Indian Food: An Introduction

Do you remember the first time you tried a particular food? Something  so different from your previous experiences, so profound, that it left an indelible mark? The Practical Cook feels that way about Indian food. As is probably apparent by this point, the Practical Cook’s food context is natively Southern (US) as opposed to Southern (India). Growing up, we ate a lot of beans and rice, but they only came in two flavors—with or without chow chow.

(Do not take this as disparaging the Practical Cook’s Mom’s kitchen skill. She is a fantastic cook. You’ll see her recipes here often.)

The Indian food love affair began in college, when a good friend took me to one of two Indian restaurants in the area, after tiring of trying to explain what the food tasted like. After one bite, I got it. The flavors are far too diverse to talk about the flavor of “curry,” and it is impossible to describe Indian food in relation to any other cuisine. It stands independently. The other memory is of my friend saying everything was delicious except paneer, which should be avoided. Her mother learned of this, and my friend was forced to make a disclaimer that “some people actually like it.” (The Practical Cook counts herself among the people who actually like it, preferably house-made and with spinach.)

Herb-Marinated Paneer with a Blackened Chile Sauce

Herb-Marinated Paneer with a Blackened Chile Sauce from 660 Curries

But isn’t it just easier to get takeout or visit the local buffet? Having recently experienced having my kids inadvertently lock themselves in the ladies room at our favorite local Indian spot, the Practical Cook can say definitively, it’s easier to make at home than talking two young people through unjamming a jammed lock through a very heavy door.

There are extremely complex recipes to be made, but one can simply save those dishes for dining out. Any number of legume dishes, breads, and vegetable curries are accessible to home cooks. If you’re a vegetarian, someone looking to eat healthier or on a budget, you simply can’t afford not to learn how to cook Indian food. Your beans and rice repertoire alone will skyrocket.

660 Curries

660 Curries

The Practical Cook recommends 660 Curries as your companion guide in both getting started if you’re a newbie, or expanding your options if you’re an old hand. (Full disclosure, I used to work for the publisher of this book in a past life.) Raghavan Iyer is the rare combination of talented teacher and talented cook. The book is packed with options and a helpful ingredient guide that you can take with you to the Indian grocery store.

Before you say, another grocery store, that sounds like a hassle, two words: microwaveable papadam. If you love the crunchy treat at Indian restaurants (similar to a cracker or flatbread), imagine it at home in every possible flavor combo and spice level—with whole cumin seeds, plain, cracked black pepper, etc. One trip to the Indian grocery store is a serious lesson in the amount and variety of legumes in the world, many of which are fast-cooking, all of which are worth trying.

Now I shall hop down off of my soapbox (or industrial bag of basmati). More on Indian cooking coming soon, with some recipes and specifics.

Coming up next, we’ll do a post-game review of a punt meal: what to do when you’re not in your home kitchen!

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