Author’s Archive: Jennifer R

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A Traditional South Indian Feast

For those of us that adore the rich, varied and exotic tradition of Indian food, paying a visit to one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants might present us with something of a challenge. The mouth-watering menus contain a list of exquisite and inventive dishes – how is it possible to choose just one meal?

Of course, the more savvy diners among us might decide to order the Indian way and share food, choosing a selection of dishes to dip in and out of and a few tasty flat breads or pots of rice to pass around. Problem solved!

A Traditional South Indian Feast

Another solution is practiced in the South Indian state of Kerala, where a traditional feast follows a pattern steeped in history and culture, serving up course upon course – enough to satiate even the hungriest members of the party. The word for banquet is sadhya and this spread tends to signify a celebratory occasion, marking it with some serious eating.

Setting up for a Sadhya

A traditional Sadhya would be expected to take place on a special occasion such as a wedding, a birthday or to celebrate a festival or holiday. As it is a South Indian tradition, a region where many people adhere to religious beliefs prohibiting them from eating animal flesh, the feast consists of vegetarian specialities – in this inclusive manner, anyone can partake in a Sadhya.

A Sadhya would usually take place at lunchtime and although nowadays many people prefer to eat at tables, traditionally diners would seat themselves cross-legged on the floor. A large, flat banana leaf serves as a plate and each dish is presented in a certain order, placed on specific parts of the leaf.

Once you are fully satisfied and after all your courses have come and gone, you can demonstrate you are finished by folding your leaf. Just be sure to close it away from you to show enjoyment, as towards you indicates a need for improvement!

Traditional Foods of a Sadhya

A Sadhya consists of many small dishes that come together to form a course and the dishes vary according to the religion of the people attending, the occasion that is being celebrated and the area of Kerala. It has been known, for example, in the north of the state, to include the occasional non-vegetarian dish.

However, there are commonalities. The main bulk of the meal is always rice served with a selection of dishes known as kootan. This collection includes curries and spicy, lentil preparations such as sambar, rasam and parippu. An assortment of flavoursome pickles and chutneys would also form an integral part of the kootan. At the end of a Sadhya, the traditional dessert served is known as payasam and usually consists of several dishes as well.

The incorporation of different dishes at different courses contributes to the inclusive atmosphere – it is likely there will be a dish to suit everyone’s personal preferences at a Sadyha.

Often the meal will end with an unusual routine of chewing betel lead with spices and lime. This is believed to help begin the digestive processes as well as cleansing the palate.If you want to have the mouth watering experience of traditional south indian feast then you can visit: http://www.amaya.biz/

Bhelpuri: India’s Favourite Savoury Snack

India’s bustling food markets are a true spectaclefor the everyday traveller. They are an assault on the senses, with endless stalls awash with varying colours and aromas. Tables are stacked high with exotic fruit and vegetables, while on the floor lay sacks filled to the brim with spices.

An Indian food market is where you can sample some of the country’s finest street snacks, sweets and drinks. And, one delectable dish you are bound to come across is bhelpuri; a savoury snack that is said to have originated in Mumbai’s street food stalls, but is now popular in many regions across India.

Bhelpuri: India’s Favourite Savoury Snack

Essentially, bhelpuri is made from puffed rice and vegetables which are mixed in a tangy tamarind sauce and served with either a sweet or spicy chutney. The typical bhelpuri contains bhel (rice puffs, potatoes, onions and chat masala), puri (fried wheat dough) and sev (small pieces of fried, crunchy noodles).  Other regional varieties may include ingredients such as chillies, for that extra kick, as well as tomatoes.

The most popular sweet chutney is known as ‘saunth chutney’ and is made from dates and tamarind. The most popular spicy chutney, on the other hand, contains coriander leaves and lots of green chillies.

Preparing bhelpuri is easy; you simply combine all the ingredients together in a bowl. The snack is best eaten straight after it has been prepared, as sometimes the chutneys and tomatoes (if used) can make the mixture soggy after a while.

If you buy bhelpuri from a street vendor, there’s a good chance that it will be served to you in a paper cone. Papdi (deep-fried breads) are a typical accompaniment to bhelpuri as you can use them to scoop up the snack before eating it.

Bhelpuri is considered to be a ‘chaat,’ which is the name given to spicy and salty snacks sold throughout the country. But, why do Indian people love bhelpuri much? Well, mainly because it tastes so great. The snack has the perfect balance of sweet, spicy and salty flavours, and its texture is both crispy and crunchy.

If you were to ever travel around India, there’s no doubt you’ll come across many variations of the snack. Dahipuri is a combination of bhelpuri, chutney and papdi with lots of yoghurt. Another variation is churmuri, which is commonly made with tomatoes, onion and coriander leaves, as well as chilli powder and coconut oil.

Many regions dice raw, sweet mango and add it to the mixture, while others will prepare a dry bhelpuri mix (often referred to as ‘Bhadang’) and garnish it with coriander leaves, onions and a squeeze of lemon juice before serving. Whether you eat it as a mid-morning treat, for lunch, or as a starter to your evening meal, there’s no doubt that bhelpuri is the perfect Indian snack.

However, you don’t need to travel halfway around the world to sample mouth-watering Indian snacks. If you live in, or are visiting, London anytime soon, just book yourself a table at one of its fine dining Indian restaurants.

Indian Cooking: Kitchen Cupboard Essentials

So, you’ve just decided to cook-up a nice Indian meal for dinner. You unearth your recipe book and flick through the pages until you come across the perfect dish. You check out the first couple of ingredients on the list, only to look in your kitchen cupboard and realise that you’re out of stock. It’s a situation we can all relate to, right?

At this point, you’ve really got two choices: head to the shops to pick up a few bits, or ditch the Indian dinner and opt for something else instead. You’re not a fan of either option, so what can be done about it?

Well, this situation can be avoided altogether– all you need to do is ensure that your kitchen cupboards are stacked with Indian cooking essentials. Making sure you’ve got the basic ingredients found in Indian dishes will put an end to those last minute dashes to the shop, and you won’t need to sacrifice a nice curry for a takeaway ever again.

Indian Cooking: Kitchen Cupboard Essentials

What are those essential ingredients? We’ll tell you

Spices

Spices are the heart and soul of Indian cuisine, and there are a few essential ones that need to be in your kitchen cupboard. These include: cumin, cinnamon, garam masala, coriander, turmeric, cardamom and mustard seed. The list may seem somewhat extensive, but you will only use a small amount of spice in each dish, so they’ll last for a long time. Just make sure they are stored in a cool, dry place (AKA, your kitchen cupboard).

Fresh Ingredients

You will also need a few fresh ingredients, but all of them have a reasonably long shelf-life so can be bought in advance. The first of these ingredients is onion, which is used in abundance in Indian cooking. You’ll also need garlic and fresh ginger.

If you like spicy dishes, then make sure you’ve got a selection of red and green chillies. You can buy them in fresh, dried or in powder form, though fresh is believed to release the most flavour when used in cooking.

Atta Flour

Breads make the perfect accompaniment to all Indian meals – eaten as a starter, or used to soak up any leftover sauce. Atta flour is used to make a range of Indian flatbreads, including naan, puri, chapatti and roti. Make sure you’ve got some stored in your cupboard.

Pulses

Dried pulses, called Dal, are also key ingredients in Indian cooking. They are often used to enhance the flavour of dishes and they help to thicken the consistency of sauces. If you don’t eat meat, there’s a good chance that your recipe will include some form of Dal, so make sure you’ve got some to hand.

Rice

At the risk of stating the obvious, mostly all Indian dishes are served with rice, so make sure you’ve got plenty of it in your kitchen cupboard! Basmati is the preferred rice of choice; known for its distinct nutty aroma, it can be served plain or mixed with meat and vegetables.

So, are you all stocked up? If you don’t fancy cooking tonight, why not treat yourself to a meal out instead? In London you’ll find some of the country’s best fine dining Indian restaurants, including the oldest in the city – Veeraswamy.Book a tableand you won’t be disappointed.

If we were to choose the number one, iconic meal that the majority of people would associate with Indian cuisine, surely the only possible answer is that of a curry?

Despite the fact that variations of this dish crop up in a number of other culinary traditions, such as the coconut curries of Thai cuisine or the sweet and sour flavours of Chinese food, it is India that truly takes the curry crown in terms of variety and versatility. After all with the range of colourful ingredients and aromatic spices this country uses to create hundreds of versions of this famous dish, surely there is a recipe out there to match the tastes of any foodie?

India is a bubbling, melting pot of diverse cultures and religions and each brings their own traditions, preferences and cooking techniques to the table. They all contribute to a cuisine that has become one of the shiniest gems in the treasure chest of global food. These different influences become evident as you journey around the different regions of the country with curries changing form slightly as certain tastes, textures and ingredients take centre-stage, dependent on the area. Let’s take a closer look at curry around the country of India.

Indian Curries Around The Country Part 1

North India

The north of India has a cooking tradition intrinsically linked with influences from the kitchens of the Mughal rulers. Renowned for their experimental innovations in the kitchen and their predilection for playing with flavour combinations, the opulent Mughals created dishes rich in ghee and decadent desserts. Luxurious gravies were favoured, such as the silky, smooth sauce of the korma, and meat-based curries featuring chicken or mutton were used to great effect.

Kashmir offers up the famous rogan josh, a UK curry house favourite, resplendent with its bright, red colouring and rich with meat, chosen to fight off the chill in the colder months. Additionally, the Punjab, famous for its mouth-watering, comfort food, provides flavoursome curries thickened with butter, cream or ghee. Butter chicken or murgh makhani is an excellent example of this.

Generally, the curries of the north have a tendency towards a thicker, drier kind of gravy than those of the south – one that is more easily mopped up with warm flatbreads such as chapattis.

South India

If you are a fan of spicy curries, then get thee to South India. This region is renowned for having some of the hottest curries in the country. Andhra Pradesh uses red and green chillies in abundance whilst Goa is the birthplace of the world famous vindaloo. This spicy curry is a fiery number and was originally made with pork. However, it is more likely to feature lamb or chicken on the menus of some of London’s best Indian brasseries.

Karnataka and Kerala are coastal states and the south as a whole is also a major player in the field of coconut production. As you can imagine from this winning combination, seafood curries swimming in creamy, coconut milk based sauces prevail in this region. Expect liberal helpings of sliced, red chillies to feature heavily too…

When the weather turns colder it often feels like winter could last forever. This is partly because for many of us when the seasons change it doesn’t take long before we catch a cold or (if we are really unlucky) are struck down with the flu. However, just because the temperature falls outside that doesn’t mean illness is inevitable. There are certain things we can all do to ensure that we stay healthy right through until the start of spring.

In fact, something as simple as eating a currycould help us bid farewell to colds and flu. Fenugreek is an ingredient that makes a frequent appearance in many Indian dishes. It has also been hailed as a veritable elixir, being able to boost immunity and fight the common cold virus.

Beat Winter Colds With A Curry

The use of fenugreek within a medical capacity is not new. For centuries it has been used by women as a way of stimulating the production of breast milk during pregnancy and in the days after childbirth. It is also thought to help reduce cholesterol, reduce the risk of heart disease, aid digestion and help with weight loss, as well as helping treat skin and hair problems. All of which leaves us wondering if there is anything this wonder spice cannot do?

On average, adults in the UK catch between two and four colds every year. For children, these figures are higher (between three and eight) as their immune systems are not fully developed. Levels of sickness reach their peak in January, which means all the more reason for us to take action and start eating more curry!

Studies have shown that fenugreek is substantially more effective at staving off a cold than some of the so-called super foods such as blueberries. The spice is rich in antioxidants and is best taken as a preventative measure.

However, it’s not just fenugreek doing all the good work. Another spice noted for its cold-preventative properties is turmeric. A staple in many Indian curries, turmeric is so rich in antioxidant power that it has been shown to protect and heal virtually every part of the human body.

So while we wait for spring to make its long-awaited appearance, why not book a table at one of the capital’s prestigious fine dining Indian restaurants? Fine Indian Restaurants run three of London’s best Indian eateries, namely Amaya, Chutney Mary and Veeraswamy. All three restaurants are unique and have their own areas of excellence, but all are united in their commitment to serving the finest authentic yet avant-garde Indian cuisine.

For Amaya, the focus in the kitchen is on the open grill. The restaurant offers the widest range of grilled ingredients on any menu in London. It is also the proud holder of a Michelin star. Chutney Mary’s menu is as modern as it is sophisticated. Here you can expect anything from traditional street food to unusual regional curries. And finally, Veeraswamy is a restaurant serving authentic Indian food with a modern twist in a Raj-inspired environment. Take your pick from these three Indian culinary gems and (hopefully) say goodbye to any sniffles while you’re there.