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Unlike many people think, it’s actually quite easy to learn cooking North-Indian food. About the basic differences I have already written Here. Today I will tell about the biggest difference: Indian spices (and what to do if you can’t easily find some of them in your country or, suppose, you have allergies for some of them/ just don’t want to use big amount of spices).
A large number of spices in the recipe seems usual to average Indian, and Indian people won’t call it “large” most of the times as well (probably laughing reading it now). Moreover, many of these spices are being fried/ roasted in the beginning of cooking, and some are added later, like we usually do. Before I used to think that the quantity and the set of the spices in each Indian recipe are strictly followed and can’t be changed. And after moving to India, I found out that everything is much simpler: everyone at their homes, every cafe or restaurant add spices to the same dishes differently. The Indians themselves say that cafes and restaurants add a lot of spices and at homes people try to make much less spicy food. I also have watched many recipes of Indian dishes on YouTube in English and Hindi, and I want to say that if you do not have any spice available around, nothing bad will happen if you skip it! My husband says that foreigners can even cook the same Indian vegetable dishes with only salt and black pepper as well. Indians who have stomach problems/ allergies and who are forbidden by doctors to eat spicy foods, can also cook like this, for example (although not everyone follows it properly). Indian cafes and restaurants in another countries also usually use much smaller amount of spices in their dishes than the Indians in India used to (they can hardly be called spicy in comparison with Indian food in India, to be honest). In general, as you understand, the set and the amount of spices may vary by the desire of the cooking person.
The most commonly used spices in Indian recipes are:
- Turmeric. Turmeric can be called the goddess of Indian spices and dishes. It is because of turmeric, most of the Indian dishes have yellow or orange colors. Finding this spice abroad is usually not complicated. And, trust me, if you just add turmeric cooking an Indian recipe, it will already make the dish pretty much Indian! When you are using turmeric, I advise you to remember that it can color the skin of your hands and nails for a day or two, so it’s better not to mix your Indian dishes, that have turmeric, with the hands but with a spoon!
- Red chili powder. As I have already said – it is completely up to your taste. Indians often add to their dishes 1-3 pods of green chili + 1/2-1 tsp of red chili powder + 1/2-1 tsp of black pepper powder in addition, and so 3 times a day! There is also dried red chili pods available but they say this one is more for the looks. Why Indians are SO fond of spicy foods, even they certainly cannot say. Probably, this habit traditionally arose because of the hot climate, in which infections spread easily – i.e. to dehydrate the stomach. Well, now many people just start feeding their children spicy food since an early age. By the way, children here do not like spicy food often but adults may look at it more as at caprices. And with the age, people just get used to the spicy, their taste buds become less sensitive, and non-spicy food doesn’t seem tasty to them anymore. I myself and my husband can say that you can get used to the spices and also get unused to it in 1-2 months;
- Black pepper. The same, common on the west black pepper, just added in bigger amounts;
- Coriander. Coriander is very popular in India in different forms: fresh coriander, dried coriander powder and dried coriander seeds. Parsley and dill are almost absent here and they are not popular even as a powder. But coriander here is much softer in taste than in Russia, suppose, and its leaves are much smaller, it looks more like parsley in Russia. If you cannot find coriander powder or seeds in your country, suppose, you can easily replace it with parsley powder in your recipes;
- Garam Masala. It is a mixture of the same Indian spices. Therefore, it can be skipped in cooking of many Indian recipes;
- Cumin seeds (zira). These seeds are very common here, they are added to a large number of dishes, usually at the very beginning of cooking (before onions). If they are not common in your country, you can try to find them in specialized Indian stores;
- Cardamom, fennel seeds, cinnamon – these spices are commonly used in India in the making of Indian Tea recipe and desserts. They are usually easily available in another countries. If not, then check Indian stores as well.
A little less commonly used spices are:
- Chat masala. It is a mix of spices that is usually being added after cooking, mainly to salads. It has a sour taste and, in its absence, the Indians simply add lemon juice to the dishes;
- Dried mango powder. This spice also adds sourness. It is not used in already cooked dishes but during cooking and often to replace tomatoes, for example (if you ran out of tomatoes). Therefore, this spice cannot be called mandatory either – you can simply add more tomatoes;
- Cumin powder, fenugreek, mustard seeds, carom seeds and others. These spices are added to Indian dishes much less often than the mentioned above.
You can find Indian Recipes Here
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