The raw materials

0 One of the things that makes North Indian cuisine so special is the spectacular variety of ingredients available to the cook. Each of the four regions has its own distinctly different cooking style, based on the climate and crops grown, religious

I influences, and the cooking mediums preferred. Everywhere the cooking is

1_| enhanced with fresh aromatics, herbs, spices, and other flavoring ingredients.


Many different chilies, both fresh and dried, are used in North Indian cookery, varying in their fieriness and pungency. Kashmiri chilies, which are large and deep red, have a good flavor and color but are not too hot, and can be used in larger quantities than the smaller, much hotter green chilies. Whole dried chilies can be stored for up to a year in a cool, dark place (exposure to light will fade their vibrant color), whereas crushed or ground dried chilies will lose their power and spiciness after a few months.

Ginger and garlic

After salt, these are probably the most-used ingredients in the cooking of Delhi and Punjab. They are added to marinades for meats, fish, and vegetables when preparing them for the tandoor, as well as being a flavoring in many curries. Ginger and garlic are normally made into a paste, which can be done separately or in combination: take about 4 oz (100 g) peeled fresh ginger and 3 oz (75 g) peeled garlic and blend with 3/4 cup water, using a food processor. The paste can be kept in an airtight jar in the refrigerator for up to 5 days.


In its leaf form, called cilantro, this herb is used to finish curries and as a garnish. The seeds, known as coriander, are used as a spice, whole or ground. Thought to have been cultivated for over 3,000 years, the plant is said to have a cooling effect on the body and an infusion is a cure for fever.


The fresh leaves of this aromatic plant are eaten as a vegetable; when dried (kasoorimethi), they are used to flavor all sorts of Indian savories and curries (the best quality kasoori methi comes from Qasoor in Pakistan). The seeds of the plant are used as a spice. Ancient herbalists prescribed fenugreek to aid digestion, a remedy that continues to be used today.

Cinnamon leaves

Although commonly referred to as "bay leaf" in Indian recipes, what is meant is actually the dried leaf of the cassia tree. I like to call it cinnamon leaf. Used in most dishes all over northern India, cinnamon leaves have a mild, sweet flavor. They are not edible, so should be removed before serving. Should you find it difficult to obtain them, you can use bay leaves instead.


One of the most widely used spices in Indian cooking, turmeric flavors most Indian curries, be they meat, vegetable, or lentil, and also gives them a rich yellow-orange color. The roots (or rhizomes) are sold both fresh and dried, or ground to a fine powder. Turmeric has good preservative properties, too, so it is used in the making of many Indian pickles.


This essential Indian flavoring, which is a dried resinous gum, has a very unpleasant smell and bitter taste, so it is never used alone, but when cooked in a dish it enhances the other flavors. It is sold as powder, granules, or lumps, and will keep well for up to a year. In addition to its

Dried Kashmiri chilies >

culinary uses, it is supposed to be a cure for flatulence and to help respiratory problems like asthma.

Garam masala

Garam masala, which literally means "hot spices," is a mixture of roasted spices that is used whole or ground to a fine powder. Each region of India has its standard version of garam masala, using the spices available and popular and the cooking of the area, and the recipes change according to individual taste. (See recipe p28.)


The costliest of all spices, saffron is the dried stigmas of a variety of crocus. Just a few saffron threads (stigmas) will give intense golden color and a unique, slightly bitter, perfumed taste to savory and sweet dishes. Store this precious spice in an airtight jar in a dark place, to retain its color and fragrance.

Royal cumin seeds

Also called black cumin, these spice seeds are very dark brown, long and very thin, and smaller than regular cumin. Their aroma

is earthy and strong during cooking; the taste is nutty and warm. Royal cumin is used extensively in Kashmiri cuisine, and in Mughal cuisine as a tempering for meats.

Fennel seeds

A very commonly used spice in India, whole or ground fennel seeds add a warm and sweet flavor to all kinds of curries. Fennel seeds are also used in pickles and chutneys and in desserts. Fennel is thought to have digestive properties, so roasted seeds are often served after a rich Indian meal.

Nigella seeds

Although more commonly known as black onion seeds, this spice has nothing to do with onions and is actually the fruit of an herb related to the garden plant "love-in-a-mist." The small black seeds have an unusual, slightly bitter taste. Much used in Bengali cooking, nigella (kalonji) also garnishes many Indian breads.

Carom seeds

Closely related to cumin, which it resembles in appearance and fragrance, carom seeds (ajowan) have a hot and bitter taste. However, when they are cooked with other ingredients, the flavor mellows. Carom seeds are particularly good in seafood dishes and with root vegetables.

Pickling spices

This combination of equal quantities of fennel, carom, onion, fenugreek, mustard, and cumin, either as whole seeds or ground, is used in pickles as well as to flavor sauces and marinades for meat. You can buy ready-made pickling spices in India; elsewhere you will need to mix the spices together yourself.


The hard, brown, hairy fruits of the coconut tree contain "water," which makes a refreshing drink enjoyed straight from the fruit. The crunchy, sweet white flesh is used to make rich coconut milk (p213), which is an important part of many Indian curries. Freshly grated coconut flesh is used in Bengali cuisine, while desiccated coconut features in Muslim cooking.


A sour, tomato-like compound fruit native to Rajasthan, this has a hard skin and seeds inside. Available fresh and dried, it is used to tenderize meat and in the making of certain chutneys.

Black lentils

Also known as black gram (or ma in the Punjab), these are primarily used whole in North India, most famously in a festive Punjabi dish with red kidney beans. Whole black lentils (urad) have a stronger aroma and richer, earthier taste than split black lentils (uraddal). Whole black lentils can be kept in an airtight container for up to 4 months.

Split lentils

The most common variety of split lentils in India are toor dal, also called split yellow peas. They are used all over India to make the dishes known as dals. Chana dal are split gram lentils, a type of chickpea, from which the husk has been removed. A very versatile ingredient, chana dal are used in many ways in different parts of the country, and are also ground into a flour (see opposite). Masoor or red lentils are the easiest to cook and digest, and are commonly used to make lentil soups and dals, as well as kedgeree, which is essentially food for invalids and children. When whole, moong dal (mung

< Cinnamon leaves beans) have a green skin; it is these whole beans that are sprouted to use in salads and other cold dishes. Split, they are used in northern India for a variety of things, such as in the making of popadums, batters, and fritters, but moong dal are rarely cooked on their own.


This is clarified butter, the pure butterfat, clear and golden in color. traditionally in India, ghee is made from buffalo milk, which is higher in fat than cow's milk, and the process involves souring milk to make yogurt and then churning this to yield butter. Unsalted butter made from cow's milk can also be used for ghee.

Paneer cheese

An Indian version of set cottage or pot cheese, paneer is made by separating the whey from milk by adding lemon juice to curdle it. the solids are collected in muslin, tied, and pressed under a weight for a few hours to set—to soft curds or firm for slicing. on its own, paneer tastes quite bland. It is widely used as an alternative to meat in vegetarian dishes.

Chickpea flour

AIso known as besan and gram flour, this is obtained from husking and then grinding split gram lentils (chana dal) into a powder. It is a very versatile flour, commonly used to make dumplings (p37), in batters for fritters, and in bread doughs. Chickpea flour can be kept in an airtight jar for up to 6 months. Another form in which chickpea flour is available is daria dal, for which the split gram lentils are roasted before grinding. Roasting takes away the raw flavor and increases the flour's ability to absorb water. roasted chickpea flour is often used as a thickener at the end of cooking.

Chapatti flour

This finely ground whole-wheat flour is used to make unleavened breads (see recipe p40).

Rice rice is grown all along the plains of the Ganges, from the foothills of the Himalayas right down to Bengal in the east. although basmati is the best known, there are hundreds of other varieties of rice available, patna being another notable one. In Indian homes, rice is most often cooked by the boiling method; pilau rice and rice cooked by the absorption method are reserved for special occasions as they require more skill.

Kasundi mustard this ready-made mustard paste is commonly used in Bengali cooking. It is made by soaking mustard seeds in vinegar, then grinding them to a paste with mustard oil and the addition of dried mango. Kasundi mustard adds its characteristic flavor to numerous dishes from the region. If not available, it can be replaced with Dijon or any other prepared grain mustard.

Mustard oil

As the name suggests, this oil is extracted from mustard seeds. It is pungent in taste and smell and deep gold in color. Mustard oil is greatly favored in Bengal and eastern India, and certain Rajasthani dishes get their flavor from it. When used, the oil is normally heated almost to smoking point, then cooled down and reheated again, which tones down its aroma.

Rose water and screwpine essence

Essences have been a part of Indian cookery since antiquity. during the time of the Mughal emperors, rare flowers were grown in the royal greenhouses to make attars, or fragrant essential oils, and some of these turned up in the kitchen. Floral essences such as rose water and screwpine essence (kewra) are the most popular today, used to flavor biryanis, pulaos, kebabs, desserts, and treats.

Gold leaf this is the ultimate in exotic, luxury cooking. While edible silver leaf is quite commonly used to adorn dishes and decorate sweets in India, gold leaf is not as easy to find. Used as a decoration, it lifts up a dish in every sense.

Ghee Clarified butter

Yields about V cup

The process of "clarifying" butter to produce ghee, or pure butter fat, makes it an excellent cooking medium able to withstand high temperatures and constant reheating. It also prevents it from going rancid, an important consideration in a hot country such as India. Ghee has a unique rich, nutty taste.


2 sticks (1 cup) unsalted butter


Step 1

Place the butter in a heavy saucepan to heat. As the butter melts, let it come to a gentle boil.

Step 2

Simmer the melted butter for 20-30 minutes to evaporate all the water. Skim off the froth that appears on the surface and discard.

Step 3

The butter will separate into cooked milk solids, which will settle to the bottom of the pan, and clear, golden ghee at the top. Carefully pour off the ghee into a bowl.

Step 4

Allow the liquid ghee to cool. It will solidify, but will have a creamy consistency, somewhat like soft tub margarine; if refrigerated, it will become hard. Ghee can be stored for several years if kept in a tin or glass container in a cool, dark place, free from any obvious moisture or contact with water.

Step 1

Step 2

Garam masala Hot spice mix

This aromatic blend of spices may be used whole or ground to a fine powder, depending on the dish. Whole garam masala is often added at the beginning or early in the cooking, whereas ground mixes are used to finish a dish. The basic mixture usually includes coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, mace, peppercorns, and cinnamon leaf, in varying proportions and with other spices added according to the individual cook's preferences and the dish being prepared.


3 tbsp coriander seeds

3 tbsp cumin seeds

20 green cardamom pods

10 cinnamon sticks, 1 in (2.5 cm) long

2 tbsp cloves

10 blades mace

10 black cardamom pods

72 nutmeg

1 tbsp black peppercorns

4 cinnamon leaves or bay leaves 1 tbsp dried rose petals

1 tbsp fennel seeds


Heat a dry frying pan and add all the spices. Stir them and shake the pan as they start to crackle. When they smell roasted and aromatic, remove the pan from the heat and pour the spices onto a plate. Allow to cool.

Makes about

5 oz (150 g) To grind the spices, use a mortar and pestle or a spice mill (or a clean coffee grinder).

Laal maas Fiery lamb curry

As the name suggests, this is a very hot dish, not for people with a weak constitution. It is by far the hottest dish in this chapter, and is one of the few Indian dishes that contains heat in every sense—both "chili hot" and "spice hot." You can decide the CO amount of heat you'd like in your finished dish—discard most of the seeds from the chilies if you want to reduce the heat, or keep them in if you want it really hot. I think this is perfect for cold winter evenings or even a Friday night gathering. You can use either lamb or goat—they are interchangeable.


25-35 dried red chilies, stems removed 6 green cardamom pods

1/2 tsp cloves 5 black cardamom pods

572 oz (150 g) ghee or vegetable oil 272 oz (75 g) garlic cloves, finely chopped

9 oz (250 g) plain yogurt, whisked until smooth 9 oz (250 g) onions, finely chopped

2 tsp cumin seeds, roasted 2XA lb (1 kg) leg of lamb or goat with bone, 1/2 tbsp ground coriander chopped into 1-in (2.5-cm) cubes

1 tsp red chili powder 3 cups lamb stock or water

2 tsp salt 2 tbsp finely chopped cilantro leaves

3 cinnamon leaves or bay leaves


Set aside 3 or 4 of the dried chilies to use later; put the remainder to soak in x/2 cup water. Also put aside 4-6 of the cloves and 1 tbsp of the ghee.

Mix the yogurt with the cumin seeds, ground coriander, chili powder, and salt in a bowl. Set aside.

Heat the rest of the ghee in a heavy-based pan. Add the remaining cloves, the cinnamon leaves, and the green and black cardamoms. When they begin to crackle and change color, add the garlic. Sauté for 2 minutes or until the garlic begins to turn golden. Add the onions and cook for

10 minutes or until golden brown, stirring constantly.

Stir in the meat and cook for 2-3 minutes. Drain the soaked red chilies and add to the pan. Continue cooking for 10-12 minutes or until the liquid has evaporated and the meat starts to brown slightly. Now add the spiced yogurt and cook for another 10-12 minutes or until the liquid from the yogurt has evaporated.

Add the stock or water and bring to a boil, then cover the pan, reduce the heat, and simmer until the meat is tender. Adjust the seasoning. Remove from the heat and keep warm.

To prepare the tadka, or tempering, which boosts the flavors, heat up the reserved ghee or oil in a large ladle over a flame (or in a small pan) and add the reserved cloves and dried red chilies. Cook for 1-2 minutes or until the ghee changes color and the spice flavors are released. Pour the contents of the ladle over the lamb curry, sprinkle with the chopped cilantro, and serve.

Serves 4

chili hot

Makai ka soweta Lamb and sweet corn curry

> This is a true example of regional Indian cooking using local ingredients to make a dish that is not only unique but also appropriate for the region. The climate in most of Rajasthan and the Thar Desert is arid, and, while not a lot is produced here, corn is CO grown and consumed in abundance. Sweet corn helps water retention in the body, and yogurt is also cooling in a hot climate. I've made this recipe with lamb, but it would work just as well with goat or mutton, if you can get some.


274 lb (1 kg) boned shoulder of lamb, cut into 10 oz (300 g) plain yogurt

1-in (2.5-cm) cubes 2 tsp ground coriander

1/2 cup ghee or corn oil 1 tsp ground turmeric

11/2 tsp cumin seeds 2 tsp salt

5 green cardamom pods

4 black cardamom pods Onion paste

10 cloves 7 oz (200 g) onions, finely chopped

2 cinnamon leaves or bay leaves 3 oz (75 g) garlic cloves, finely chopped

3 cups lamb stock or water 12 green chilies

1 lb (450 g) canned sweet corn, drained and coarsely chopped juice of 72 lemon

2 tbsp chopped cilantro leaves


Mix together the ingredients for the marinade. Add the cubes of lamb and turn to coat, then cover and set aside for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, make the onion paste by blending together the ingredients in a blender until smooth.

Heat the ghee in a heavy-based pan over moderate heat, then add all the spices and the cinnamon or bay leaves. As the spices crackle, add the marinated cubes of lamb, with the marinade, and turn up the heat to high. Cook for 12-15 minutes or until all the moisture has evaporated, stirring constantly.

Next, add the onion paste and cook for a further 10 minutes, still stirring to ensure that the paste does not stick to the pan and burn. Add the lamb stock and reduce the heat. Simmer for

Serves 4-6

30 minutes or until the meat is about 85 percent cooked.

Add the sweet corn and cook for another 10 minutes, stirring constantly. The dish is ready when the consistency is glossy. Remove from the heat, adjust the seasoning, and transfer to a heated warmly spiced serving dish. Finish with the lemon juice and fresh cilantro. Serve with steamed rice or bread.

Pounding grain with a pestle, Rajasthan >

Achari khargosh Rabbit leg cooked in pickling spices

> This is the type of dish that would have been cooked on a shikaar, or hunting expedition, when the Rajput princes went out hunting with their entourage. It would originally have been made with hare but works just as well with rabbit.

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