Accompaniments and sides

Accompaniments and sides

By
Anjum Anand
Contains
22 recipes
Published by
Quadrille Publishing
ISBN
9781849495639
Photographer
Martin Poole

An accompaniment sounds like an afterthought but, in India, it can make or break a meal. Crisp, soft flatbreads give texture and contrast to a curry. Rice with lentils makes the protein in the lentils complete. Raita adds a creamy tang and often crunch to tender-cooked vegetables and meats, while chutneys bring life to anything they are paired with. Indian cuisine is ancient and, though it continues to evolve, the basic principles will always give you a tasty meal.

Carbohydrates are a cornerstone of Indian food and, as a Punjabi, flatbreads are my thing. Breads are more than sustenance; they add texture, earthy flavour, interest and bite. The dough can be as simple as flour and water, cooked without oil or salt, but they can also be elaborate creations stuffed with vegetables, or soft, flaky parathas as rich as puff pastry. As a guide, stuffed breads are eaten alone or with yogurt, while simpler breads work with thicker curries. I often suggest that you start by pairing breads and dishes from the same region, as they just work, and move on from there if you like.

Rice is the other staple, and the curries that go with it are typically thinner and brothier, so all the grains are lightly coated. India has so many varieties of rice, but in the West you mostly find the fragrant, long-grained basmati. Shortergrained, thicker rices are used in the south of India and add a nutty texture.

A raita is a seasoned yogurt given some texture by a vegetable – cooked or raw – or even fruit or nuts. It is a staple in Northern provinces, where there is a thriving dairy industry. The South of India has a raita equivalent of sorts, made from blended coconut, spiced, seasoned and often made with fruit; pineapple is a favourite. There are also crunchy South Western Indian salads which are delicious; some people add them to yogurt for a hybrid dish and it works really well. You really can use anything you want in a raita: try cooked potatoes, fried okra, orange segments, beetroot, aubergine, herbs, walnuts and even coconut.

Another favourite is chutney. In India, it is a requirement and not an option. Tandoori food without a green herby chutney, a chaat without tamarind chutney, or a dosa without coconut chutney… each is unthinkable! Indian chutney is used as a dipping sauce, is drizzled or dolloped over streetfood dishes, or eaten with a meal. Each has a clear flavour profile from its main ingredient. I have included the most popular in this chapter, as well as those I just love the most. Chutneys are also probably the most versatile preparations in the kitchen. I see them as a shot of flavour and often make them to freeze, perfect for adding flavour to any dish.

Lastly, good-quality, fresh-ground spices make a tasty dish. Old ground spices retain their staleness even when cooked into a dish. Whole spices ground in batches and a fresh, homemade garam masala make a lot of difference to a dish. These home-ground spices will retain their flavours for months and are really worthwhile.

Raita

A raita is a seasoned and lightly spiced yogurt side dish or accompaniment. It always contains a fruit or vegetable for flavour, texture and – basically – direction. The added fresh ingredient is up to you, but the most common is one or more of a combination of crunchy salad-like ingredients and herbs, such as tomato, cucumber, onion, carrot, coriander, mint, dill or curry leaves. The spice is often roast and ground cumin seeds or brown mustard seeds, but I have also used the ground-up seeds of black cardamom pods. Cooked vegetables also make delicious raitas: try crispy okra, wilted spinach, potatoes or beetroot. Some cooks also add fruit in season: try pomegranate seeds, orange segments, mango or even banana. The fresher the yogurt, the less sour your raita will be. If the yogurt is very sour, you can add a little sugar or even a splash of milk to the dish to temper that.

Growing up, my mother always made a batch of fresh yogurt at home, and the end of the last batch would be the starter for the next. It was the way she grew up, it was frugal and practical. Until recently I did the same… but life got too busy. I have to say, I still miss the freshness of that yogurt.

To make your own yogurt, heat up some whole milk until just frothing, stirring very often so it doesn’t catch on the pan and burn. Allow to cool until it is just warm. Stir it into some bought yogurt – it’s important that you like the taste of the one you use – and whisk to combine. Wrap the pan in a dish towel and place in a warm oven (I warm it up, then turn it off before adding the pan). Make sure the oven isn’t so hot that the towel catches fire! Leave to set for 4–5 hours, or overnight. The longer you leave it, the tarter it will become, but you do need it to set. Then place in the fridge, cover and chill. There might be a pale liquid that rises to the top; just drain this off.

Poppadoms and papads

There is no definitive answer as to the difference between a poppadom and a papad. I am in the habit – rightly or wrongly – of calling the roasted version a papad and the fried version a poppadom. Maybe this is because we have always had flame-toasted papad at home. However, British curry houses – and the British – refer to them as “poppadoms”, and they are always fried in the UK. Either way, they are addictive, thin crispy discs mostly made from types of lentils, though some Indian regions make them with potatoes and rice. (I have even noticed that some storebought brands make them with flour.)

In England, restaurants will often give you a basket of fried poppadoms as you order food, but many Indians don’t eat poppadoms before a meal. We Punjabis eat ours with a meal, while my Rajasthani in-laws will finish their meal with them, as they are believed to aid digestion, or also make amazing curries out of them. Goans soften and stuff them with a variety of fillings before deep-frying them; perfect bar food! And one of the tastiest poppadom experiences I have had is in a Mumbai restaurant, where it was served hot with a mix of toppings.

Poppadoms come in many sizes and with a variety of different spice flavourings. Whichever way you enjoy them, don’t forget them when eating an Indian meal; they definitely add to the experience.

Indian breads

India has an amazing array of breads: from simple flatbreads made with plain or wholemeal flour and water, to elaborate flaky breads enriched with milk and ghee; leavened breads that are simple, or elegant saffron versions; everyday stuffed breads; more elaborate stuffed breads made with naan dough layered into a soft flakiness, such as Spiced Potatostuffed Spiced Potato-stuffed Amritsari Kulcha Bread; multi-grain breads such as Missi Rot; breads made from chickpea (gram) flour or from cornmeal; breads that are pan-fried and those that are deep-fried… I could go on.

Indian cuisine has always grown richer by learning techniques from her many rulers and settlers and, when it comes to breads, we owe a lot of gratitude to the appetites of the Moghuls (and Arab traders and settlers), who brought with them a deeper understanding of bread-making and its secrets. With them came tandoori breads, leavened breads, almost puff pastry-like flatbreads such as Flaky Malabar Paratha, and large soft breads such as romali roti, so fine and thin that they are named after a handkerchief. The earliest mentions of these types of breads came from travellers, who wrote about their visits to the Delhi Sultanate, where they ate fine tandoori-baked breads at breakfast with their kebabs.

Also noteworthy when talking about breads are the baking traditions and techniques brought to India by the homesick Portuguese, who ruled over Goa for hundreds of years. They missed their breads (then, India had no ovens) and sent for their own bakers, who set about teaching locals how to craft breads from local ingredients, including semolina and coconut toddy. This extended to cakes and biscuits (although again most of these were made on the hob), including a local version of a Christmas cake. The legacy of the Portuguese can be seen in cities around the South Western coast, in the form of pau (the Portuguese word for bread is pao). Pau looks like a well-risen square burger bun. These are now served with butter alongside curried vegetables and spiced minced meat, as well as being used as a burger bun with local potato cakes… that might sound heavy, but it is divine.

Indian food is designed to be eaten with a starch and – even when tasting a dish – a chef might remind you to taste it with rice or a bread, to appreciate the real flavour. For most, a proper Indian meal would be incomplete without the familiar chew of the flatbread that so perfectly complements the flavours and textures of the soft meaty curries, vegetables and lentils and – helpfully – scoops them up into the perfect mouthful as well!

Featured Recipes in this Chapter

    No results found
    No more results
      No results found
      No more results
        No results found
        No more results
          No results found
          No more results
            No results found
            No more results
              No results found
              No more results
              Please start typing to begin your search
              We're sorry but we had trouble running your search. Please try again