Curry, cheese naan, pickles… You will know everything about (real) Indian cuisine

Colourful, spicy and tasty, Indian gastronomy fascinates and makes the palates fantasize, rightly or wrongly. Three specialists lift the veil on the little-known (and often confused) recipes of Westerners.

Too spicy, very greasy and long to make… Indian cuisine suffers from many clichés. We almost forget that this food is a reflection of its territory and its ethnic groups: an inexhaustible source of diversity. It is this Western ignorance that pushed Sandra Salmandjee, alias Sanjee, chef and culinary consultant, and Pankaj Sharma, blogger from Jaipur, to popularize the art of the table in India, through the book Indian cuisine illustrated , released on September 18 by Mango editions. On the sidelines of this publication, the two authors and Beena Paradin, creator of the brand of organic and vegetarian preparations Beendi and Beedeli, demystify in a few anecdotes the true taste of Bollywood.

Six flavors in one meal

In India, the eternal triad “starter, main course and dessert” does not exist. Everything is brought together on a single round tray, the thali, on which several containers of metal or sewn sheets are arranged. If the content varies according to the region and the seasons, we find there the basic foods of a balanced diet. Namely: cereals, animal proteins (meat, fish or cheese), legumes (usually a dahl), vegetables, a salad, condiments and a sweet treat. What could be more normal, you will tell us. Except that according to the principles of Ayurvedic medicine, recognized by the WHO and resulting from an Indian tradition more than 5000 years old, this meal must also combine six flavors essential to the balance of the doshas, ​​in other words our 3 vital energies. . “Salty, sweet, bitter, pungent, sour and astringent”, list Beena Paradin, founder of Beendi and Beedeli.

A first bite to reassure

To whet your appetite, the Indian tradition is to start with a sweet bite, also called mithai in Hindi. “Their very mild taste is there to reassure the rest of the meal. We bite into a piece but we don’t necessarily eat it entirely right away”, explains blogger Pankaj Sharma. the boundi ladooa small ball of chickpea flour topped with puffed rice, coconut or oilseeds then covered with a cardamom and saffron syrup or the gulab jamun, a dumpling made from curd, fried and dipped in a similar syrup, are among the essentials. They are served especially on special occasions such as the feast of the elephant god Ganesh. Ice cream lovers, for their part, will turn to a kulfi with rose, condensed milk, pistachios and almonds.

The curry of misunderstanding

Then comes the spiciness like curry. And you just have to read its label to see it: it does not contain one spice but several, 5 to 25 varieties depending on the recipe. Coriander, turmeric for the yellow color, black pepper, mustard, cumin, cardamom, cloves… but not a single trace of green curry leaves, from the tree Kadi Patta – more commonly known as Kaloupilé. This mistake would come from English settlers in the 17th century who, in order to find the flavor of meat, fish and spicy vegetables in sauce – called in Tamil “kari” -, would have brought back in their luggage a mixture of spices of their own invention called curry”, reports Beena Paradin, also an employee of the Rœllinger house. “The Indians prefer to talk about masala, which refers to a mixture of fresh spices reduced to powder. Each family has its own recipe,” continues chef Sandra Salmandjee.

Ghee, healthy fat

In order to flavor potatoes, cauliflowers, aubergines, snake gourds, elephant yams, cassava and other vegetables so dear to Hindu culture, the Bengal region has a masala popular, the panch poron, a mixture of five seeds (cumin, fennel, fenugreek, mustard and nigella). Beena Paradin advises heating it in ghee beforehand. “Free of water and its milk proteins, this clarified butter is an excellent fat, very digestible, which allows you to fry fresh spices without burning them”, explains Sandra Salmandjee. Ghee is also used for making refined pastries, cooking meat, fish or vegetables.

Read also”How to make ghee, this healthy butter from India?

In video, how to clarify butter

Chutney and pickles, star condiments

At Christmas, the French feast on a delicious fig chutney placed on their slice of foie gras. If its English sounding can lead to confusion, this sauce is indeed Indian. It is prepared using fresh fruits, such as tamarind, mango or coconut, herbs such as mint and coriander. “We mix them to make a paste, a bit like wasabi,” reports Beena Paradin.

In the thali, the sweet and sour taste of chutney counterbalances with the pungent and astringent taste of pickles or achards, these fermented condiments. It is a great classic of the cuisine of the subcontinent. According to the founder of Beendi and Beedeli, there are more than 1,000 recipes: dates, peppers, lacto-fermented onions, picked green mango marinated in vinegar and spices, or lemon confit in jaggery – a unrefined sugar -, spices and vinegar. “We often mistakenly think that Indian dishes, dahls or curries are too spicy, in reality we should be more wary of pickles, which can sometimes be inedible for a sensitive palate”, says Beena Paradin. To appease the fire of spices, another condiment will be recommended to them: raita, a green and sweet sauce based on Greek yogurt, raw vegetables, apple, mint, cumin and lime.

Naan versus chapati

At the risk of disappointing some of the readership, naan, this bread roll made from leavened and fermented white flour dough, similar to pizza dough, is not eaten in New Delhi in the same proportions as a baguette in Paris. And for good reason, its cooking must be carried out in a tandoor, a large cylindrical clay oven heated with charcoal where the cakes are glued against a wall reaching 400°C. The Indians buy them plain but also stuffed with garlic, vegetables or meat.

Another disappointment, the famous cheese naan, much appreciated by foodies, does not exist, it would have been invented by a Parisian restaurateur, Beena Paradin tells us. “Today, Indian chefs have in turn appropriated the recipe by filling their naans with Laughing Cow or Stilton, this creamy blue cheese from Great Britain”, notes the founder of Beendi. “Some people add bread, the only Indian cheese made with curd, vinegar or lemon. Its milky flavor is reminiscent of ricotta and its texture, tofu,” summarizes blogger Pankaj Sharma.

For the sake of practicality and economy, families prefer to consume chapati, these flat pancakes made from water, salt, wholemeal flour (wheat, millet, corn). “They are a good alternative to rice in the thali and in the North they are used as a utensil to bring food to the mouth. Always with the right hand, the left hand being reserved for impure hygiene tasks”, underlines Pankaj Sharma.

Sweet and savory drinks

Sacred cow obliges, India is part of the largest producer and consumer of milk in the world. Apart from meals, it is customary to drink a lassi , a drink brewed with whole milk yogurt, sugar and water. It is served very fresh in a sweet version with fruit (banana, mango) and also savory with ginger paste, coriander leaves or ground cumin.

At 5 p.m., time stands still in Great Britain to sip a good tea. A habit that the Indians kept after colonization, of course adding spices of which they have the secret. Thus was born the masala chai, a black tea infused with beneficial spices, particularly with breathable properties, such as ginger, cardamom, cloves, saffron, then whole or condensed milk and sugar. In the country of Gandhi, his salesman, the chaiwalais recognizable from afar thanks to these great gestures which transfer the caramel-colored mixture from one pot to another before serving the customers.

Divine lunch box

Like the great chefs, the Indians devote a real cult to family food, prepared 99% of the time by the mothers and women of the house. This is why workers and school children would not forget their tiffin at noon, this tiered stainless steel lunchbox containing a tempting combination of vegetables, dahl, rice, yogurt, picklesof chapati and carrot pudding. “No Indian restaurant can compete with the contents of this box and it suits them well,” says blogger Pankaj Sharma. Indeed, some communities have particular dietary restrictions: Hindus do not eat meat, Muslims, pork and Jains exclude garlic and onion.

“Samosa is the new croissant”

In case of a little peckish, street-food lovers are in for a treat. “In India, the samosa is the equivalent of the French croissant, we eat it at any time, morning or afternoon”, says Pankaj Sharma. Depending on the region, the recipes differ. In the north of the country, this triangular cone with shortcrust pastry is filled with potatoes and peas, while in the south, it is stuffed with meat or fish. Once cooked, they are eaten dipped in a tamarind and coriander chutney.

The paan, the ally of the breath

Contrary to popular belief, Indians are very concerned about their hygiene, especially oral. At the end of the meal, the guests, mostly men, clean their mouths with a paan“, relates the blogger Pankaj Sharma. This preparation consists of a mixture of betel leaves (a climbing pepper tree, Editor’s note) and its fruit, the areca nut. Everything is filled with rose jam, fennel seeds, melon, cardamom and coconut. What definitely send your Mint-Pastille liquor back to the closet.


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