A Spoonful about our Cuisines
With 22 different official languages and cultures, there is no one
representative Indian cuisine. Of all cuisines, you’ll find two
types, Mughlai (from Northern India) and South Indian (from the
Southern Peninsula), most often in the Indian restaurants. Mughlai
cuisine from Northern India is a blend of ancient Indian and
Persian cuisines. The most popular Indian dishes like Tandoori
Chicken, Biryani, and Chicken Tikka Masala come from Mughlai
cuisine. Dosa (rice crepes) and Sambar (spicy lentil soup) are
the 2 most popular dishes from Southern cuisine.
India is known for its variety of spices, and they play an important role in its cuisines. In addition to flavor, the use of many spices in Indian cuisine is rooted in Ayurveda, traditional Indian medicine. Some are added for their general health and nutritional value. Others are used to help digest and manage or reduce any potential negative impacts of food. Almost all Indian curries are made from onion, ginger, and garlic. They are then enhanced with different herbs and spices depending on the dish and or the region. South Indian curries use coconut as a signature ingredient and are generally spicier because of their liberal use of chilies. North Indian curries tend to be heavy on tomatoes.
Glossary of Indian Dishes Terms
BasmatiFragrant, long grain rice. The Himalayan region in India is known to produce the best Basmati in the world.
BiryaniAn elaborate pilaf made traditionally with curried meat, basmati rice, caramelized onions, and nuts.
Coriander seedsThey are ripe fruit of the coriander plant – a popular herb used as a garnish.
Fenugreek seedsThey are ripe fruit of the fenugreek plant. Fenugreek, known as Methi, a very popular green vegetable like spinach, is eaten by itself or is mixed with other dishes like Methi Chicken or Methi Aloo (Methi and potato). Used in Ayurvedic medicine for stomach health.
Green CardamomKnown as “Queen of Spices” because of its very pleasant aroma and taste. It is the dried ripe fruit of the cardamom plant.
MasalaMost often refers to a blend of spices or blend of onion, ginger, garlic and spices
Thai cuisine is known for bold aromatic dishes that balance
fundamentally different flavors in each dish, like salty, sour, spicy,
creamy and sweet. Heat generally sits on top of these flavors. The secret
of a good Thai dish is the right balance of these flavors.
Thai foods blend regional South Asian flavors with strong Indian, Chinese, and Malayan overtones. Fish sauce and coconut milk are two key signature ingredients of Thai cuisine. Fish sauce, made from fermenting fish and salt, has no substitute and plays a key role in adding complexity that has no parallel in other cuisines. Coconut milk enfolds Thai ingredients in sweetness that rounds off sharp flavors and balances heat. Herbs like Thai basil, cilantro, lemon grass and galangal create deliciously aromatic dishes. Because of the liberal use of herbs and spices, Thai foods are generally healthy.
Almost all Thai sauces are made from pastes which hold the keys to both flavor and aroma. Shallots, ginger, garlic and chilies form a base for most pastes.
Rice is so important in Thai culture that the word for rice is the same as the word for meal, kou. Rice is believed to have a soul called Mae Posop or “The Rice Mother.” She is born from rice, becomes pregnant when the rice flowers, and gives birth to rice. Rice farmers pay homage to Mae Posop, offering her food and shelter throughout the year. The highly prized, sweet-smelling jasmine rice is indigenous to Thailand. Many other countries grow jasmine rice, but none of them are as aromatic as the rice from Thailand.
Glossary of Thai Terms
Bamboo ShootsA bamboo shoot is the start of a young bamboo plant. It is the off-white meat inside the shoot that is used in cooking. This white meat turns yellowish after it is cooked.
Coconut creamSimilar to coconut milk, but contains less water. It has a thicker, more paste-like consistency than coconut milk, which is generally a liquid. Both are made from coconut meat.
Fish sauceGenerally produced by fermenting dried anchovies with salt in earthenware vats. After the fermentation process, liquid is siphoned off and transferred into ceramic vessels to sit for several months to allow flavor to develop. When it is ready, it is diluted with water and bottled.
Palm sugarMade from the sap of the palmyra palm. It is made the same way as maple syrup: by collecting and boiling the sap into sugar. Palm sugar recalls the flavor of brown sugar, yet with more rounded caramel and butterscotch notes.
GalangalA cousin of traditional ginger with more earthy flavor. It is also called Thai ginger.
Lemon GrassA herb used to provide citrus aroma and taste. It looks like grass, smells minty, and tastes similar to lemons.
Thai BasilUnlike Italian basil, Thai basil has smaller leaves with purple stems and is more aromatic.
ShallotsThe smallest member of onion family, with perfumed flavor and milder sulfurous characteristics of an onion. Shallots provide the key base for Thai pastes and curries.
Thai ChiliAlso known as Bird’s Eye Chili. It is almost 10 times hotter than regular jalapeno peppers. It is the key source of heat in Thai dishes.
Incan civilization stretched across the Andes mountains, giving it a great
diversity of plants and grains available for cooking like amaranth and quinoa.
Quinoa is used for its nutritive value and was considered sacred by the Incas
and was referred to as Chisaya Mama or "Mother of All Grains”. The Incan
emperor using “golden implements” traditionally sowed the first seeds of
season. It is believed that the Incan army was able to subsist on quinoa and fat
when on long journeys.
Incan cuisines include Bolivian, Chilean, Ecuadorian and Peruvian cuisines. Of these, Peruvian cuisine is the most popular and complex. It is a blend of influences from the indigenous Incan and other cuisines brought in by immigrants such as Spanish, Chinese, Italian, German, and Japanese cuisines. Without the familiar ingredients from their home countries, immigrants modified their traditional cuisines by using ingredients available in Peru. The two most popular and familiar dishes of Peruvian cuisines are Pollo a la Brasa (rotisserie chicken) and Ceviche (raw fish “cooked” with a citrus marinade instead of heat).
Glossary of Inca Fusion Terms
QuinoaPronounced keen-wah, it is a highly nutritious, gluten-free seed that comes from the Andes mountains of South America. Quinoa contains more protein in it than any other grain plus 8 essential amino acids. It is available in 3 key varieties: golden, red and black.
Moroccan cuisine is appreciated for its range and diversity, a result of centuries-long interaction with Continental Europe, the Arabian Gulf and the Orient. It has an amazing complexity of flavors and aromas influenced by North African, Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. Many of its popular dishes have been developed and perfected by cooks in royal kitchens. These dishes use a variety of spices from around the world.
Tagine is one of the most popular Moroccan dishes. Like “casserole”, it derives its name from the vessel it is cooked in - a traditional conical earthenware pot. A stew-like dish with a sweet and tangy taste, it is made with a spice blend called ras el-hanout.
Glossary of Moroccan Terms
Ras el-hanoutArabic word that literally translates as 'head' or 'top' of the shop. It is a mixture of many spices that give Moroccan dishes a flavorful taste and aroma.
Mace and NutmegNutmeg and mace are siblings – they are from the same fruit of the nutmeg tree Myristica frangrans. Nutmeg is the oval-shaped pit, which is the fruit, and mace is the bright red webbing that surrounds the shell of the pit. The taste between nutmeg and mace is slightly different with mace being more pungent and spicier, similar to the combination of cinnamon and pepper. And nutmeg can be described as less intense than its sibling with a sweetness similar to cinnamon but more piquant.
All SpiceDerived from the dried berry of a tropical evergreen tree, it is native to the Caribbean islands, and now cultivated in many other parts of the world. Some also call it 'Jamaican pepper'. The name 'allspice' was coined as early as in the 1620s by the English, who thought it was a blend of the flavors of cinnamon, nutmeg, and clove.