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   The Diversity of Indian Cooking
2010 - Volume 1 Issue 2
¡Comidas Sabroso!
Cuisines of India
Article: Charlotte Tallman
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Indian cuisine has been around for thousands of years, and over that time, the culture and geographical boundaries have changed. Visiting rulers and travelers, like the Mughals, Persians and Europeans, brought influences that added to the original identity of Indian cuisine, while also integrating richer influences.

    If ever there was an area where a cuisine constantly evolved, Indian cuisine is it.

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India has been developing its food and spices for 5000 years, and has been heavily influenced by many outside cultures that came to visit, to live, to conquer or just to trade for spices,” says Vino Sharma, owner of Taste of India in Las Cruces.

The earliest formal civilizations in India were the Mohenjo-daro and Harappan civilizations, which brought sesame, eggplant, humped cattle and spices like turmeric, cardamom, black pepper and mustard to the cuisine. During the initial Vedic period, when India was still heavily forested and agriculture-focused, the cuisine was influenced by game hunting and forest produce and a normal diet consisted of fruit, vegetables, meat, grain, dairy products and honey. Over time, some of the population influenced by Buddhism embraced vegetarianism, but they did not have to look hard for fruits, vegetables and grains that grew well in the climate throughout the year.

Soon, Arab and Chinese traders and Mongol, Turk, British and Portuguese invaders diversified the sub continental tastes and meals and eventually included vegetables such as tomato, chili, and potato. Islamic rule introduced rich gravies, pilafs and non-vegetarian fare such as kebabs, resulting in the Mughlai cuisine, as well as such fruits as apricots, melons, peaches and plums.

Indian cuisine goes much deeper than the taste of food – the cuisine is thought to make significant impacts within the body. A food classification system developed in Ayurveda categorizes any item as saatvic, raajsic or taamsic. Each classification is deemed to have a powerful effect on the body and the mind.

The staples of Indian cuisine include rice, atta (whole wheat flour) and a variety of pulses, an annual leguminous crop yielding from one to twelve seeds of variable size, shape and color within a pod. The most important of the pulses are masoor (most often red lentil), channa (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or yellow gram), urad (black gram) and mung (green gram).

Most Indian curries, or gravies, are cooked in vegetable oil. In northern and western India, peanut oil is most popular for cooking, while in eastern India, mustard oil is more commonly used. Coconut oil is used widely along the western coast and in southern India and gingelly (sesame) oil is common in the south as well. In recent decades, sunflower oil and soybean oil have gained popularity throughout India and hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee, is another popular cooking medium.

The most frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chili pepper, black mustard seed, cumin, turmeric, fenugreek, asafetida, ginger, coriander and garlic. Popular spice mixes are garam masala, a powder that typically includes five or more dried spices, especially cardamom, cinnamon and clove. Each region, and sometimes each individual chef, has a distinctive blend of garam masala. As opposed to north Indian cuisine, there is limited use of garam masala in the south Indian cuisine as well as other dried spices except cardamom, black pepper and turmeric.

Some leaves are commonly used, including tejpat (cinnamon leaf), coriander leaf, fenugreek leaf and mint leaf. The common use of curry leaves and curry roots is typical of all south Indian cuisine. Sweet dishes are seasoned with cardamom, saffron, nutmeg and rose petal essences.

Generally, Indian cuisine can be split into four categories: north Indian, south Indian, east Indian and west Indian. North Indian cuisine refers to cuisines found in northern India which includes the twelve Indian states: Jammu and Kashmir, Himachal Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Haryana, Punjab, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh, Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan and the National Capital Territory of Delhi. South Indian cuisine refers to the cuisines found in the four southern states of India: Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu. Western India has four major groups: Rajastani, Gujarati, Maharashtrian and Goan and East Indian cuisine is famous for its desserts, especially Bengali sweets including Rasagolla, Chumchum, Sandesh, Rasabali, Chhena Poda, Chhena Gaja and Kheeri.

North Indian cuisine is distinguished by the high use of dairy products like milk, Paneer, ghee (clarified butter) and yoghurt, commonly used for gravies. Other common ingredients include chilies, saffron and nuts. North Indian cooking features the use of the tawa, or griddle, for baking flat breads like Roti and Paratha, and cooking in a Tandoor, a large and cylindrical coal-fired oven, for baking breads such as Naan, Kulcha and Khakhra. Goat and lamb meats are favored ingredients of many northern Indian recipes.

South Indian cuisine is distinguished by a greater emphasis on rice as the staple grain, the liberal use of coconut and particularly coconut oil and curry leaves, and the ubiquity of sambar and rasam at meals. South Indian cooking is more vegetarian-friendly than the north Indian cuisine. ///
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