Indian food, though hugely popular, is highly misunderstood. It's easy to look at the country's cuisine and assume that it's always hot and spicy, or oily, rich, and fatty, so it's unhealthy and bad for your diet. When browsing recipes with their sometimes long lists of ingredients, you might even get the impression that cooking Indian dishes is difficult and time-consuming. All of these are misconceptions, though.
Just like any other cuisine in the world, Indian food is diverse. You can find spicy recipes and pleasantly mild ones, complex dishes that take hours, and those that you can whip up within an hour. And, you don't even need curry powder. Don't go by hearsay and common opinion. Dive in and discover for yourself the amazing world of Indian cuisine. It is a journey you will never regret!
Indian Food Basics
There are a number of things that you might not know about Indian food, especially if your only experience with it has been at restaurants.
- Indian food has evolved over thousands of years. It is the ultimate symbol of how Indian culture can absorb other influences yet hold its own.
- Indian cooking has taken the delicate and sometimes intricate art of blending spices and honed it to perfection.
- Indian food includes perhaps the most dazzling array of fresh vegetables and fruits cooked in a multitude of ways that help retain their freshness and nutrients.
- Traditional Indian cooking almost always uses fresh ingredients and involves making dishes from scratch. This means fewer preservatives and healthier food.
- Indian cooking uses spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, and green chiles, which all have medicinal and healing properties.
- A traditional Indian meal includes carbohydrates, proteins, fats, and fiber, all the elements you need to make a balanced meal.
Myth: All Indian Food Is Hot and Spicy
It is simply untrue that Indian food is always hot and spicy. While spices are used in Indian cooking, they are not what makes food spicy. As for chiles (which add the heat to a dish), they are a matter of preference and can easily be omitted from most recipes.
Secondly, not all Indian foods contain 10 (or even three, four, or five) different spices! Years of culinary evolution has created dishes in which the main ingredient is beautifully enhanced by just one key spice.
Myth: All Indian Food Is Fatty and Unhealthy
This too is wrong and is like saying that all Italian food contains pasta, or all Chinese food includes soy sauce. Indian food is what you choose to make of it in the fat department. You can cook a dish with six tablespoons of oil or make do with two if that's what you like. There are many dishes that don't need any oil at all, prepared instead by roasting, steaming, grilling, or boiling the ingredients. That said, like any other cuisine, Indian food also has its decadent and "sinful" dishes.
From the health aspect, you might be amazed at the multitude of Indian vegetables that are part of Indian cooking. Many recipes also include medicinal, healing spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, and green chiles. When various cooking methods are applied to those elements, you have a great variety of delicious foods that are also seriously good for you.
Most good Indian cooks will advocate using fresh produce and preparing a dish from scratch. This is the traditional way and it may seem time-consuming, However, it spares your body the effects of the preservatives that are loaded into packaged, prepared foods.
Myth: All Indian Food Is Rich and Diet-Busting
The healthiness of Indian food depends entirely on the choices you make. Just as nobody can force you to eat more chocolate than you want, so should you not feel forced to eat a second helping of delicious shahi tukra (bread pudding) or jalebi (deep-fried dough spirals soaked in rose syrup). Given how tempting they are, this may be easier said than done!
Myth: All Indian Food Is Difficult to Cook
Many Indian dishes are easier to cook than you may think. Look at recipes for foods like tandoori chicken and mutter paneer (peas and cottage cheese), which are hugely popular but ever so easy to prepare. This is just the tip of the iceberg as far as delicious, yet quick and easy-to-cook Indian food is concerned.
Myth: All Indian Food Contains Curry Powder
"Curry" is synonymous with Indian food and "curry powder" is thought of as the key ingredient in every dish. This couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, you won't find curry powder in authentic Indian dishes—it's a British adaptation—though there is another spice mix that is essential.
In Indian cuisine, the most important ingredient is a mix of spices collectively known as garam masala. It is added to some dishes along with other spices to enhance their flavor and aroma. While the basic ingredients used are the same, each household has its proportions so the result will often differ from home to home. The better the quality of the ingredients, the tastier the garam masala will be and that follows through to the dishes it's used in.
Most Indians still prefer to prepare their garam masala just before cooking and those spices often make up the majority of a recipe's ingredient list. Making your own can seem intimidating if you’re just starting out with Indian cooking, but all you need is the garam masala recipe and a good coffee or spice grinder.