Have we finally found the formula for delicious?
Some scientists think so. They believe they've found the secret to what makes some food delicious after extensive studies of Indian cuisine in particular. Indian food recipes have long been favorites amongst people of all backgrounds; the balance of spices, the fantastic flavors, the tasty techniques... not to mention all those nutritional benefits from ingredients like turmeric, mustard seeds, cinnamon and more. So if you haven't yet, the time to master this cuisine is now!
The Science of Delicious
But before we get cooking, let's take a look at the facts.
The Washington Postwas the first to report the findings of several scientists who studied over 2,000 recipes to conclude what it is that's so attractive about Indian food. What they discovered was that it's not necessarily the spices or the sauces -- but rather the ways that the different ingredients come together in Indian food, combinations that are very distinct from the way that Western cooks tend to approach cuisine.
Whereas Western recipes tend to seek out ingredients that go together based on their similarity of flavor profiles, the researchers cited "a strong signature of negative food pairing" in Indian cuisine. In other words, ingredients that don't seem as though they should go well together or don't share many of the same flavors are paired... and the results are continually astounding.
What's even more surprising is that the findings held true across eight different regional cuisines tested throughout the sub-continent. Even though each cuisine used different flavors, ingredients and techniques, the trend was still to combine dissimilar ingredients to create a cohesive whole.
What's perhaps not so surprising: most of the compounds that were compared and contrasted -- of 194 total -- were spices.
Mastering Indian Seasoning
In French cooking, which has defined much of Western European cooking, assaisonner, the word for season, implies seasoning with salt, perhaps black pepper. Indeed, for years, many Western cooks kept spices to a minimum, and herbs were relegated to a pretty if somewhat flavorless garnish. Traditional Indian cooking, however, boasts spice blends as a major part of the cuisine, and we're not talking about the spice blends you buy on a shelf.
Learning to work with dry spices is an essential part of mastering the scientifically delicious flavors of Indian cuisine. Blending spices can seem daunting at first, but if you start small and work your way towards more complex mixes, you'll soon get the spice blends down -- and a good chunk of your work towards mastering Indian food recipes will be complete.
Techniques Worth Savoring
Of course, Indian cuisine doesn't just boil down to flavors. There are a host of Indian food techniques to master as well, though for many home recipes, techniques are not so much technical as they are about timing and layering.
For example, sambara is the word used for the technique of adding half or part of the spices as the beginning of cooking and part at the end, in order to best bring out all elements of their flavors. Other techniques such as this, from braising to pickling to frying, are used in different regional Indian cuisines to lend just the right texture and flavor profile to the dish you're attempting to create.
Five Indian Food Recipes to Master
Of course, the best way to learn all about these techniques and flavors is to try them yourself. Here are five fantastic recipes, each hailing from a different region, to get you started:
The technique of sambara is perhaps most frequently used with dals, or curries made with lentils or other legumes, which can be found in many different regions in India. This red lentil curry uses masoor dal, which cook down to almost a paste, marrying with the spices used to flavor the dish. The chili powder is added at the beginning of cooking, while the other spices are fried in oil and added at the end to lend another dimension to the recipe.
Gobi matar is a typically Punjabi dish -- in fact, many of the dishes you know and love from your local Indian restaurant hail from Punjab, including dishes cooked in a traditional tandoor oven, wheat-based breads like roti and paratha, and biryani and makhani styles of curries. In fact, some versions of gobi matar have a thick, tomato-based sauce similar to makhani or butter chicken dishes, while others, like this one, are "dry," letting the vegetables -- gobi or cauliflower and matar or peas -- do the talking. Variations on this dish include aloo gobi matar and aloo gobi -- aloo is the word for potato.
Pork dishes can be rare in Indian cuisine, as much of the continent's cuisine was long governed by Muslim dietary laws, but in the historically Christian provinces of Kerala and Goa, you'll occasionally see pork dishes. One such dish is this light, acidic pork curry from Kerala, which boasts many of the traditional elements of southern Indian cuisine, including the acidic bite of tamarind and a not-so-negligible number of green chiles.
Gujarati cuisine is principally vegetarian and boasts a few unique flavors that you won't find elsewhere on the peninsula, including kadhi, a curry made with sour yogurt and gram flour flavored with spices. This is a smooth, creamy curry, meant to cool you down, not heat you up! It's likely foreign to many who have tried Indian cuisines in restaurants for a few reasons: firstly, there's no morsel of veg or meat anywhere in it -- it might look more like a creamy soup than a curry at first glance. The second is its slightly sweet flavor that will definitely seduce adventurous Indian food lovers.
Vindaloo tends to be a curry chosen for those looking for that spice factor, but this very complex dish from Goa has more to offer than spice. The vinegar-based sauce is often paired with lamb, but a prawn vindaloo is just as tasty and fairly traditional given Goa's seaside location. Vindaloo is a dish that gets better with age, so feel free to make a lot and save some for leftovers!
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Indian food image from Shutterstock: Jabbaphoto