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Indian Festivals: Holi - The Festival of Colour

By Conchita de Souza

Indian Festivals: Holi - The Festival of Colour

My first Holi experience was in the town of Vrindavan, the place in which Lord Krishna grew up and where over 5,000 temples stand in honour of this blue-skinned, much adored deity. I had driven with two flatmates/colleagues to this town very early in the morning from Delhi, and checked into a hotel where another friend was waiting, oiled my hair and body in anticipation of the staining effect of the colours, and changed into a set of old clothes for immediate disposal. As we walked the narrow lanes, slowly filling up with people as they woke up to the excitement, everything seemed eerily calm and quiet. I remember thinking to myself ‘well this ain’t as bad as I thought, at least people are being civil’. There were many a cart on the street selling loose colourful powders, embarrassing my organic and chemical-free organic powders from the supermarket. My friends and I playfully threw colour on each other, lest we appeared too clean for others to want to throw colour on us.


It must have been only 8.00am when things began to quickly and unexpectedly intensify. I remember seeing a large crowd of coloured devotees coming out of a temple and shouting praises, and as they passed, they threw colour all over us. The onslaught began, and much like Jesus struggling through the narrow lanes of Jerusalem with the crowd all around him, we walked towards our colourful calvary. I put a scarf over my head to protect my eyes, but its effect was to attract more attention and, more colour. As we walked down the streets, children had filled buckets of coloured water and waited for us to pass so they could drench us from the terraces. Pichikaris (waterguns) were squirted from all directions, their owners seemingly innocent and playful. Men would not just throw colour on me, but smear my entire face with it as though attempting an express facial. There was colour in my eyes, my nostrils, my mouth and my ears. We entered the famous Banke Bihari temple, and through the clouds of colourful dust, paid our respects to the famous statue of Radha Krishna (Radha is Krishna’s consort, and he is rarely mentioned without her name being attached to his). As the morning wore on, and I became weary from all the drenching, I began ducking or covering my face so as to protect it from the cheerful and rowdy crowds. I soon realised that this actually encouraged them to target me even more, and they would smear me apologetically and uncontrollably, exclaiming ‘Bura na mano, Holi hai’ (don’t mind, it’s Holi). There were multiple and spontaneous outbursts of crowds dancing and cheering to the sound of colorful drummers and I was pulled in by the sheer joy of it all. Finally exhausted at 9.30am, I begged my friends to retire, as I, being a female, was far more drenched and coloured than what they were. We returned to the hotel and I jumped into the shower, washing my hair with shampoo at least three times before the water ran clear. Once we were cleaned up, we went out for a traditional and festive breakfast.

Holi Colours

 

The meaning and significance behind Holi

Holi is probably the most fun of Indian festivals, that is if you don’t mind being bejewelled with a multitude of colours and squirted with water guns by friends and strangers alike. It is celebrated with more fervour in the North than compared with the South. Frivolities aside, its significance is more cultural than it is religious. The festival signifies the following:

  1. The triumph of good over evil: The legend behind Holi is centered around the character Prahalad - the son of demon king Hiranyakashyap. This King considered himself to be ruler of the Universe and above all Gods because he was given a special boon, one which prevented him from dying an earthly death, except for in very unlikely circumstances. His son was a devotee of Lord Vishnu and when his Father asked him, “Who is the greatest, God or I?”, he responded with piety “God is, you are only a King”. This response infuriated the King who decided he would have to kill his own son and subjected him to many forms of torture, all of which Prahalad survived. Hiranyakashyap had a demon sister called Holika, and he asked her to sit in a pyre of fire wearing a special cloak, that would not allow her to burn. He then told his son Prahalad to sit with his aunt in the fire. The cloak worn by Holika fell on to Prahalad, and he survived the fire whilst his aunt burned. This is why, on the eve of Holi, a huge bonfire is lit and Holika’s effigy is burned.

  2. The greatest of equalisers: Regardless of your age, gender, caste, class, culture or creed, you can play Holi with anyone and everyone. The traditional boundaries that divide communities and people are suspended during Holi to ensure no one misses out on the fun (unless of course you stay indoors).

  3. The beginning of Spring: Holi is celebrated just as winters quickly fade into the warmer spring season. The colours of Holi represent the brightness, warmth and joy brought on by the advent of Spring. It is always celebrated the day after the full moon.

Specialities


As with all festivals, comes an array of specialities and delights enjoyed during this time. They vary depending on which part of India you are celebrating an below are a few of the Holi classics.

  1. Bhaang - The local name for marijuana and the natural drug associated with Lord Shiva, bhaang is enjoyed on this festive day in various forms. It is added to milky drinks such as Lassi, as well as to deep-fried snacks (such as pakoras, which you can make yourself using our Pakora spice blend).

  2. Thandai - A chilled, sweetened and spiced milk drink which is sipped on by kids as they refuel between Holi games. The additions of dried fruits and nuts make Thandai a great energiser. Bhaang can also be added to this drink to get into the Holi spirit.

Thandai - A chilled, sweet and spiced milky concoction

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  1. Gujiya - A deep fried pastry which encases a soft and sweet mixture of dried milk and dried fruits. There are many variations of Gujiyas across India, depending on which region you are in.

Sweet gujiyas are a delicious Holi snack

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Happy Holi everyone!

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Saffron and Cardamom - The Royal Spices of Indian Desserts and Sweets

By Conchita de Souza

Saffron and Cardamom - The Royal Spices of Indian Desserts and Sweets

The concept of adding spices to sweet dishes, is traditional as it is delicious. You can take an ordinary banana bread to new heights by just adding a dash of cinnamon and/or nutmeg powders. A sprinkle of dried ginger or the addition of cloves into puddings or cakes add an extra element of undeniably tasty goodness. Have you ever tried chilli hot chocolate - a remedial concoction invented by the Mayans of ancient Mexico? In India, two spices dominate the sugary realm of sweets and desserts and add an extra dimension of flavour, with the subtle release of their aromas. 

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Pulses: Protein-Packed Plant Food

By Claudette D'Cruz

Pulses: Protein-Packed Plant Food

With today’s mantra of eat more plant food we see posh fruit and juice parlours sprouting around. Instagram is lush with tantalising pictures of luscious fruit and vibrant vegetables arranged in all manner of aesthetics by raw food enthusiasts.  But fruit and vegetables are not the only plant food we can enjoy.  Let’s take a look at what replaces a steak on an Indian plate - pulses.

With 47% of Indians following a vegetarian (lacto-ovo) diet there are a whole variety of pulses included in every meal.  They are cheap but provide high nutrition and the protein component in meals for millions.  Pulses are eaten at each meal both in sweet and savoury recipes.  In many Indian households lunch or dinner would consist of a dhal, a bean dish, 2 seasonal vegetables, rice and or chappati accompanied by pickle, papadums and a sweet dish.

Dhal for most Indians is synonymous with soul food.  A hot steaming bowl of dhal and some rice/roti to accompany it and you have a satisfying meal in minutes.  There are several varieties of Dhals and we will endeavour to explain some of them.

  • URAD (black coloured lentils) are black in colour and about the same shape and size as moong beans. They are highly nutritious and recommended for diabetics as are other pulses. Only needs washing before cooking.
  • CHANA (yellow split-pea lentils) have a deep yellow colour and look like the halves of a chick-pea, only smaller in size. They take a long time to cook and hence are perfect for use in a slow cooker. Need to be soaked to reduce cooking time.
  • MASOOR (orange coloured lentils) are most commonly used in many homes. They take the shortest time to cook and are excellent for quick meals. Wash thoroughly till the water runs clear.
  • MOONG (green coloured lentils) are easy to digest hence they are prepared for children. They are also used in sweet dishes like in the south (Godsheh in Goa and Vorn in Mangalore) and in the north (Moong Dal Halwa) – which is reminiscent of the Chinese Moon Cake.

The six major pulse groups grown in Australia are: Broad Beans, Chickpea, Field Peas, Lentils, Lupin and Mungbean.  Pulses are universally recommended as part of a healthy eating plan and feature prominently in some of the world’s healthiest diets such as the Mediterranean diet.  So feel positively pulsed and enjoy these easy recipes, which we have hyperlinked below:

  • DHAL MAKHANI - The richest of all the dhal dishes thanks to the addition of cream and butter. 
  • JEERA TADKA DHAL -  Basic everyday dhal that gets most of its flavour from the 'tadka', which is the tempering of condiments like cumin seeds, dried red chilli and curry leaves, in hot oil, which is then added to the lentil curry. 
  • CHANA DHAL - This lentil is much thicker than its counterparts and usually requires to be soaked in water before cooking. 
  • PALAK (Spinach) DHAL  - The addition of spinach in this dhal dish is so divine, you will want to consume it as a soup, rather than just a curry. 


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All That Glitters is Gold - India's Use of Turmeric, the Golden Spice

By Conchita de Souza

All That Glitters is Gold - India's Use of Turmeric, the Golden Spice
Along with yoga, ayurveda, chai and namastes, turmeric (known as haldi in Hindi) is another heritage  of Indian culture and tradition which has been recently embraced by the western world. In India, the status of turmeric is far greater than just that of a spice (though if anyone classified me as a spice, I’d be chuffed as anything). This humble root is from the ginger family and its properties have been recognised, revered and used for over four thousand years. It is known as the ‘spice of life’ because of its golden hue, which is associated with the life-giving star - our sun.

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5 Natural Beauty & Hair Hacks Using Spices & Indian Ingredients

By Conchita de Souza

5 Natural Beauty & Hair Hacks Using Spices & Indian Ingredients

There is no hiding just how much we love spices here at No Worries Curries. But what you may not know is that some of the key spices which we add to our authentic, preservative-free and vegan spice blends, we also use on our hair and bodies to make us feel and look fabulous. It seems to follow that the good stuff we put into our bodies will also be good on our bodies and that is definitely the case with certain spices and other key ingredients found in almost every Indian pantry.  

Some of these hacks have been passed down through the generations and are worth giving a shot because they are low-cost, natural and involve travelling no further than your kitchen pantry. I am not skin or hair specialist, so I do advise that you run these by your dermatologist, especially if you are prone to skin/scalp irritations.


Skin, Face and Complexion


Besan Haldi and Dahi Face Mask (Chickpea flour Turmeric and Yoghurt)


I must share with you my annoyance towards beauty ads or beauty bloggers who apply face masks and make it look like icing a cake; so damn perfect that their lips and eyes are symmetrically left untouched by the mask and the application is so smooth it may as well be painted on by Monet. Whenever I apply face masks, I manage to get that ish inside my nostrils, all through my baby hairs and even on my toenails (you read it right). I took photos of this one just to prove to you that face masks, especially homemade ones, are messy, un-sexy (is that even a word?) and far from glamorous but the results outweigh all that.


‘Besan’ is a common cooking ingredient in Indian cuisine and is chickpea flour. Any girl hailing from the Indian subcontinent would have at least once in their lifetime applied besan on their skin to remove tans and give the skin a natural glow. It has alkalising properties which makes it a great cleanser that maintains the pH of the skin. It is great for those who have oily skin because it absorbs the oil without leaving the skin dry. I naturally have dry skin, but using besan has never dried it out anymore so it is safe for those with dry skin too. Couple besan with the ever-powerful turmeric and you’re set for a healthy party all over your pores. Turmeric is known for its antiseptic and anti-ageing properties, and has been used in Indian cuisine for millenias before the western world ‘discovered’ turmeric latte. And yoghurt is full of probiotics so add that in the mix too and it will help you fight acne (and is also very cooling).

I made this mask myself and I kid you not, my skin felt softer, looked brighter but smelt a little funny because the yoghurt I used was a little sour (or maybe just off completely). Maybe next time I might try mixing it with just water.

How to use: Mix 1 tbs besan, ½ tbs of turmeric and 2 tbs of yoghurt (or water) until it forms a thick paste. Apply and leave for 15-20 minutes before washing off.


Clove & Honey Face Mask

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This fragrant spice is used in the festive Indian dish Biryani and produces a beautiful aroma. When used on skin, cloves are said to remove blemishes and fight bacteria, thanks to its antiseptic properties.  

How to use: Crush 3-4 cloves into a powder and mix it along with a tablespoon of honey and a few drops of freshly-squeezed lemon juice. Mix the ingredients and apply it to your face for 5 minutes. Rinse with lukewarm water.


Cinnamon Lip Balm

Cinnamon is said to improve blood circulation

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Something I only recently found out is that cinnamon is a wonder spice. It improves blood circulation which increases cell turnover and repair, and is antibacterial in nature so can be used to soothe acne/pimples. The heat in cinnamon pushes the blood to your skin and gives you a radiant look. Apply it to your lips and you’ll notice that they become fuller.

I read that applying cinnamon to your lips makes it fuller so I gave it a shot. I think I mixed more cinnamon powder than I did vaseline (my go-to lip balm) which resulted in me looking like I had very messily eaten too many oreo biscuits and all the crumbs had gotten stuck on my lips. I left it on for longer than the time suggested and noticed a slight tingling/burning sensation where I applied it. After washing it off, I did not notice any visible difference to my lips in terms of size or colour, but they felt fuller to me (placebo effect maybe?).

How to use: Add a little to your homemade lip balm, wash off with warm water after 2 minutes and be sure to kiss someone straight after so they get to feel your soft and rosy lips.* You can also make a paste by mixing 2 tsps honey and 1tps cinnamon and then apply it to your face. Rinse with lukewarm water after 10 minutes.


Healthy Hair


Coconut Oil

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For many centuries, Indians have used coconut oil in cooking as well as for their hair and skin. This is particularly so in the southern regions of India, where women are renowned for their long, strong and healthy hair which is both slow to grey and hard to break. As kids, my mother would massage coconut oil in mine and and my brother’s hair once a week. It is a practice I still adhere to today.

Coconut oil is rich in medium chain fatty acids (MCFAs) - a kind of fatty acid that contains both antibacterial and antimicrobial properties which help to nourish the body and protect it from bacteria.The acids include Lauric acid and Capric acid, both of which aid in dandruff prevention. The Lauric acid also assists with protein development in hair because it is able to penetrate the hair shaft and is therefore a good option to those suffering from hair loss. If you are aiming for hair growth, coconut oil can be paired with rosemary essential oil as an effective elixir for growing you hair, as advised by Dr. Axe.

How to use: Massage into the roots of your hair by heating the oil just a little. The residue oil on your hands can be used to massage your scalp. For best results, let the oil stay in your hair overnight before washing it out in the morning.


Methi Seed Mask (Fenugreek)

PC: www.amazon.co.uk

Fenugreek is an ingredient native to Indian soil and are seeds of the methi plant. The leaves form the base of many popular dishes in India, including Methi Murg (Fenugreek Chicken). Like coconut oil, applying fenugreek to your hair (as well as on your skin) has numerous benefits which I’ve summarised in dot points below because well, there are just so many!

  • Repairs damaged hair - If you are like me and suffer from split ends and frizzy hair, fenugreek is a great option to reverse damage (especially if you’re afraid of evil hairdressers cutting off your long locks). It contains Lecithin which nourishes and strengthens hair follicles and acts as a natural conditioner. To use fenugreek as a conditioner, soak the seeds overnight in water and grind it into a paste. Mix this paste along with aloe vera or coconut milk for extra sheen to your hair. Apply this to your hair and rinse with a light shampoo.
  • Helps prevent hair loss - Fenugreek is high in protein and Amino acids which are key in preventing hair thinning as well as hair loss. Follow the same process above and instead of adding aloe vera, add plain yoghurt. This mixture also aids in treating dandruff or itchy scalp.
  • Promotes faster hair growth - I am forever trying different natural ways to grow my hair faster (can I get a resounding ‘Amen’ if you too are in that boat). Fenugreek contains Nicotinic acid which is nature’s agent in promoting hair growth.
  • Delays greying of hair - Fenugreek is high in potassium which helps to prevent premature greying of hair. Make a mask using fenugreek paste and add the juice of gooseberries (rich in Vitamin A and B as well as minerals like calcium, iron and phosphorus) to prevent your hair from greying earlier than it should.

In addition to these ‘hairy’ benefits, fenugreek paste can be applied to the face to treat acne. Fenugreek is known for stimulating breast milk production, controlling diabetes and even reducing the symptoms associated with menstruation and menopause. Talk about a superfood!

How to use: Fenugreek can be used as a powder, paste or oil. It entirely depends on what you prefer and what is convenient to you. Check out this link for more useful ways to improve your hair’s health with fenugreek.

 

Beauty products are often filled with chemicals and unknown substances which we cannot even pronounce. If  you can eliminate or at least reduce the ‘unnatural’ products you use on your body in favour of natural products, then it is definitely worth the effort. If you have tried any of these methods before or have your own natural beauty tips, just comment below!


* I unfortunately did not have anyone nearby to kiss and verify the fullness of my lips but will make sure someone is handy next time round.

**Featured image: http://www.discountmantra.in/

By Conchita A. de Souza 

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Why Butter Chicken Will Always Remain a Favourite of Curry-Lovers

By Conchita de Souza

Why Butter Chicken Will Always Remain a Favourite of Curry-Lovers

My hypothesis is that any dish which contains the ingredient ‘butter’ in its name will certainly not disappoint: Butterbeer (hello wizarding fans); Peanut Butter (or any of its nutty counterparts); Butterscotch (especially if we are talking about chunks of it in my ice-cream) and Butter Chicken (best enjoyed when served with warm naan).


I have long been a believer in the fact that the amount of butter used in a recipe can only ever be greater than or equal to the amount of love the cook has for those whom she is preparing the dish. It is no surprise then, that Butter Chicken has won hearts and tastebuds throughout the world because of the generous lashings of butter perfectly dissolved into a thick tomatoey gravy that has absorbed the sultry spices of the tandoor-roasted chicken. The dish takes you on a rollercoaster of sensations with every bite; it is mildly spicy, with a hit of sweetness from the tomato base; the mix of butter and yoghurt makes it creamy and; the juices of the spiced chicken give it a tangy touch.


The humble origins of this dish can be traced back to a talented young chef named Kundan Lal Gujral (who had already been credited for inventing Tandoori Chicken and would later go on to create the renowned Dhal Makhani). He had fled to Delhi from Pakistan following the partition and started a restaurant called Moti Mahal. Chef Kundan saw that the tandoori chicken skewers which did not get sold during the day, would go to waste, and so he thought of cooking that same chicken in a sauce to soften it. That sauce was the sauce that propelled this culinary genius into legendary fame and has kept his soul alive through the makers and eaters of Butter Chicken.


My first exposure to this dish came from my Dad, a trained chef and lover of Indian cuisine. His Butter Chicken is renowned amongst our circle of family and friends and it is a dish he always prepares whenever we entertain at home. Although we do not have access to the traditional Indian tandoor (a cylindrical clay oven), he uses our very modern oven to bake the chicken which has been marinated in yoghurt and a blend of spices overnight. My friends like his preparation because he masters the balance between spices and buttery-ness. Sometimes you can order a Butter Chicken that is so opulent that it fills you up and leaves you with an unsettling heaviness in your tummy; Other times the dish can be watered down and resultantly lacks ‘oomph’. Fine tuning your Butter Chicken can be as tricky as doing salsa blindfolded and on a beam - there are so many different elements that require balancing.


Fortunately for you, we have taken the guesswork out of making Butter Chicken (and other favourites). Our authentic, naturally-blended, gluten-free and preservative-free Butter Chicken spice blend will have your family and guests loosening the belts on their pants to make space for another helping (or two) whilst raising their eyebrows quizzically at your unassumed ability to produce an authentic-tasting Indian curry. And because the love for you all is real, we have added a foolproof recipe to prepare this dish with relative ease and certainly hardly any fuss. For vegetarians and vegans - add paneer (Indian cottage cheese) or tofu respectively to make a delightful meat-free version of this dish. Click here for your life-changing Butter Chicken spice blend.


If you are a nutter for butter and want to test out my hypothesis above, then you should most definitely taste our Dhal Makhani (Buttery Dhal) spice blend. ‘Makhan’ means ‘butter’ in Hindi and its addition to this lentil-based dish transforms it from an ‘everyday’ kind-of meal into one fit for royalty. Because everything tastes better with butter.

By Conchita A. de Souza

 

PC: http://goodtoknow.media.ipcdigital.co.uk/

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The Power of a Freshly Prepared Home-Cooked Meal

By Conchita de Souza

The Power of a Freshly Prepared Home-Cooked Meal

There is nothing like coming home after a long period of travelling and eating out at restaurants, in trains and on the street, and finally tucking into a meal prepared in your very own kitchen.  Even if that meal is as simple as you toasting bread, spreading vegemite and butter on top of it and sitting half naked on the kitchen counter munching on the said creation.


In India, the notion of a home-cooked meal concocts sensations of familiarity, comfort, belonging and security. Whilst there is a huge culture of eating out at the literally millions of places, be they grand as the Taj Hotel or as humble as the pani puri vendor at the end of the street (click here and here to learn more about the deliciousness that is pani puri), there is also an unsaid recognition and appreciation for the meal that is prepared at home, with love and tenderness, usually (but not always, as things are changing) by the mother. This meal is sacred and wasting it, a big sin.


A common sight in India is bringing home-made ‘tiffins’ to work. ‘Tiffin’ means lunch and, until I lived and worked in India, I can honestly say I never really had a proper ‘lunch’.  In Australia, it is common for us to bring sandwiches or something cold for lunch packed from home.  Every now and then leftovers that can be heated up, is more of a treat than the ordinary salad sandwich.  In India, home-packed tiffins are taken to new heights with spicily-prepared vegetables and hot, soft roti made at home in the morning and packed just in time for hubby, kids and self to take to school and work.  Can you imagine waking up early enough to not only prepare breakfast for the family, but also hot lunch, and then get them and yourself ready to be out of the house? Well it happens, and all for the love of a home-cooked meal.


I remember when I first started working in India and it was my first office lunch, I went to the canteen to order food whilst my colleagues accompanied me with stylish and compact bags.  Whilst I waited for my food to be prepared, they opened their bags to reveal an assortment of tiffin boxes, some stainless steel and multi-stacked (like in the image below) and others colourful, like the tupperware they sell at tupperware parties in Australia.  Each box was carefully packed; rice separated from curry; cooked vegetable separated from roti; a special container to make sure the home-made yoghurt wouldn’t leak and; even a small box with a homemade sweet.  All of these tiffins would be spread out amongst colleagues and graciously shared, each colleague boasting about their mum’s amazing pilaf or their wife’s to-die-for jeera aloo (potato and cumin seeds).  On a day your mum prepared a dish that was not one of your favourites; no problems, it was easily exchanged with a colleague who liked what you got in your tiffin and vice versa.  I felt out of place with my canteen food but within no time, the tiffins were pushed to my side of the table and I was asked to taste everything.  After a few weeks of settling in, I too began cooking fresh food in the morning and taking it to work in my tiffin (not as stylish as theirs but nevertheless serving its purpose) and feeling the joy of opening up my tiffin and sharing my cooking efforts with those around me.  There is something about homemade food that makes it taste different, and I put that down to one ingredient - love.  You wouldn’t prepare meals for your loved ones with outdated ingredients, wilting leafy vegetables or unfamiliar additives.  You take pleasure in seeing them enjoy that which you have made and therein lies the love.  Not to my surprise, when I have prepared food in anger, or eaten food prepared in anger, this has reflected in the taste which says a lot about the importance of food preparation!


A tradition that remains strong in India is the notion of cooking fresh and eating fresh.  I have friends who refuse to eat food for dinner that was prepared in the morning.  ‘But it’s stale’ they argue as I guiltily think of eating curries back home that my dad prepared a week in advance (in my defence, certain curries become tastier days after they are prepared).  Before the advent of fridges, freezers and microwaves, food was consumed soon after it was prepared and so this practice continues on in many modern and traditional homes across India. If families do not have the time, they hire a cook to prepare food in their home. Such is the importance placed on the home-cooked meal.


Whilst I can appreciate that eating fresh at every meal is not practical for most, I definitely believe we can prepare homemade meals more often and with greater variety, leaving restaurants and take-out for celebrations, special occasions and those days where cooking anything at all requires levels of energy we cannot muster. That’s where we at No Worries Curries come in.  Indian and Asian cooking can be daunting to someone who loves the flavours but is not familiar with the methods and the delicate balance of multiple spices.  We take the ‘worry’ out of making curry and provide you with authentically blended spices to create your very own Indian feast from the comfort of your kitchen (with recipes on the back of each blend because the love is real for you dear friends).  The most empowering factor is that you are in control.  If you like it hot, then add more chilli.  If you want a vegetarian version, replace proteins with ingredients like tofu or kidney beans.  Our range of spices allows you flexibility in flavour, ingredients and quantity.


Why trust us? We have grown up entirely on spices and we know just how nourishing they are when regularly consumed. We also believe in the power of homemade meals and want you to be able to do the same, even if you are preparing a dish from a place that seems foreign but whose flavours and textures have won your heart (read - tastebuds).  Here’s to homemade food - that it may always replenish us with the love we all deserve and that we may savour it more often than our busy lives permit!


Inserted image: http://www.saurabhsteel.com/tiffin-carrier/clip-belly/53

 

By Conchita A. de Souza 

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No Life Without Rice - India's Love for The Pearly White Grain

By Conchita de Souza

No Life Without Rice - India's Love for The Pearly White Grain

Who would have thought that something as tiny and apparently insignificant as a grain of rice would be the foundation that sustains the world’s largest populations for millennia?  The variety of grains and the multitude of ways in which they are used are as diverse as the inhabitants who occupy India.  The origins of the cereal grain are traced back to ancient China, where it has been cultivated for 5,000 years.  The grain is said to have worked its way through to India from China via the Himalayas.  Rice was first mentioned in the ancient Sanskrit text Yajur Veda (1500 - 800 BC) and its earliest cultivated remains date from around 2000 BC - making it pretty darn ancient!

In India, rice is the first and last food as it is easy on the digestion.  For babies it is their first solid and for the infirm and old their last sustenance.  Nowadays, in most regions of India, rice is a staple dish and is consumed in a myriad of ways.  

 Below, we explore some of the different uses of rice in the daily lives of Indians.

  1. Flavoured rices - One of the most revered rice dishes out there is the festive dish called Biryani (we’ve dedicated an entire post to this which you can read about here).  It is made up with layers of fragrant, coloured rice (saffron gives it a beautiful mustard tinge) and mixed with a thick and spicy gravy of any meat dish (mutton is my favourite) or even vegetables.  The rice and the gravy are cooked separately and layered together at the end (much like an Italian lasagne).  The dish is usually garnished with raisins fried in ghee and then onions caramelised in the remaining ghee.  Pilaf is a less fancy, but equally tasty version of Biryani and can be prepared in a single pot.  It is usually vegetarian and also involves fragrant rice which is cooked together with the vegetables and masalas (click here for our fool-proof recipe). Across India, you will find rice dishes prepared with lemon, tamarind, yoghurt and lentils. Lentil rice is known as Kitchari - it is very wholesome and can be prepared with little or no spices (you can find our recipe here).  Rice and spice provide the variety in life for Indians!

  2. Puffed rice - Do the names Rice Bubbles and Coco Pops ring a bell?  Puffed rice is exactly that (minus the sugar and cocoa, respectively) and is the base for many popular street snacks across the Indian subcontinent.  The process of puffing rice is quite cumbersome (if you are interested in knowing how, here’s a link that describes the process) but you do not have to do it yourself as you can purchase the puffed rice ready-made.  Bhel Puri is a dish that is made up of a mixture of tasty and tangy ingredients with puffed rice at its base. It is a popular dish that is served on the streets and by local vendors during train journeys with Indian Railways.  The textures in bhel puri are titillating to the palate;  the crunch from the puffed rice and raw onions;  the acidity from the tomatoes and tamarind sauce;  the spicy bite of the fresh green chillies;  the complex aromas from the chaat masala;  the tanginess from the lemon; the sweetness of the tamarind sauce and the pop of freshness from coriander leaves.   How can so much flavour be combined in just one spoonful?  Try bhel puri and you will know exactly how!  

  3. Beaten/Flattened rice - Don’t worry, this isn’t as painful as it sounds!  Beaten rice is similar to ‘rolled oats’ and another term for it is ‘flaked rice’.  This type of rice cooks much faster than normal rice because it is a lot thinner and swells once added to any liquid.  You can add this to your morning yoghurt and fruits or make a spicy breakfast called ‘poha’.  Poha is a popular dish throughout India.  It is very simple to make - just follow our recipe for a tasty snack that’s easy to put together with a few pantry and fresh ingredients.

  4. Sweetened rice - Kheer is a dish made from rice that is cooked slowly in milk until the two blend with artistic precision.  The rice dissolves just enough to become part of the milk, but not to the extent that the individual grains, softened yet defined, cannot be felt by the bite of one’s teeth.  Sugar is added according to taste, so if you are not much of a sweet tooth or watching your sugar levels, you can still enjoy this dish in all its richness with a few sultanas.  The best part of this dish is the almonds and cashews which are added halfway through the cooking process.  The nuts take on a new form; their hard texture is softened in the hot milk and they simply melt in your mouth. Something is missing though, yes, you guessed it right - spice!  Saffron is added to the kheer to give it a slight colour and beautiful fragrance as is ground cardamom.  Kheer can be served as a hot dish, to melt away winter blues, or as a cold dish, to cool the soul during those hot Indian summers.   Let us know if you would like the recipe and we will of course oblige. Below is an image of Zarda - another type of sweet rice prepared by infusing cardamom and saffron in a syrup. The basmati rice is cooked in this syrup and dried fruits are added for extra bursts of flavour.



  5. Rice flour - I’m not kidding when I say that Indians love making flour out of everything and rice is no exception.  Chickpeas are finely ground to a powder to make besan - a popular batter that is used to make tasty snacks like pakoras (a term used to describe anything deep fried in chickpea batter).  We also apply this to our skin - babies are washed in it and it works as a cooling face-pack too.  Lentils are ground to make batter for dosas - the Indian crepe as it is known.  Lentil flour is also a healthier alternative to wheat flour.  Rice is ground into flour and makes an excellent batter when frying any item. Try rice flour in a batter for your chicken or fish and your ears will delight at the crispy sound made when you bite into your food!

  6. Rice water - Nothing is ever wasted in India!  The water in which rice is boiled (traditionally red rice, which is unpolished) is drunk as it has nutritional value.  We call it congee in India but it differs from the Asian congee which is eaten.  As kids, whenever my mother would cook rice, she would half fill two glasses of the boiled rice water when straining it and give it to my brother and I to drink.  The water would be slightly salty and always have grains of rice floating in it.  Traditionally, congee is served with something on the side as it is very plain (for Indian palates at least).  In Goa it is served with a spicy mango pickle or dried fish. In Kerala the congee is garnished with freshly grated coconut and eaten with lemon pickle on the side and any dry vegetable mixed with coconut (known as varavu).

  7. Decorative rice - Just when you think you have heard it all when it comes to the uses of rice, we’ve got another one up our sleeve.  Rice is used in the preparation of rangoli - a colourful art form which usually decorates the doorsteps or courtyards in a home.  The term rangoli derives from Sanskrit and means ‘the expression of artistic vision’.  The rice is coloured and beautiful patterns and designs are hand-made (traditionally by the lady of the house) to decorate the home, especially around festive periods. Rangoli can also be made using coloured powders and flower petals. 

There you have it - some of the main uses of rice in India, though far from all the uses. Have we missed anything? Comment below and let us know.

 

By Conchita A. de Souza

 

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