Spices and spice mixes characterize much of Indian cooking, a country considered as the spice continent. So whether you’re cooking Indian recipes from the north (with its meats and flatbreads), from the west (with its rice and lentils), from the east (abundant with seafood), or from the south (with its tangy pickles and chutneys), the spices will ever be present on the pot and palate.
The flavors of India are as diverse as its regions and as complex as the infusion of influences of its various invaders into the cuisine. But a well-balanced Indian recipe is characterized by the presence of sweet, sour, salty, spicy, bitter and astringent. How else to achieve this but through the skillful use of spices, fresh and dry, on both main dish and its accompaniment?
Indian recipes proffer staple spices in all its forms—whole, ground, toasted, individually or as masterful mixes, such as the warm spice mix (garam masala powder) or the tandoori masala. A well-stocked Indian grocer or Asian section of the supermarket also has packaged mixes for all your cooking needs. We suggest you make your own as much as possible so you get to control how exactly you want the dish to taste.
Other must-have Indian pantry staples include paneer (Indian fresh cheese), ghee (clarified butter), adrak lasan ka paste (ginger-garlic paste), and barista (fried onions), which can all be made from scratch or bought ready to use.
You can try the egg pakora (deep-fried eggs in spicy batter), palak paneer (pan-fried freshly made Indian cottage cheese with a sauce of spinach and other spices). To complement the savory Indian recipes, there are also various Indian sweets, such as the sohan halwa (a dense, sweet fudgy confection strewn with chopped almonds and pistachios), and ledikeni (deep fried cottage cheese balls stuffed with khoya/koya, a whole milk fudge).
The foundation of Indian cooking involves the use of spices, which make each savory or sweet dish complex and profound in flavor. Individual spices are combined with others in an Indian recipe or to form specific mixes known as masalas (for example, garam masala, vindaloo masala) which is either dry or in paste form.
Common spices and flavoring ingredients found in the Indian kitchen include turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin, mustard, bay leaves, cloves, asafoetida, carmon seeds, mango powder, tamarind pulp, and dried fenugreek leaves. Cinnamon and cardamom are also used in Indian sweets like the balushahi (deep fried pastries shaped like glazed doughnuts). The spices can be prepared from scratch or bought ready to use.
With the spices and flavorings mastered, the cook then learns the basic cooking techniques in Indian cooking. To cook food in its own juices under a covered pan, steaming (dum) is applied. To sauté in preparation for the addition of other ingredients, the Indian cook accomplishes the bhunao (sautéing). To deep-fry the pakora, the cook does talina (deep-frying). To cook marinated meats in a brick oven, the cook operates the tandoor (grilling).
Recipes for Indian cooking in this collection include a sampling of appetizers, main dishes, desserts, and flatbreads. The biryani is a colorful rice dish mixed with vegetables, nuts and spices. The bhindi masala is a spicy okra dish usually served with roti bread. Into the garam masala, turmeric, coriander seeds, cumin are added. Aloo matar is a classic Punjabi dish made with potatoes and green peas, made colorful and flavorful by cumin, garam masala, red chilli powder and turmeric.
We have recipes for chapatti and baati, unleavened Indian flatbreads to serve as perfect accompaniments to the rich sauces of Indian cooking. Break them into pieces and dip into the sauce or fill each flatbread with the dish so you get to taste India in one bite.
On the surface, Chinese recipes possess the flavors we’ve come to know of them, particularly in the use of ginger, spring onions and garlic. But Chinese cuisine is more than these common hallmarks, as diverse as the many regions that make up the most populous country in the world.
In The Chinese Kitchen by Deh-Ta Hsiung, Chinese recipes rely on a food philosophy that highlights the “freshness of ingredients” and “balance of tastes.” That’s why in many a Chinese market, you will find an exhaustive array of ingredients—from vegetables and fruits native to China as well as meat, fish and poultry, waiting to be seasoned by an even larger list of spices and seasonings.
These ingredients are transformed into the traditional Chinese meal based on the perfect balance in terms of color, aroma, flavor and shape. Chinese recipes are not merely a casual hodgepodge of these elements, but instead a carefully and skilfully constructed whole and parts.
Aside from contrasts and complementary in colors and aroma, the ingredients of Chinese recipes should follow uniformity in size and shape. This is not simply for the sake of aesthetics (although julienned bell peppers, carrots and onions do look great together) but more rightfully, if they have the same size and shape, they will cook together at the same time. No uneven rawness or mushiness in your stir-fries and egg rolls.
Chinese cuisine is also based on the principle of the yin and yang since food intake is entirely connected to one’s personal health. Yin represents the cool quality of food while the yang represents the hot quality. One does not outdo the other, but instead, unite and complement each other. You will not find a singularly rich or cloying dish in Chinese cuisine. Everything simmers in a delicious harmony that’s sweet, sour, bitter, hot and salty in a plate.
Peking roast duck glistening on a hook. Dimsum warm on a bamboo basket. Carved winter melon with ham soup on its cavity. Sichuan spicy bean curd. Crisp fried spring rolls. Sweet and sour pork. These are just some of the common dishes found in Chinese cooking. Their flavors are fresh, with emphasis on good health and balance of the fan (grains and starches) and cai (meat and vegetables).
To the five traditional flavors fundamental to Chinese cooking, the Chinese cook add two additional flavors. Xiang refers to the aromatic tastes associated with wine, garlic, spring onions, sesame seeds, and Sichuan pepper, says Deh-Ta Hsiung in The Chinese Kitchen. Xian means delicious in a savory way, like a good meaty chicken stock, oyster sauce, shrimp sauce and even monosodium glutamate.
In the Chinese markets, an array of ingredients awaits he who wishes to practice the art of Chinese cooking. The selection, preparation, and presentation of these ingredients are based on the harmony of flavors, which is the philosophy of Chinese cooking. You will find bean curds, rice noodles, sesame seed oil, chilli sauce, plum sauce, dried shrimps, coriander, five-spice powder, bok choy leaves, chestnuts, sea cucumber, scuttlefish, and more when you venture out to your Chinatown market stalls.
In the Chinese kitchen, the cleaver is a requisite tool especially for chopping vegetables to uniform size, an important consideration so the vegetables cook well at the same time. The versatile wok is a must in creating stir fries, noodle dishes, scallion cakes, and bean curd recipes. Double-handed and single-handed woks are great investments. You can shallow- or deep-fry, braise, steam, and make soups using your trusty wok. For dimsums like steamed dumplings, meat buns, and chicken feet, a bamboo steamer does the job. Clay casseroles with covers help steam and stew other Chinese delights.