Wednesday, November 18, 2009
The Tastes Of India III
We continue our series on Indian Cuisine this week with a look at several of the most popular dishes. Pictured above is the dish Raj Kachori. As a note, the Raj Cuisine is a group of dishes of Indian food as known to the British. I knew well from my travels that Indian Cuisine was the most popular food in London. I never made the connection until it was pointed out by Ranveer Brar, Corporate Chef for One World Cuisine and my guide, that India was in fact a British Colony and much of the food was adopted and adapted by British culture.
This dish consists of vegetable, semolina and chickpea pastry in a creamy mint sauce. The previous dish I had tasted had been dipped in the tamarind chutney discussed in last week's post, which provided a bit of heat on the tongue. This was the perfect dish to follow as I immediately found it cooling to the palate. It was made to be that way and is often eaten on hot humid days. That brings up the whole history of holistic eating, which often symbolizes Indian Cuisine. Ayurvedic Cuisine, common in India, is the art and science of creating dishes to promote health and well being. We will discuss this in more depth later.
This is the Dosa, a long, cylindrical rice crepe. The Dosa Masala, here, is filled with potato and served with condiments for dipping. A coconut chutney and lentil soup called Sambar served as the dipping sauces here.
Chicken Tikka Masala.
Chicken Tikka Masala is the most popular dish served at Indian restaurants. It's easy to see why. It contains chunks of deliciously cooked and subtly spiced chicken floating in a creamy tomato sauce flavored with fenugreek. The sauce reminded me of a creamy, slightly sweet tomato soup with no trace of the acidity sometimes found in tomato sauces. This was an instant favorite with me, which is typical to those new to Indian Cuisine.
The second most popular dish is Saag Paneer. The same gratifying cubes of perfectly cooked chicken are here in a creamed spinach sauce. Cottage cheese is used to provide the creamy base, a common ingredient in Indian cuisine. The Naan bread is used to scoop up mouth-watering bites of both these dishes. This was the best creamed spinach dish I have ever had, hands down.
Biryani is a rice dish served with vegetables, beef or lamb. It contains onion and mint in a unique combination. As a big fan of stir fry cooking I found this to be very close to that. Fantastic tastes here.
Another very popular dish is the Tandoori Chicken. The amazing smoky flavor from the tandoori ovens provide a crispy skin matched with the flavorful, almost buttery, moist meat of the chicken. Indian food often strives to add some component of crispy texture as many of the dishes are sauce based. The distinctive red color of the skin is often enhanced with a drop of food coloring, rarely used with meat but it does make for a burst of interest in the presentation. This is commonly served with a yogurt sauce.
Poppadum is, again, a crispy ground lentil pancake often eaten as snacks and prepared here in strips served with a creamy yogurt dipping sauce. This is more of a Western India inspired dish and often eaten as a snack to be enjoyed with drinks in the same way tapas would be enjoyed in Spain.
Dessert: Rasmalai and Gulab Jamin.
Desserts in India are rare treats. The history and culture of India dictates a tradition where desserts were only eaten by royalty. With that in mind there is no doubt that they were incredibly rich and sweet, usually served in several small bites.
Here we have Rasmalai, on the cooler end of the flavor spectrum, a rich reduced milk cheese which is then cooked in milk. I found this very similar to some sweetened ricotta dishes I have tasted in Italy. The other was Gulab Jamun, a warm and dark condensed milk and flour beignet with syrup. This had an incredible bread/cheese flavor and pleasingly rich texture with a rich but not cloyingly sweet syrup.
In our next post we will look at the importance of holistic eating which is prevalent in Indian Cuisine.