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International Flavors: Asia and the Middle East


Questions taken from The New American Chef chapter on India

  1. Why is ginger often added to beans and lentils?

Not only does ginger impart flavor it aids in digestion. As with a lot of herbs and spices the first use for most of them was as a medicine.


  1. Why should you buy spices whole?

You should buy them whole and in small quantities, because spices that are already ground have already lost some those fragrant oils we are looking for, and this means you end up using more of the spice then you need. You can use a coffee or spice grinder to grind them fresh and it will give you a much better flavor.


  1. Why toast spices?

Toasting spices releases the natural aromatic oils and makes them easier to digest. Toasting also intensifies the flavor of the spice.


  1. Tandoor cooking is associated with which region of India?

The north is the home to Tandoori cooking. Tandoori cooking is mostly associated with restaurants because most people don’t have a tandorri in their homes.


  1. What is the staple grain of Northern India?

Rice is the staple grain and is used in a popular northern dish called Biryani. The rice is sprinkled with saffron infused milk and then layered with meat.


  1. What is the staple grain of Southern India?

The staple grain of the south is also rice but in the south rice is much more important and is sometimes eaten 3 times a day. However they don’t really eat basmati rice as it is more from the Himalayan Mountains. They tend to eat more jasmine and red rice, because they stick together a bit more and soak in sauces better, making it easier to eat then basmati.


  1. Fresh spices mixed into pastes is a characteristic of which region of India?

The south is the region most associated with spices because of the spice trade route that went throughout the region. They also make spice blends in the south and are credited with being the birthplace of the spice blends.


  1. Identify three of the most popular spices throughout India?

Indian Cayenne, Turmeric, Cumin, and Mustard Seed are all used throughout India, but each part of India is going to change the proportions up.


  1. Which region uses whole spices? Ground spices?

The South uses whole spices in the cooking process, and the North use Garam which is a roasted and ground spice rub that is normally used a as garnish.


  1. What do Jains use in place of ginger and garlic?

They use Asafetida, which is a combination of resins from various plants and trees. When you add it to heat asafetida emulates the flavors of garlic and ginger, but it smells like rotten eggs. Because of this smell they keep it wrapped five times and only use little flecks of it.


  1. Why won’t they use ginger or garlic?

The Jains beliefs prohibit them from eating roots because they fear that pulling food from the ground might cause the death of earthworms or grubs. Because ginger and garlic are grown in the ground they cannot eat them.


  1. What is kadhai?

A Kadhai is an Indian wok. It is distinct because it has straighter sides and is deeper.


  1. How many spices are in a traditional curry blend? List them

There are a minimum of nine (9) spices, and they are:

  1. Cassia (not as sweet as cinnamon but you can use cinnamon as a substitute)
  2.  Cloves
  3.  Black Peppercorns
  4.  Black cardamom seeds
  5.  Bay leaf
  6.  Coriander
  7.  Cumin
  8.  Cayenne
  9.  Turmeric.


  1. What dining habit is shared by most Indian and Chinese cultures?

All of the food is served at once and in the middle of the table, and people eat with their hands. Like the Chinese each dish has a contrasting dish or accompaniment to balance the textures and spices.


  1. How would you describe a traditional Indian chutney?

They are made with fresh herbs, green fruit. Spices and ingredients that are zesty and tart. It is very seasonal which is why you will see a lot of Mango chutney when it first becomes mango season. U.S. chutney is considered a preserve in India. It’s all about adding little bits to your spoonful of food, because it is to contrast the cooked spices in your food. Southern India chutneys are more like what we would call herbal pestos. Chutneys can also range from fruit to herbs and even coconut.


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