Regional stars

Regional stars

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

I once met a man of Indian heritage in Australia. Born in Singapore, he didn’t know which part of India his family was from. I delved into what his family had eaten when he was growing up and the conclusion was that they must have been from the south or south west of India. As an Indian, I feel I can often guess which region someone comes from by what they eat at home. In reality, the truth is more complex…

The early roots of Indian foods were deeply influenced by the Ayurveda advocates of ancient times, who recommended mostly vegetarian diets, meals that were healthy and easy to digest, with vegetables, pulses and added healing and digestive spices. After that, the food was defined by what grew locally and seasonally, but was later influenced by the colonizers, traders and settlers from different countries.

The Moghuls of Central Asia were among the first to arrive. They were used to cooler climates, few spices, a meat-heavy diet, breads, and lots of grilling and roasting. They brought these preferences with them and, over the years, their dishes were Indianized. The result is fusion food which we now call Mughlai food. This might not be strictly regional, but it is one of India’s best-loved cuisines.

The food of Kerala is known for its abundance of coconuts, seafood and spices. In addition, Kerala was a key trading port and attracted a variety of settlers over the years. Arab traders came for the spices but ended up staying and marrying local women. The result is a fusion of Arab, Muslim and Southern Indian cooking, known as Moplah food. The Syrian Christians arrived as missionaries and converted many locals; now almost one-third of the population of Kerala is Christian. Their own dishes tend to be milder, and include roasts, which – in oven-free India – are usually pot-roasted. The food of Kerala is often known as Malayali food.

The Portuguese colonizers of Goa insisted that the Goans convert to Catholicism and embrace their culture, including their love of pork. They also brought chillies, pineapples, cashew nuts, tomatoes and pumpkins as well as a baking tradition that still exists today…

Another group of influential immigrants were the Chinese, and the streets of Kolkota are filled with momos: steamed Nepalese-Chinese dumplings served with a chutney or broth. A lot of Indo-Chinese fare has made it into the mainstream, such as sweet-and-sour sauces that coat everything from chicken to paneer.

The Parsis were exiled from their home in Persia and came to Gujarat. Their food is a combination of Persian and Gujarati, but, while Gujarati food is known for its vegetarian thali, Parsis are almost exclusively meat-eaters; even their vegetable dishes contain meat, or at the very least, eggs.

Such is the multi-layered nature of India and its cuisine: a collection of regional cuisines that has been influenced by people from across the globe, as they spice up the dishes they love.

Paneer

This simple, homemade white cheese is normally set into a block, then cut into cubes before being cooked. The flavour is similar to a fresh white farmer’s cheese, a bit like ricotta. It is a quintessential north Indian ingredient, as dairy is abundant in that region and the people love good food, whether meat-based or not.

Paneer was sometimes thought to be the poor man’s protein as meats were, and still are, comparatively expensive – too much for most people to eat every day. However, Punjabis and many others absolutely love paneer, regardless of their wealth and eating habits.

It is an extremely versatile ingredient and lends itself to so many different styles of dishes. The textures can be played with (they can be dense, soft, crumbly or even spongy); however, in any form, this lovely fresh cheese works with all Indian flavours really well.

You will find it eaten at breakfast as a vegetarian spiced scrambled “egg” served with buttered buns; you can eat it spiced and grilled from a tandoor oven or a barbecue, such as with my Grilled Herby Paneer Parcel; it can be layered inside breads, cooked into curries or stir-fried. You can eat it in Indo-Chinese Chilli Paneer, or it can even be fashioned into desserts: think cheesecake, but without the complex carbs.

Paneer is easy to find in Western supermarkets now, but it is simple and really satisfying to make yourself. All you need is milk, yogurt or lemon juice, and a muslin or a clean J-cloth. Once made, paneer can be stored in the fridge in a container of water. When you are ready to cook with it, soak it in seasoned boiling water for 20 minutes to help soften the texture; especially important if you plan to grill the cheese.

Tea

Tea is a drink that most Indians could not live without, but it is a fairly recent addition to the Indian menu. Tea was introduced to India by the British during the domination of the East India Company. At that time, they were importing tea from China and bringing it back to England, but after many trade wars with China, the Company turned their focus to growing tea in India.

Soon they realized that Indians themselves didn’t drink tea and – spotting a huge market – planned a strategy to introduce them to this humble leaf. Salesmen went from house to house with a lovely teapot and cups, teaching Indians how to brew and drink tea. The East India Company weren’t one of the richest companies in the world for no reason; they knew how to mount a campaign and, soon, Indians were converted to drinking tea. However, much to the despair of the British, they were not brewing tea as they were taught, they didn’t all go out and spend money on a teapot, and instead they threw the tea in a pan with some milk, ginger and spices and brewed what we know today as chai, or spiced tea.

Indians today are one of the world’s biggest tea drinkers and Indian black tea is of a fantastic quality. You can hardly walk the streets of most Indian cities without bumping into a chaiwalla. When I was young, any time my mother took us shopping in India, the first thing you were offered was a cup of chai, bought from the local chaiwalla; it was very civilized. Sadly, fewer people drink tea in this part of the world now than ever before, with the drink becoming more and more unfashionable.

When I got married, I would throw a tea bag into a pot of brewing spices and milk for my masala tea fix. My husband’s family – in the tea business for generations – were horrified and disapproving. Soon I was getting large vacuum-packed parcels of the finest black Assam sent to me by my father-in-law… and my entire tea-drinking experience changed. Comparing the depth of flavour from good-quality tea leaves to what we get in the typical tea bag in the UK is like comparing an instant coffee to a very well-brewed Italian cup. So now, my father-in-law’s kindness has ruined my pleasure of having a decent cup of tea outside my home (aside from in some very well-stocked places). On the flip side, I am apparently ruining this amazing pure-flavoured tea he sends me, as I still insist on brewing it with a pot of milk (soy milk, no less) and a variety of spices like a proper Indian!

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