No Worries Curries Blog

RAIITA (yoghurt dressing)

By Claudette D'Cruz

RAIITA (yoghurt dressing)

Most vegetarians, in India, get their protein from milk and yoghurt.  Raiitas are a yoghurt dressing served as a dipping sauce with snacks and also used as dressings with vegetables.  It is also a must have accompaniment with Biryani.  

Here is a base recipe you can play with.  Change the cucumbers to shredded cabbage or any other vegetable that has crunch.   Add 1/2 teaspoon minced garlic for zest and some lemon juice for tang.  The combinations are endless.

  • BASE RECIPE - In a bowl mix together 3 cups Greek yoghurt, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 teaspoon sugar1 tablespoon dried mint  Now gently stir in 1 sliced red onion and 1 sliced cucumber.   For garnish, sprinkle with red chilli powder and some fresh green mint and coriander leaves.  Serve immediately.

 

  • OPTION - Place the slices of beetroot from a 450 gram can of beetroot in the centre of a serving plate. • Then surround the beetroot with a ring of the yoghurt dressing.

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The Science of Spice

By Claudette D'Cruz

The Science of Spice

Humans have a need to understand why.  We know that we love curry, but why? Scientists, researchers, chefs and food enthusiasts have been pondering much the same question for many years.  At last, we have an answer.

A team of researchers from the Indian Institute for Technology in Delhi studied the chemical compounds in 2,000 Indian dishes and discovered that Indian recipes tend to be created with ingredients that share few, if any, similarities.  The ingredients used are all unique and thus pack a flavour punch that is not overshadowed by any of its fellows.  This is markedly different to Western cooking in which most flavours are similar to one another, and therefore blend in together.  This leaves the overall flavour as a little bland.

The contrast and boldness of flavour in Indian food can be credited for making curries with depth and complexity.  They are literally complex in terms of chemical compounds.  They also use a lot more ingredients than other cuisines, with Indian food utilising around 200 of the estimated 381 ingredients known to man.  Though not all at the same time, of course…

Such complexity of flavour appeals to our bodies because it stimulates different sections of our tongues as we consume the dish.  Salty, sweet, sour, bitter and umami – the five tastes – dance a flavour tango all over our mouths and delight our senses even before the food reaches the tummy.

To realise such greatness, however, the cook must treat ingredients with respect and knowledge, unlocking the flavour sensations for the diner.  Some cheap, powdered spices lose their flavour after being cooked for 30 minutes so it’s important to know when to add these during the preparation process. Even simple things like onion and garlic need to be cooked with care – do you want your onions to be sweet and caramelised?  To sweat or fry?  It’s also important not to add the garlic too early or it might burn!   Such crucial choices could make all the difference to the deliciousness of the finished product.

Thankfully, recipe books are a guide for those who didn’t grow up with Indian cooks as mothers – follow the instructions carefully!   Easier still are high quality spice blends available (like No Worries Curries) to save you time and ensure that a perfect combination of spices is on hand to take the curry to the level of quality for which the cuisine is world renowned.  

Understanding the science of why always helps inform the how and will improve the what; your dinner.   If we take note of the science and take a little extra care with the creation of meals, we can all maintain the great tradition of the curry no matter how far from India our kitchens are!

 

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Chai - The Lifeblood of India

By Claudette D'Cruz

Chai - The Lifeblood of India

Every now and then, I get this overwhelming feeling of gratitude for my humanity. This feeling is attributed to the fact that out of all the species on earth, humans have been chosen to be the makers and drinkers of that elixir of life - chai. Though a glass or two or three of wine might warm up my insides and enable me to relax, a cup of chai warms my soul and stashes my worries away for another day (and that day will usually involve chai too, leaving the worries with hardly a moment to bother me).

 This post is an ode to the world’s second most consumed beverage (water being the first, not wine, as I mistakenly thought). It is believed that the word ‘chai’ or ‘tea’ originated from two different pronunciations in Mandarin - ‘Cha’ or ‘Te’. Hence, the words for ‘tea’ in hundreds of languages throughout our world, derive from these two different pronunciations. ‘Chai’ means ‘tea’ in Hindi (as well as in Russian, Arabic, Persian and Swahili, interestingly); ‘Cha’ in Korean and Portuguese; Caj in Croatian and Czech; and Te in Spanish, Italian, Danish and Swedish.

 In India, the cup of chai has worked its way into the homes and hearts the world’s second largest populations. Every minute of every day, one of the hundreds of thousands of chai wallahs/wallis (tea vendors) across India is guaranteed to be brewing chai. Their aluminium pots externally browned by hot flames of gas and internally browned by the sacred stain of the ‘chai patti’ (tea leaves). I firmly believe that it is these men and women who drive India as a nation (and farmers too).

 To me, chai is synonymous with ‘connection’ because it is always consumed in the presence of others, whether that presence be physical or emotional. When you arrive into someone’s home whether it be a friend or stranger, you are sure to be greeted with a steaming hot cup of chai which is as strong a symbol of welcome and recognition as is the traditional ‘Namaskar’ or ‘Namaaste’ (the Sanksrit greeting which translates to ‘the God within me salutes the God within you’).

 Chai is a beverage of contradictions; putting us to sleep yet waking us from our slumber, settling our nerves whilst also re-energising our bodies, warming our fingertips during the cold weather and keeping us cool in summer (yes indeed, hot tea in hot, dry weather makes sense according to science. Click here for the explanation).

 So how do Indians usually do chai? With milk and sugar of course! Sometimes with the addition of spices like ginger or cardamom (popularly known as ‘masala chai’). Sometimes poured from ridiculous heights to take away the initial burn to your tongue. Sometimes slurped in saucers when in a rush. In my experience of drinking chai in India, I’ve observed that the smaller the cup, the sweeter and stronger the chai. Sometimes chai is served in plastic shot glasses, its effects resembling that of much stronger, alcoholic beverages. I like my regular chai with either a simple biscuit, rusk or a plain, crumbly cake - all of which I like to dunk into my chai so as to infuse the solids and soften them so they melt in my mouth. The ‘dunking’ object should be plain in order to not disrupt the balance of flavours contained in the chai. I ain’t gonna be dunking no Tim Tams in my chai that’s for sure.

Speaking of chai, did you know that we have our very own Chai Latte spice blend? Made without any preservatives and 100% vegan just so you can be the chai wallah/walli for your loved ones and impress them with your chai-making abilities. Click here for the link to a pot-full of happiness, best shared.

Here’s to a lifetime of chai! That your life may be brewed in the reassurance of its soothing leaves, the comfort of its milk and the sweetness of taste!

 

 

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Hitting The Streets with India's Vast Array of Street Food

By Claudette D'Cruz

Hitting The Streets with India's Vast Array of Street Food

When you are roaming the streets of India’s cities and suburbs, you will find one common factor that unites them all.  No, it is not the excessive honking of vehicles overcrowding the roads. Neither is it the numerous potholes, uneven pavements and surprise ditches that one encounters whilst trying to walk down the streets.  It is in fact, the endless street stalls and stands that offer quick, tasty and creative snacks to satisfy your hunger.  The best thing about street food in India, is that your impatient hunger need not wait very long to be satiated by the textures, flavours, temperatures and colours offered by these hard-working street vendors.

 

Here are some of my favourite street items that I indulge in to satisfy my notorious state of hangry.

 

  1. Pani Puri/Golgappas - Pani puri, or Gol Gappas (as it is known in the north) are a must-taste street food and treasured by all Indians (not even generalising here). The complexity involved in this dish lies in the textures and layers added. The ‘puri’ is a deep fried bread, which puffs once dunked in hot oil and hardens when removed from it. ‘Pani’ means water in Hindi, and in this dish, it is flavoured with an array of spices including cumin powder, chaat masala, fresh mint and coriander, giving it a green appearance. A hole is made in the puri by pressing the thumb against it until the surface cracks.  Either boiled mashed potatoes or chickpeas are added into the puri, followed by finely cut purple onions and then the tangy Pani.  The trick is to eat the puri as a whole without making a mess of yourself (yet to master this).  What amazes me the most about pani puri is not the dish itself, but how it is dished out, making it the ultimate act of multitasking.  Each plate contains 5 puris, served one at a time because as soon as you add the water, the puri has to be consumed else it will not hold.  The vendor can be serving up to 5 to 7 people at a time, customising each puri (bhayaa - pyaaz nahin chahiye, bhayaa mujhe extra aloo chahiye, brother - no onions, brother I want extra potato) as it is gulped down.  As he serves the customised puris to the different customers, he is also keeping count of how many they consume all at once.  Sometimes I go to the pani puri stand to merely admire how these vendors have mastered multi-tasking, and that too, in the dust and heat whilst their hungry customers await their fulfillment.

  2. Aloo Tikki Chaat - Let’s admit that the humble potato is no doubt the greatest vegetable of all time because it can be prepared in literally a thousand ways.  On the streets in India, a popular preparation of potato is known as Aloo Tikki Chaat - a spicy potato patty/cake served with tangy chutneys.  I remember the first time that I tasted this street food - I wanted something simple and I saw the perfectly shaped patties sitting on the edge of the large tava (a flat, handle-less pan usually made of cast iron).  I hungrily asked the vendor for just one patty which he warmed on the tava and put onto a plate.  I reached my hand out to take it from him when to my alarm, he mashed the tikki with his bare hands, sprinkled raw onions and scoops of coriander and tamarind chutney on top. He added sev (deep-fried potato noodles), chaat masala and then lemon juice. All the while my hand remained in an outstretched position wanting the simple aloo tikki patty.  What I got instead was a sour-sweet-spicy-tangy-hot-cold-crunchy-soft mish mash of deliciousness.  The lesson I learnt: In India, you never quite get what you expect, but what you do get will never disappoint you!

  3. Chai - Did you really think we could have a post on street food in India without giving mention to chai? Chai vendors are brilliant at business and have the knack of setting up their stalls in places where your cravings for chai just happen to materialise - which is basically anywhere and everywhere.  Coming out of the temple?  Have some chai to go with the prasad (a devotional offering made to God and usually sweet).  Leaving college?  A chai-stall has been set up in the car park so you can re-energise before the ride home.  Climbing the Himalayas?  Of course you will need to stop for a chai break to warm your cold soul!  Depending on the region you are in, your chai can have spices (cinnamon and cardamom), be made with malai (cream), or have extra chinni (sugar).  These are just a few of the variations you may encounter as your drink away through cups and cups of this glorious drink.  Have a read of our post dedicated to the beverage which is India’s lifeblood here. Better yet, impress your family and friends by becoming a chai-wallah or chai walli (tea-maker) with our Chai Latte spice blend.

  4. Andha Paratha - This might seem like a pretty standard breakfast you could whip up at home but hold up, it is the amount of oil and the concoction of spicy sauces which make this street food best consumed a little less often than the daily breakfast.  Put simply, this is an egg wrap - a fried egg cooked inside a flatbread called paratha. However, on the street, the egg is sometimes fried with onions and almost always mixed with sweet and spicy chutneys and sauces (I was too afraid to ask what was inside them).  It is enjoyed hot on the spot and after eating it, I guarantee you will feel that warm and fuzzy feeling in your belly.

  5. Kulfi - After all that spicy and hot street food, you will definitely need something to cool down your tongue and sweeten your tastebuds.  Street kulfi is the perfect treat for that.  Kulfi is Indian ice cream and is made by simmering full-cream milk until it starts to get slightly nutty and thick.  The kulfi vendors have these wheely top load fridges, which they open to reveal metal holes the size of a 50 cent coin filled with the kulfi which they pull out and serve to you. There are different varieties of kulfi, and my favourite is the original milky one. You can enjoy flavours like badam (almond), kesar (saffron), malai (cream) and pista (pistachio),   We’ve got our own easy recipe you can try here and it involves ingredients you will easily find at your local grocery store.  Kulfi, when made well, is the perfect balance between the textures ‘icy’ and ‘creamy’ and is a front-runner when it comes to the world’s best ice creams (bring on the Italians and their gelatos!).

I could probably write a book on the numerous street foods available across India, but that would be another task in itself. My advice to you is to come over and experience the variety, wonder and delight that the street food will offer your tastebuds. For those of you who have tasted Indian Street Food, I would love to hear what you rate as your favourite.  Comment below and let us know!

 

By Conchita A. de Souza

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From Goa With Love - Exploring Goa Through Her Rich Cuisine

By Claudette D'Cruz

From Goa With Love - Exploring Goa Through Her Rich Cuisine

There is nothing quite like the overpowering sensation of ‘belonging’ that hits me as soon as my train arrives into Karmali, a small, picturesque railway station located in the north of Goa.  The earth is coloured a dusty kind of rouge, the sun beats down hard and the palms of the endless coconut trees delicately intrude upon the blue skyline.  Although I call Sydney home, Goa is my home away from home. That overwhelming sense of ‘belonging’ which I earlier mentioned arises from the simple fact that Goa is too, the land of my ancestors.  My mind wanders to how life was a struggle back in the old times - no electricity, no technology to keep them entertained, no thermomixes and ultra-cool blenders to make nice cream and smoothies.  Despite the lack of all these ‘necessities’, I believe they probably led much more fulfilling, albeit humble lives, than I ever could.  The food was probably far tastier and fresher and free from the corruption of preservatives and pesticides. People would actually communicate with each other rather than hiding behind a screen.  Honest and physical labour in the homes and fields would keep them fit, rather than the shallow obsession we sometimes have with exercise as a means to fulfil society’s high standards of aesthetics.  It is a world we may never know.  

I would be caught lying if I said I return to Goa regularly for the sole purpose of meeting and spending time with my family.  Whilst they are an important reason for returning home, it is in fact the delights of Goan cuisine that keeps me coming back time after time.  I must give particular mention to my Aunty’s cooking, which will feature as the central focus of this post. Here are some of my favourite dishes that she lovingly prepared for me on my recent trip that elated my soul (in no particular order).

  1. Sambaracche Kodi - I was lying around being lazy when my aunty prepared this somewhat complicated curry.  I know it involved a lot of masala, and fresh prawns not to mention an odd ingredient, dried green mangoes (salaa is the term used in Konkani - the language of Goa).  First, garam masala is roasted on the tava along with dried red chillies.  This roasted mixture is made into a powder in the mixer.  Then a coconut is freshly grated.  The grated coconut is mixed with a cup of water.  This mixture is squeezed through a sieve and the thick juice is extracted.  Another cup of water is added to the grated coconut and a thinner juice is saved in a separate bowl.  Onions are sautéed in oil till translucent.  Then the thin juice, the fresh prawns, dried mangoes are added in with the spices which you ground earlier.  Once the mangoes have softened, Goa jaggery (palm sugar) is added.  Then the thick coconut juice is added and the salt adjusted to taste.  The curry is then brought to the boil and it’s ready to eat!


  2. Goan Roast Beef - This is literally my favourite roast ever. My aunty prepares the beef cut (any part that is soft and meaty) by cutting it into pieces to fit into the pan.   She rubs the meat with salt, vinegar, garam masala powder, haldi (turmeric) and jeera (cumin) powder.   Shen then pricks the meat with a fork so that the flavours absorb and then put it in the fridge to marinate overnight. The next day she heats a pressure cooker, adds oil and seals the roast (about 5 minutes) along with dried red kashmiri chillies.  Then she adds the marinade in which the roast was sitting overnight.   She then puts the lid on and give the meat one whistle on high fire and then lowers the fire and simmers for 20 minutes.  If you find that there is still a lot of water in the meat, after you open the lid, cook it on the fire (without the lid) until the water evaporates.  Slice and enjoy in a sandwich or just on its own with a salad.

  3. Raw Mango Carpe (Aamtto) - A mix between pudding and curry - thick, bright yellow and the perfect balance of sweet and sour.  Peel raw mangoes (they shouldn’t be completely raw, perhaps 3-4 days away from their ripe state), slice them and apply salt and keep them for sometime.  Extract the thick and thin juice of the coconut (as explained above).  Slice onion and saute, then add haldi, a tiny amount of garlic paste and jeera (cumin) powder. To this mix add fresh prawns, the mangoes. thin coconut juice dried red chilli pieces.  Let the mango cook and then add the thick coconut juice. Add sugar according to taste and salt.

  4. Recheado Masala Prawns fried in Rava (semolina) - My Aunty makes recheado at home. It is a wet masala made with around 10 different spices and has a tangy taste because vinegar is used to preserve it.  My aunty mixes the prawns in this masala and then coats them with semolina before frying. They become crunchy on the outside and soft on the inside, not to mention the taste is fantastic.  Prawns are my favourite dish and I can eat them with unceasing enthusiasm.

  5. Mackerels Roasted in Hay - It is a given rule that fish tastes best when prepared simply. This method of cooking the mackerels involved gently coating them in olive oil and individually wrapping them in banana leaves, which acts as a buffer against the fire.  Hay, collected from the paddy field belonging to my Aunty, is bundled together and the fish is placed on top, and then more hay is used to cover it.  We lit the hay until it began smoking and then waited for 10 minutes before flipping the fish over and lighting more hay so the other side could smoke. The result - perfectly soft, smoky and juicy mackerels which we devoured with a dash of lemon on the side.

Wrapping the Fish in Banana LeavesFresh Mackerels

I should also comment on the fact that I travelled to Goa in May - which is literally the hottest and most humid month of the year.  It’s when your sweat sweats, when showering thrice a day is acceptable and when lethargy and languidity are the only ways in which your body rolls.  However all is forgiven because it also happens to be the period during which two of my favourite fruits are in season - Mango (specifically Goa’s favourite mango - The Mankurad) and Jackfruit.  Now I could write an entire blog on just how much I love these two fruits and I how I consumed them in the kilos during my stay in Goa but I won’t.  However, if you happen to be in Goa during the month of May, you’ve been briefed - Mango and Jackfruit will sustain your soul too.

My Aunty packed a multitude of goodies for me for my return trip (I told her it was a short flight, but she still packed a tiffin of beef roast paos [Goan bread rolls] and jackfruits to sweeten the mouth). There were Goan sweets, mangoes, more jackfruit, home-made pickles and she even squeezed in a container of cooked prawns and more roast. I realised at that moment my sense of belonging to Goa was inextricably linked with the comfort I feel when I eat her food, and the gratitude that envelopes me as both my tummy and soul experience contentment.

Mango and Jackfruit

To create your own taste of Goa, which your guests will love you for, click here for a tasty Goan curry involving red meat, here for one involving chicken and here if you want to make an unforgettable Goan seafood curry.

By Conchita A. de Souza

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Atithi Devo Bhava - The Guest is God

By Claudette D'Cruz

Atithi Devo Bhava - The Guest is God

A ‘tourist’ is one who travels to or visits another place for their own pleasure or interest. At some point or another in our lives, we have all been tourists, whether it be in our own region or state or in a country completely foreign to our own.  What I gain most from travelling to another place are not the souvenirs I purchase during a last minute dash to the bazaar, nor the memories of a comfy hotel room with amenities as desirable as a jacuzzi.  I remember the people, their hospitality and their willingness to make you feel so at home, that they even give up their meal or their bed for you.  And no sense of hospitality has struck me as deeply as the hospitality of the Indian people. 

It is probably safe to say that Indians have lived, breathed and practised a very genuine sense of tourism long before the term itself was coined and the practice became commercialised.  This tourism holds the guest as the centre of focus. In one of the ancient Hindu Scriptures called Taittiriya Upanishads, the Sanskrit phrase Atithi Devo Bhava holds sacred meaning and translates to ‘The Guest is God’.  Atithi means ‘without a fixed calendrical time’ and is used to describe a ‘guest’;  Devo means ‘God’ and;  Bhava means ‘to be’.  Atithi Devo Bhava is a code of conduct that has made Indian hospitality renowned around the world for its genuine desire to place the guest above all.

The code of conduct manifests itself in a myriad of ways, but I will focus on my preferred expression of Atithi Devo Bhava, which is of course, food.  For me, offering food is the ultimate symbol of welcoming a guest into your home.  Although for my father, the term ‘offering’ may sometimes be replaced with ‘force-feeding’.  This also applies to most of my aunties, who gently place trays of sweets onto my lap and remind me of how thin I look despite being the same size for a good decade now.  Then there is always the ‘take-away’ version of the code of conduct which involves stuffing tupperware containers with sweets, snacks and curries for when the guest is short of time (there really is no escape).   As soon as a guest comes to our home, whether they be expected or not, they will always be served at the minimum, a glass of water and at the most (we are talking only food here), an elaborately prepared meal that is always three times more than what is required.

Having travelled extensively throughout India, I have seen Atithi Devo Bhava being practised in its purest form whenever I have travelled through the villages or the slums. One instance I recall was staying with a farming family whilst on a field visit.  Not only did they insist I eat more rotis but they also proceeded to watch me complete my meal before they began theirs.  When the time came for bed, I was told I would be sharing the bed with the daughter of the house, whom I only met that day itself.  I’ll admit that some of this behaviour was attributable to the fact that I was the first ‘foreigner’ to visit their home, but I was touched nevertheless.  I had a chance to meet some people living in the slums of Mumbai, and there too, I was welcomed with hot chai with each home I stepped in to.  It is easy for us to go to lengthy ends for those whom we know and love, because that love will be returned.  But in India, we also go the extra mile for those whose wandering feet reach our doorsteps.

Have you ever experienced the warmth and genuineness of Indian hospitality?  Tell us so in the comments below.

 

Conchita A. de Souza

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A Sure Way to Spice Up Your Valentine's Day

By Claudette D'Cruz

A Sure Way to Spice Up Your Valentine's Day

A typical image that comes to my mind when I think of ‘romantic cuisine’ is that scene from the Disney classic Lady and The Tramp, where the two dogs share a plate of spaghetti bolognese and unknowingly chew on the same strand until they accidentally kiss (I secretly longed for this to happen in my previous relationships but always forgot to order spaghetti when on dates. I also find spaghetti hard to share because it is one of my favourite dishes and I tend to devour it all). Another is the classic red and white checkered blanket spread across a green lawn. The blanket contains a spread of baguette, cheese and wine. French and Italian cuisines have no doubt provided us with many-a-romantic meal to share with our better halves but what other dishes can inspire romance?

 As Valentine’s day approaches, I challenge you to broaden your perception of romantic cuisine by cooking none other than Indian food for your special date/partner/friend.. Here are our top five picks (in random order) for you to try out this Valentine’s Day. These are commonly available dishes in most vegetarian restaurants.

  1. Nothing screams romantic like ‘Pani Puri’. This popular street food provides textural sensation; the crunch of the puri shell, the spicy water that floods the mouth and the pungent flavour of the raw onions. In true couple style, you can take turns feeding each other pani puri.

  2. Why not share a South Indian Vegetarian Thali with your valentine? Thalis are great because of the variety they offer; rice and roti, sambhar/dahl (lentil curries) and rasam (a spicy, watery soup with tamarind as its base), 2-3 different spiced vegetables, papad and fresh yoghurt. This is just in one serve! Get your fingers messy as they dip, dunk and scoop out all the deliciousness on offer.

  3. Nothing spells love as much as butter does and the dish Pav Bhaji is a testament to that love. ‘Pav’ means bread and ‘bhaji’ means vegetables fried in spices. What makes this dish extra delicious is the fact that the main vegetables (potato, peas, carrots, cauliflower and french beans) are first boiled in water so that they become mushy. They are then mashed and added to a mix of onions, tomatoes, capsicum and spices all sautéed with butter forming a thick, rich gravy that is dark orange in colour. Basically, knobs of butter are added in the beginning, middle and end stages of the cooking. This is gravy is scooped up with soft, buttered (of course) bread which you and your partner can devour. Licking of fingers post eating is mandatory and your valentine will be nothing short of delighted at the time spent preparing this dish (it is time-consuming). For time is love is not?

  4. Gulab Jamun and Vanilla Ice Cream is without doubt the best Indian dessert to share with your valentine. This sweet treat is made from milk solids which are deep fried and soaked in a sugary syrup spiced with whole cardamom pods. They are usually served hot with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. The temperature contrast of hot and cold and the textural contrast of moistness and creamy awaken the palate’s senses. Of course if you are a die-hard gulab jamun fan like I am and find the thought of sharing one bowl a little restrictive, you may always order two bowls at the outset to make it crystal clear to your valentine that this is a dessert best enjoyed individually at the same time, rather than shared.

  5. Another dessert is featured in this list because what would Valentine’s Day be without a little extra sweetness? Falooda is a colourful dessert cum beverage delight that will surely please your date. It is akin to a thick-shake but filled with vermicelli, basil seeds, chunks of jelly, milk, rose syrup and of course, ice-cream all mixed together and served in a tall glass. If this mere description itself does not fill you up, then you can imagine what the real dessert will be like. That is why Falooda is the ideal dessert to share with your loved one. Ask for an extra straw and spoon (to scoop up all that sweet, sweet goodness).

No matter whom you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day with, we hope it will be in spicy company!

Image Source: www.mentalfloss.com

By Conchita A. de Souza

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Eat your way around India

By Claudette D'Cruz

Eat your way around India

What is Indian food?

Um, well, it’s curry and spicy things...

Like so many foods that we eat far from the country of origin, Indian food suffers from sweeping generalisations – a rich and diverse cuisine reduced to a single dish: curry.

Imagine if we were to say Italian food was pasta. Is that a spaghetti bolognaise or a tortellini stuffed with ricotta? How about fettucine or tagliatelle? Rigatoni or lasagne? Even the term ‘pasta’ can’t encompass the varieties, flavours, textures and vast array of ingredients that constitute a pasta dish, and the same is true of Indian food and ‘curry’.

India is a vast and multi-faceted country, with different regions boasting different cultures, dialects, social norms and styles of cooking that are hugely distinct to the people who live there. When it comes to food, the term ‘curry’ would mean nothing to an Indian in India, just as an Italian would look bemused if you ordered ‘pasta’!

Of course it would take years to fully understand the multitude of regional varieties in Indian cooking, but let’s go on a whistle-stop tour of the country so you can at least begin to appreciate just how much more there is to curry than you may realise.

Western India is a good place to start: here, the curries of the coastal areas celebrate seafood and the interior areas look instead to pulses and grains for their protein intake. Curries are a staple of the diet, but the style and flavour of the curry depends on which part of the area is making them:

You may have heard of Goa? This area in western India is home of the vindaloo but also known for its seafood-based curries that usually use a masala spice blend (chillies, cumin, cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and coriander). Goan curries are also known to be fiery, so be warned!

Another distinctive flavour from the west is Gujarat, where the cuisine adds salt and sugar more generously than other places, and vegetables are king. There is a large variety of vegetarian curries in Gujarat, most of which are eaten with dhal and have a combination of salty, sweet and spicy flavours.

Moving clockwise, let’s move to the south; southern Indian curries use a lot of chillies and lentils, with spices that often appear including saffron, coriander, lemon, curry leaf, tamarind and turmeric, to name a few.

Keralan cuisine is from this part of the country and known as one of the most diverse in the region! In the Keralan curries, coconut oil, milk or grated flesh is often added to balance the fiery heat and keep the spice levels at a comfortable medium.

If you like it a little hotter, seek out the Andhra curries, also from the south of the country. Chilli powder is abundant in this style of food, which is mostly vegetarian. The region is also known for its use of the sour gongura leaf within the curries or accompanying pickles.

Eastern India is known for the more subtle approach to spices and flavours, with curries appearing either as a fried (bhaja) curry or curry paste (bata curry), and mild curries (chochchoree) appearing alongside the hot ones (jhol curry).

When trying to identify eastern Indian food, look out for panch puran, a blend of cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard seed and nigella seed that appears often in the vegetarian curries of Bengal and Orissa. In these areas, meat dishes tend to be flavoured with turmeric and garam masala, but the regions’ dishes do differ in their spice levels: Oriya is cooler, Bengal is hotter.

We can’t move north without squeezing in the northeastern area of India, where food is influenced by the flavours of Nepal, Tibet and Myanmar. Spices are used in moderation here, with curries relying more on onions for flavour, although turmeric, fenugreek and cardamom make an appearance. It is from this area that proteins get far more interesting: frog, turtle, yak, pigeon, duck and pork can be found in the regional curries, but also beef, chicken and fish.

From this region, try the Assam tenga curry, usually made with fish and lentils and known for a sour flavour courtesy of lemons. Tripuri curries are the spicier ones, and almost all dishes will contain berma, which is made from dried and fermented puthi fish. It is the only area to do so!

And now to the north, where the curries we are most familiar with tend to hail from, usually accompanied by the much-loved naan bread that has also become an international celebrity. Expect curries from the north to contain a wide variety of ingredients: meats, vegetables, fruits, nuts, dairy products and the Indian paneer, or cheese.

The popular rogan josh comes from the north, in Kashmir. This area is also known for the sweeter and milder flavours, often produced by the addition of fruit (e.g. bananas and lychees) to curries. Delhi offers up curry that feature meatballs, while the pakora comes courtesy of Rajasthan, an area also known for creamy, yoghurt-based sauces.

While not all the different regional varieties can be found here in Australia, it’s worth being aware of where your favourite curries come from, and making an effort to dabble in the different regions’ flavours to get a better appreciation of the diversity and depth of Indian food.

The catch-all term ‘curry’ just doesn’t seem so useful anymore, does it? Go on, eat your way around the country!

 

 

 

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