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Old 08-22-2016, 11:52 AM
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South Indian Basics


We cook a lot of Indian food in our house. My wife is from Kerala, India so she has a good nose for good spicey food.

The other day she was feeling a little homesick so I made her one of her favorite comfort foods. Curd Rice with pickle. As I was preparing the meal I paused and took a pic of the cutting board:



I was thinking to myself how easy South Indian foods are to prepare. I'm not talking fancy hotel or cooking show dishes, but regular everyday dishes that regular everyday people eat.

That pic shows the basic seasonings/ingredients in about 85-90% of the South Indian dishes.

Sure, you can add other spices such as cumin, garam masala, fenugreek seeds -to name a few, but really, if you have those basics in the photo above you will never be disappointed.

What are they?
-Start with coconut oil. It's mostly cut out of the pic, but you can see part of the jar there. Get the oil hot.

-Black mustard seeds. This is what you add first to the hot oil. They will start popping in the oil pretty soon after.

-Dried red chili. Just toss the whole thing in there. It's really hot, but you can't beat the flavor it adds to whatever it is you are making.

-Fresh curry leaves. They MUST be fresh. Curry leaves are NOT the same thing as curry powder. No one in India uses curry powder -it was invented by the British. If you don't have a local market to buy fresh curry leaves order a curry leaf tree from a nursery and grow it yourself. They are easy to grow.

-Red Onions. As soon as you add the curry leaves, follow them with onions and stir it around in the oil.

-Green chili. That's a jalapeno there in the pic. They don't really use jalapenos in India. They use something more like a serrano. Either way, it's what you add next.

-Fresh ginger. Last, but not least, fresh ginger. I use a cheese grater to grind up a little ginger. (about 1/2-1 inch) Toss it in.

That's it. As soon as the ginger goes in you are ready to add whatever it is you are making. Rice, cabbage, semolina, quinoa, whatever.

-By the way, for the curd rice. I added a couple of spoonfuls of urad dal and toasted it in the oil after the ginger. Toasted dal adds a delicious flavor! Then I added about 3 cups of cooked rice and about 1.5 cups of plain yogurt(curd). That's curd rice. Indian 'pickle' is not like american 'pickles'. It is any number of veggies that are pickled and heavily salted. My favorite is Mango pickle. It is used sort of like a condiment.

-For cabbage thoran I would add cabbage, shredded coconut, cumin seeds, and a little tumeric.

-For uppma I would add semolina or quinoa instead of rice.

-For Kadala I would make it with chickpeas and leave out the ginger, but add cilantro(coriander), chili powder, and tumeric.

-For potato masala I would just add potatos.

They all share the same basic start.

I cannot stress enough the importance of using fresh curry leaves from a market or your own tree. Dried curry leaves really have no flavor and curry powder is an abomination -at least in our house! Fresh curry leaves in hot coconut oil add an extremely savory, mouth-watering flavor/aroma to your food. If you can't get them from a market, do order a curry leaf tree from a nursery. They grow very easily in a pot if you protect them from cold and give them good sunlight.

India has vastly different foods and recipes that vary by region. For example, In many North Indian recipes they like to use lots of garam masala (literally-'spice mixture'). They use it in the South too, but not nearly as much. Be careful with garam masala -it is quite strong for a non-Indian palate. Garam masala is also inconsistent from brand to brand. Most Indian households use their own mixture so it is different from family to family.

Since my wife is from Kerala we tend to focus on Southern style cooking, which tends to be VERY spicy hot. There are certainly plenty of recipes that call for coconut milk and other spices/ingredients, but I have found this basic start is so very common in many dishes with only little to no variation. If you don't like so much heat, cut your dried chili in half and shake out the seeds. Also use less (or none at all) green chili (jalapeno/serrano)

When my wife makes uppma she makes it very spicy hot, but we have some raita with it that has no chili at all. Raita is plain yogurt with chopped up fresh tomato, cucumber and onion mixed in with a bit of salt. You mix it with your savory dish as you eat. The sour of the yogurt and the savory of the uppma go really nicely together and the yogurt can cool your palate for another bite of spicy. Sometimes green chilis are added to the raita to make it spicy hot too. Either way.

There is a very simple recipe I love (most everybody else loves too) Potato Masala. It's basically the stuffing inside a Samosa or a dosa. You can eat it plain too. Just follow the basic formula from the cutting board and add boiled potatoes. You can add green peas or other small vegetable, tumeric, cilantro, chili powder, or even a little cumin to make it your own. Every household makes it slightly different. Sort of like how meatloaf is made a little different in every household in the USA.

This pic shows a meal we eat fairly regularly. Raita (sour yogurt with veggies), Kadala curry (chickpeas), and uppma (made with quinoa instead of semolina). very tasty.


Last edited by Lurker; 08-22-2016 at 12:37 PM..
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Old 08-22-2016, 12:29 PM
bali's Avatar
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Looks good .
Keep cookin.
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Old 08-22-2016, 01:01 PM
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OH . MY . GOODNESS!
That looks absolutely scrumptious !!
I need to go back re-read your post, I kept finding myself distracted to gaze at the pix.

Thank you for sharing such helpful info, de-mystifying (so to speak).
I think I want to start with raita, it seems the perfect antidote to the current heatwave in my area.
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Old 08-29-2016, 12:04 PM
Acorn
 
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I love Indian food! I made Paneer Makhani just today even. Basmati rice is the easiest rice to prepare, too!

This is inspiring, I need to try more south Indian cooking.
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