Read an ExcerptIndian Cooking Without Fat
The Revolutionary New Way to Enjoy Healthy and Delicious Indian Food
By Mridula Baljekar Marlowe & Company
Copyright © 2005 Mridula Baljekar
All right reserved.
A Guide to Ingredients
The following is a list of some of the ingredients used in this book. If you are unsure about how to buy or store certain ingredients, this list, together with the Cook's Tips included throughout, should help.
Aniseed (Ajowain or Carum) Anise is native to India. The seed resembles a celery seed and is related to caraway and cumin, though the flavor is more akin to thyme. All Indian grocers sell anise and the seeds, which are used with legumes and fried snacks, will keep for a number of years if you store them in an airtight container. Anise aids digestion and helps to prevent flatulence.
Chapati flour (Atta) This very fine whole wheat flour, used to make all unleavened Indian bread, is rich in dietary fiber because, unlike whole wheat flour, atta is made by grinding the whole grain into a very fine powder.
Bay leaf (Tej patta) Bay leaves used in Indian cooking are obtained from the cassia tree and are quite different from Western bay leaves (from the sweet bay laurel). Because Indian bay leaves aren't readily available, you can use standard bay leaves instead.
Blackpeppercorns (Kali mirchil) Black pepper comes from allowing fresh green berries to dry in the sun. The green berries come from the pepper vine native to monsoon forests of southwest India. Whole peppercorns will keep well in an airtight jar but ground black pepper loses its wonderful aromatic flavor very quickly. It is best to keep a supply of whole pepper in a mill and grind it only when you need to use it. Pepper is believed to be a good remedy for flatulence.
Cardamom (Elaichi) Cardamom has been used in Indian cooking since ancient times. Southern India produces an abundance of cardamom and it is from there that this spice found its way to Europe via the ancient spice route.
There are two types of cardamom: the small green cardamoms (choti elaichi) and the big dark brown cardamoms, which are generally referred to as black cardamoms. In the West, we also see a third variety, white cardamoms, which are obtained by blanching small green cardamoms. The blanching produces a milder flavor.
Whole green cardamom pods are used to flavor rice and different sauces. You can buy ground cardamom, which is used in many desserts and drinks, at Indian stores. It's best, however, to grind small quantities at home using a coffee or spice mill. If this spice is stored for too long, the essential natural oils will dry out, which destroys the flavor. In India, cardamom seeds are chewed after a meal as a mouth freshener.
Chaat masala Chaat masala (available from Indian or Pakistani stores) is a spice mix that you sprinkle on hot tandoori chicken. Although adding it to the recipe is optional, it's worth trying, because it transforms the flavor dramatically.
Chilies (Mirchi) It is difficult to judge the strength of chilies. Generally, the small, thin chilies are hot and the large fleshy ones tend to be milder. Most of the heat comes from the seeds, so it is best to remove them if you don't enjoy hot food. You can remove the seeds in two ways. First, you can halve the chili lengthwise, then scrape out the seeds under running water using a small knife. The second technique is to roll the chili between the palms of your hands for a few seconds, which loosens the seeds. Then you slit the chili (without cutting it through completely) and shake the seeds out.
Always wash your hands thoroughly after handling chilies, as their juices are a severe irritant, particularly to eyes or tender areas of skin. To remove all traces of pungency, rub a little oil into your hands, then rub in lemon juice.
Fresh green chilies: These long, slim fresh green chilies are sold in Indian stores. Chilies that come from the Canary Islands tend to be milder than Indian chilies. Jalapeño and serrano chilies from Mexico are more readily available in supermarketsthey aren't ideal for Indian cooking, but you can use them.
Fresh red chilies: Mainly from Thailand, these are sold in most large supermarkets.
Dried red chilies (Lal mirchi): When fresh green chilies are ripe, they turn a rich red color. When these peppers are dried to produce dried red chilies, they develop a completely different flavor. You can't use fresh chilies instead of dried, nor can you use dried rather than fresh. Crushed dried chilies are coarsely ground and are sold in Indian and Pakistani shops; you can also prepare them at home in a coffee or spice mill. Supermarkets also sell crushed dried red chilies, which are also ground into chili powder.
Bird's eye chilies: These small, pointed and extremely hot peppers are normally used whole to flavor oil. Long slim chilies are weaker and are ground with other spices.
Cilantro, fresh Cooks use this herb, which is really the fresh leaves of the coriander plant, in Indian cooking for flavor as well as a garnish. Cilantro also forms the basis for many chutneys and pastes.
Cinnamon (Dalchini) One of the oldest spices, cinnamon is obtained from the dried bark of a tropical plant related to the laurel family. It gives savory and sweet dishes a warm flavor.
Cloves (Lavang) Cloves are the unripened buds of a south Asian evergreen tree. They have a distinctive flavor and are used both whole and ground. In India, cloves are used as a breath freshener. Clove oil is used to ease toothache.
Coconut (Nariyal) Coconut palms grow in abundance in southern India and fresh coconut is used in savory and sweet dishes. Alternatives to fresh coconut include desiccated and creamed varieties. If you use desiccated coconut or coconut milk, make sure that it is unsweetened. Coconut is high in saturated fat; however, some grocery stores carry reduced-fat, canned coconut milk.
Coriander seeds (Dhaniya) This is one of the most important spices in Indian cooking. Its sweet, mellow flavor blends well with vegetables.
Cumin (Jeera) This pungent spice can be used whole or ground. Be sure to always measure the quantity of this spice because it has a strong flavor. The seeds are used whole to flavor cooking oil before the vegetables are added to the recipe. You can obtain a more rounded flavor if the seeds are roasted, then ground.
There are two varieties, black (kala jeera) and white (safed jeera), each with its own distinctive flavor, and the two aren't interchangeable. Black cumin is sometimes confused with caraway.
Curry leaves (Kari patta) Grown and used extensively all over southern India, these leaves have an assertive flavor and are used with vegetables and legumes. They're sold fresh or dried in Indian grocery stores. You can store the dried leaves in an airtight jar, but you can freeze the fresh leaveswhich have a better flavorto add to dishes when you need them.
Fennel (Saunf) These green-yellow seeds are slightly larger than cumin and have a flavor similar to anise. They have been used in Indian cooking since ancient times and they're also chewed as a breath freshener or to settle an upset stomach.
Garam Masala Garam means heat and masala is the blending of different spices. The main ingredients in this spice mix are cinnamon or cassia, cloves, and black pepper, with other spices according to individual taste. These main ingredients are believed to create body heat and are used to make a warming spiced tea in extreme climates in the Himalayan region. To learn more about garam masala, see page 23.
Garlic (Lasoon) Fresh garlic is indispensable in Indian cooking. Dried flakes, powder, and garlic salt just can't offer the same authentic flavor. Garlic is always used crushed or puréed to yield the maximum flavor. This bulb is believed to be beneficial in reducing blood cholesterol levels; it also has antiseptic properties and aids digestion.
Ginger (Adrak) With its fresh, but warm and woody flavor, fresh ginger is vital to Indian cooking. Dried (powdered) ginger can't give the same fresh flavor. Ginger is believed to reduce stomach acidity and promote good blood circulation.
Gram flour or chickpea flour (Besan) Made from ground chickpeas, these flours are available at Indian grocery stores.
Mint (Pudina) Native to the Mediterranean and West Asian countries, mint is easy to grow and readily available. Dried mint is a good substitute in Indian cooking.
Modified low-fat plain yogurt Instead of Greek-strained yogurt, which can be hard to find, I have used modified low-fat plain yogurt in several of the recipes in this book. Here's how to make it: Strain low-fat plain yogurt through a muslin-lined sieve over a bowl to remove excess moisture. This will take 25 to 30 minutes. Remember: You'll need double the quantity of yogurt because it reduces considerably by the time it is strained.
Moong dhal These are skinned and split mung beans, and are available in Indian grocery stores.
Mustard (Sarsoon or Rai) Mustard seeds are essential in Indian vegetarian cooking. Black and brown seeds, which have a nutty flavor, are most commonly used, and white seeds are reserved for pickles. You can also eat mustard leaves as a vegetable.
Nutmeg (Jaiphal) Nutmeg has a hard, dark brown shell with a lacy covering. This covering is mace, the highly aromatic and brightly colored spice, which is removed from the nutmeg before the latter is sold. It's best to buy whole nutmegs, because the ready-ground spice loses its lovely aroma and flavor quickly. Use a small nutmeg grater for grating the whole nut.
Onion seeds (Kalonji) These tiny black seeds aren't true onion seeds; they've been given this name only because they bear a striking resemblance to onion seeds. These are used whole for flavoring fish, vegetables, pickles, and breads. Because there is really no substitute for onion seeds, it is best to leave them out of the recipe entirely if you're unable to find them.
Paneer Often referred to as cottage cheese in India, this is quite different from Western cottage cheese. Ricotta resembles paneer in flavor, but not in appearance, texture, or cooking qualities. Paneer is a firm, unripened, and unsalted cheese that doesn't melt and run like other cheeses when cooked, but withstands high temperatures to retain its shape. Paneer is available from larger supermarkets (sold pre-packed).
Paprika Hungary and Spain produce mild, sweet peppers that are dried and ground to make paprika. Deghi Mirchi is grown extensively in Kashmir for making Indian paprika: It's a mild spice that tints dishes a brilliant red without making them hot to eat. Hungarian paprika is the closest thing to Kashmiri Deghi Mirchi. If you'd like to add some "kick" to a dish that calls for paprika without hot chili powder, you can use two thirds paprika and one-third hot chili powder.
Poppy seeds (khus khus) The opium poppy produces the best seeds. There are two varieties, black or white, and only the white is used in Indian cooking. They're ground (sometimes roasted) and contribute a nutty flavor to sauces. They also act as a thickening agent.
Red lentils (Masoor dhal) You can buy these lentils at Indian grocery stores or in supermarkets.
Rose water This water contains the essence of an edible rose, the petals of which are used to garnish Mogul dishes. Dilute for use in savory and sweet dishes.
Rose-flavored syrup (rooh afza) This sweetener is available at Indian markets. You can use rose water instead, but the flavor is less concentrated and isn't sweetened.
Saffron (kesar) The saffron crocus grows extensively in Kashmir. Some 250,000 stamens are required to produce just slightly more than a pound of saffron. Only a minute quantity of this expensive, concentrated spice is required to flavor a dish.
Sesame seeds (til) These are pale, creamy seeds with a rich nutty flavor. They're indigenous to India, which is the largest exporter of sesame oil to the West. Sprinkled on naan before baking, the seeds are also used with vegetables and in some sweet dishes. They're also used to thicken sauces.
Tamarind (imli) Resembling pea pods at first, tamarind pods turn dark brown with a thin outer shell when ripe. The chocolate-brown flesh is encased in the shell, with seeds that have to be removed. The flesh is soaked in hot water to yield a pulp. Ready-to-use concentrated tamarind pulp is quick and easy to use. Valued for its distinctive tangy flavor, tamarind is added to vegetables, lentils and other legumes, and chutneys.
Toor dhal These are yellow split lentils. They're available from Indian grocery stores.
Turmeric (haldi) Fresh turmeric rhizomes resemble small pieces of ginger, with a beige-brown skin and bright yellow flesh. Fresh turmeric is dried and ground to produce the familiar spice, which has to be measured carefully to avoid giving dishes a bitter taste.
Whole wheat chapati flour (atta) Available from Indian markets, you can store this flour the same way you would ordinary flour. A combination of whole wheat and white flour can be substituted (half and half) if this isn't available.
Yellow spilt peas (channa dhal) These legumes are available in supermarkets or in large bags from Indian markets.
Yogurt (dahi) In India yogurt is always homemade, and usually from buffalo milk, which is creamier than cow's milk. Indian yogurt is also mild. Throughout the recipes, low-fat plain yogurt is listed as an ingredient.
Excerpted from Indian Cooking Without Fat by Mridula Baljekar Copyright © 2005 by Mridula Baljekar. Excerpted by permission.
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