Importance of Indian cooking
Homemade Indian food is actually very healthy as compared to restaurant dishes that over-index on fried and high-fat foods. Daily balanced diets in North and South India use rice and wheat for carbohydrates (energy), balanced with dals and beans for protein (tissue repair), vegetables for vitamins, cooking oil for fats and extraction of some vitamins, and most importantly, spices that provide a wide range of micronutrients, minerals, and antioxidants.
The latter also adds to the signature rich flavour of Indian cooking.
Indian spices occupy a wide range of flavours. Raw mango powder (amchur), tamarind, and kokum are all tangy, asafoetida and turmeric have no noticeable taste (in small amounts) but improve flavour, cinnamon and cardamom are sweetish, fenugreek is bitter, cumin and fennel are umami, while ginger and black pepper are hot.
Most of these spices were in use in South and Southeast Asia long before the introduction of the chili pepper from the New World. Nevertheless, the chili pepper has found its way into Indian cooking in an integral way pretty fast.
Dr Shruti Awasthi and Dr Mamta Shukla, whom I have worked with, have created an essential cookbook of simple dishes, including staples, accompaniments, snacks, and beverages. They are easily made at home with basic ingredients and provide a completely balanced meal, that will also help you get the micronutrients and anti-oxidants that aid your immune system, so necessary in these difficult years. Some are the usual suspects, but they have also included some nutrient-rich surprises like Cucurbita dal.
What’s more, they have also done a great job of explaining Indian spices in their companion volume “Spices from the Ganga”. They explain the natural properties that have been used in traditional medicine for centuries.
I strongly recommend these books to get an understanding of the magic of simple, home-cooked Indian meals.
June 20 2022