leave to soak for 30 minutes. Drain the rice and put in a heavy-based saucepan with a tight-fitting lid. Add enough water to cover, add a large pinch of salt and bring to the boil, then boil uncovered for 6 minutes. Drain in a sieve of colander that will fit the pan but do not rinse. Put a shallow layer of water in the bottom of the pan and put the sieve of colander on top, without letting the rice touch the water. Cover with the lid and steam over a medium heat for about 4 minutes. Fluff with a fork and serve, stirring in extra salt if necessary.

Coconut (nariyal) - Considered the "fruit of the gods", coconuts are important in Hindu religious ceremonies, as well as to the kitchens of southern India and Goa. The creamy white flesh and thin, cloudy coconut water are used in cooking and as snacks. Coconut cream and the thinner coconut milk are available in cans or can be made by soaking freshly grated coconut flesh in boiling water. If using canned coconut cream, be sure to buy the unsweetened variety.

The quickest way to add a rich coconut flavor to curries is to dissolve a specified amount of creamed coconut in boiling water. Pressed bars of white creamed coconut are sold in stores.

Coriander/Cilantro (hara dhaniya) - Coriander leaves are to Indian cooks what parsley is to Western cooks. They add a bright green colorful garnish to many dishes and a sharp flavor to breads, rice chutneys, salads and many drinks. The roots can also be finely chopped to add to other ingredients.

Curry leaves (kadhi patta) - These thin, pointed green leaves, which look like minature bay leaves, grow on trees native to India and Sri Lanka. They are so called because the whole tree gives off a "curry" aroma. The leaves are often fried and added at the end of cooking for a garnish, giving an aromatic, slightly bitter flavor to primarily southern Indian dishes. Buy fresh in Indian food shops or dried at supermarkets.