Indian food is rich in variety, taste and flavour. Much of this is due to the liberal use of spices, with these exotic flavour enhancers being the backbone of trading routes throughout history - no country in the world produces as many varieties of spices as India. The use of spices has been documented well over a thousand years - both for their ability to engage the palate and also for their medicinal qualities. For example turmeric, cloves and cardamoms are antiseptic in nature. Ginger and cloves help aid digestion. Pepper is a great remedy for throat ailments. With 29 states in India, each region has its own style of cooking and unique cuisine. Broadly, the cuisine can be divided between the North and South. Religious and caste restrictions, weather, geography and the impact of foreigners have contributed to these regional differences.


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The most striking difference is rice vs bread. Rice is more popular in the south while wheat (which is transformed into breads) reigns in the north. Rice grows more efficiently in the tropical and semi-tropical south, wheat in the temperate north.
The curries or sauces tend to vary as well. They are thinner in the South, thicker in the North. The fact that wheat is the main base means the dishes that accompany the breads must be thick enough to be picked up or scooped up by the bread. Southerners use a thinner sauce over rice, which stays relatively firm when absorbing liquid.

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Generally speaking, South Indian cuisine is distinguished by a greater emphasis on rice as the staple grain, spicier, more vegetable based dishes with a liberal use of tamarind, coconut and curry leaves and coconut and gingelly oils.

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A typical south indian meal will feature rice, an array of vegetable dishes, a pickle, pappadums and curd. A meal such as this would be consumed on a banana leaf. On festive occasions and weddings, briyani, a meat flavoured rice dish is made. This is accompanied by a yoghurt based raita or vegetable relish. Payasam, a popular milk based dish completes the meal.

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According to Indian food theory, there are six different tastes: sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter, and astringent. A proper Indian meal attempts to balance each of these flavours, with one or two of them standing out, but no one dish containing all six.

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Do the featured recipes stay true to theory? Test it out and tell us what you think. Happy cooking!

South Indian recipes

Easy chicken biryani: Serves 4-6 by Prema

Ingredients:

1 kg boneless,skinless chicken breasts,cut into 2-inch cubes.
3 cups basmati rice
1 large red onion,chopped
5 tomatoes, chopped
5 garlic cloves,crushed
2 tbsp ginger,crushed
4 green chillies,sliced into thin rounds,or to your tolerance level
4 tbsp olive oil
4 whole cinnamon sticks
4 cardamom pods
1/4 cup mint leaves,chopped
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1 tsp chilli powder
1 tbsp coriander powder
1/4 cup coriander leaves,chopped
Salt,to taste
Fried Golden raisins and cashews,for garnish,optional.

Method :

Prep the rice. Wah the rice thoroughly and soak in water for 20 mins and then drain completely.
1) Blend cumin seeds,crushed garlic,half the green chillies and 2 cinnamon sticks together with very little water into a coarse paste.
2) Heat oil on medium in a large deep pan. When hot,add the chopped onions and salute for about 5 mins or till translucent.
3) Add the blended paste and keep sautéing of another few mins till the raw smell goes.
4) Now add the chopped tomatoes and cook for five mins or so until the tomatoes are soft and mushy.
5)Add the chopped chicken pieces, 1 tsp salt and stir it through the masala thoroughly. Put lid on pan and cook for about 15mins or so.
6) Remove cover,add the rest of the green chillies,spice powders,and the chopped coriander and mint leaves and stir through.
7) Cook for another 10 mins till chicken is fully done and the masala is relatively dry. Check on the seasoning and add more salt if necessary.
8)Remove pan from fire and let it rest.
9)Bring a deep pot of water,about 8 cups,to the boil. Add a little salt,the remaining cinnamon sticks and cardamom pods.
10) When the water comes to a boil,add the pre-soaked rice and cook for about 5-6 mins. Ensure that you don't overcook thrice as it needs to be 'al dente' at this point or firm to the bite.
11) Drain the rice completely. Nest step is layering the biryani.
12) Put the deep pot back onto the stove. Put heat on to medium. Pour 1/2 cup water into the pot and bring it to a simmer. Now add half of the drained cooked rice,followed by the chicken masala and then top it off with the remaining rice.
13) Close the lid,and let the dish simmer for about 20-30mins and turn heat down to low. Check after the required time to make sure that the rice is fully cooked by now and the masala is infused into th rice.
14) Serve hot in a casserole dish ,sprinkled with chopped coriander leaves and the optional cashew/raisin garnish and a raita as an accompaniment. I served mine with pineapple raita.
Easy Chicken biryani recipe adapted from Kitchen Geekery.

Pineapple Raita: Serves 4-6 by Prema

Ingredients:

2 cups greek yoghurt,whisked till creamy
1 cup fresh pineapple, finely chopped. save juices.
2 shallots,finely chopped
1 red chilli,slit into 2, deseeded and sliced into half moons
1 tsp cumin powder
About 10 mint leaves,julienned
1 tsp salt or to taste
Paprika and fresh ground pepper for garnish

Method :

1) Mix the chopped pineapple and its juices,the mint leaves,the shallots, the red chilli slices and the cumin powder together with th yoghurt.
2) Leave in the fridge to chill until ready to serve.
3) Just before serving,add salt to taste and mix well.
4) Sprinkle some red paprika and fresh ground black pepper on top and serve immediately.

Semiya Payasam (serves 4) by Bindu

Vermicelli sauteed golden in ghee with cashews and raisins, simmered with milk.

Ingredients:

200g vermicelli
25ml ghee
1.5litre milk
100g sugar
100 g cashew nuts
50g raisins
5g cardamom powder


Method :


Heat the ghee and fry the vermicelli until a golden brown.

Mix in the cashew nuts and the raisins.

Add milk and boil for 5 minutes.

Mix in the sugar and stir till the sugar is dissolved.

Stir in the cardamom powder and serve hot or warm.

Enjoy with a fabulous group of girlfriends...as much as we did ... Cheers !