Dear Cheeky Ones,
There’s at least one known thing in the universe; we all love Indian food. I mean steaming hot basmati rice, the curries, or that freshly fluffed naan-bread… Just writing the words is calling me back to the kitchen. And if you were to ask for the best place to get it in India, everyone’s answer would be the same; mum’s house. This is where I learnt all these tips for Indian cooking – Home-made is where the heart’s at, it’s where we pour our spicy souls into the fragrant cauldrons, and watch and smell as the colours and flavours change like an alchemist’s potion.
Home-made is sacred, almost ritualistic. And like with any ritual, there are steps that must always be taken, and perhaps more importantly, those that must always be avoided. Here I will share with you five culinary blasphemies that stand between any aspiring home-cook and their path to curry nirvana.
Burnt Cumin Seeds
Perfect Cumin Seeds
1. Never burn the cumin seeds. This is number one for good reason… really never-ever do this please, please, please. Cumin is the most remarkable of spices; quite plain when raw, sudden nutty when dry roasted, and obtaining a slightly sweet pop when fried. It is this latter quality that lends itself most well to curries, and to get it right, you should heat your oil to be just warm (say about 8 seconds on high heat), add your cumin seeds, and after only a few seconds, just as they begin to fluff up, add the next ingredients to halt their cooking further (onion, chillies, garlic, and ginger…). If the cumin burns in any of this period, it suddenly develops an overpowering bitter taste, and there is now only one way to fix this dish; chuck it in the bin, and start anew. The left photo above shows them burnt, notice how they are darker, blacker, and more puffed up, losing their sleek and lined appearance.
2. Tomatoes go in last! Heat oil, fluff cumin seeds, chuck in onion… and the hour of patience has arrived. Your onions must be sweated properly, so hold back with the tomatoes for a while, as their acid halts the onions’ proper cooking. Only when they are 90% cooked (translucent, golden, and soft) is it time for the rich, red tommies to join the party, and trust me, come dinner-time your patience will be rewarded.
3. Don’t add your ground spices if the pan’s surface is dry. Spices easily burn and so must only be added when your sauce is wet, or when the pan is covered with simmering vegetables. The spices then mix in and heat slowly. Exposing them to the direct heat of the pan and allowing them to dry-fry will cause them to burn, and must be avoided! See how above the powdered spices darken, dry out and burn, while the wet spices beg to be the beginning of a bubbling, hot, delicious curry.
4. Don’t forget to salt the lentil water. Like how Italians prepare their pasta, the lentils must cook in salted water in order to fully absorb it. But we can’t be exactly the same as the Italians over in India, so of course we accompany that salt with a neat dash of turmeric too! Then for a simple dish, pour your hot, steaming dal over perfectly fluffy basmati rice prepared like Jamie Oliver’s here.
5. Finally, never add cold water to cooking curries. Who knows exactly why! But I mean, there’s something just wrong about a hot, cooking sauce mixing with something cold right? If my mum ever caught me doing it she’d slap the back of my wrist and say “your generation is always in such a rush…” Yet I must agree; the cold water clashes, while the hot water, poured slowly-slowly, amalgamates itself properly and keeps the masala bound together. See an easy recipe for cooking chana masala here.
With these five tips for Indian cooking, curry Nirvana calls ever-closer. And once you get there, it is time to always fulfil our cheekiest rule: make more than you can eat. Indian food always tastes better the next day! Do you have any other tips for Indian cooking or big no-no’s that you think we missed? Let us know in the comments below!