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Discussion Starter · #1 · (Edited)
We cook a lot of Indian food in our house. My wife is from Kerala, India so she has a good nose for good spicey food.

Tonight she was feeling a little homesick so I made her one of her favorite comfort foods. Curd Rice with pickle. As I was preparing the meal I paused and took a pic of the cutting board:



I was thinking to myself how easy South Indian foods are to prepare. I'm not talking fancy hotel or cooking show dishes, but regular everyday dishes that regular everyday people eat.

That pic shows the basic seasonings/ingredients in about 85-90% of the South Indian dishes.

Sure, you can add other spices such as cumin, garam masala, fenugreek seeds -to name a few, but really, if you have those basics in the photo above you will never be disappointed.

What are they?
-Start with coconut oil. It's mostly cut out of the pic, but you can see part of the jar there. Get the oil hot.

-Black mustard seeds. This is what you add first to the hot oil. They will start popping in the oil pretty soon after.

-Dried red chili. Just toss the whole thing in there. It's really hot, but you can't beat the flavor it adds to whatever it is you are making.

-Fresh curry leaves. They MUST be fresh. Curry leaves are NOT the same thing as curry powder. No one in India uses curry powder -it was invented by the British. If you don't have a local market to buy fresh curry leaves order a curry leaf tree from a nursery and grow it yourself. They are easy to grow.

-Red Onions. As soon as you add the curry leaves, follow them with onions and stir it around in the oil.

-Green chili. That's a jalapeno there in the pic. They don't really use jalapenos in India. They use something more like a serrano. Either way, it's what you add next.

-Fresh ginger. Last, but not least, fresh ginger. I use a cheese grater to grind up a little ginger. Toss it in.

That's it. As soon as the ginger goes in you are ready to add whatever it is you are making. Rice, cabbage, semolina, quinoa, whatever.

-By the way, for the curd rice. I added a couple of spoonfuls of urad dal and toasted it in the oil after the ginger. then I added about 3 cups of cooked rice and about 1.5 cups of plain yogurt(curd). That's curd rice. Indian 'pickle' is not like american 'pickles'. It is any number of veggies that are pickled and heavily salted. My favorite is Mango pickle. It is used sort of like a condiment.

-For cabbage thoran I would add shredded coconut, cumin seeds, and a little tumeric.

-For uppma I would add semolina or quinoa instead of rice.

-For Kadala I would make it with chickpeas and leave out the ginger, but add cilantro(coriander), chili powder, and tumeric.

-For potato masala I would just add potatos.

They all share the same basic start.
 

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Thank you from me too!
It seems like I add too many things when I try and make Indian type dishes on my own--like adding coconut milk because I added too much spice!

I've never tried black mustard seeds. Are they spicey hot, or just flavorful?

I love how you've broken the basic recipe down and made it adaptable
 

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Discussion Starter · #4 ·
Thank you from me too!
It seems like I add too many things when I try and make Indian type dishes on my own--like adding coconut milk because I added too much spice!

I've never tried black mustard seeds. Are they spicey hot, or just flavorful?

I love how you've broken the basic recipe down and made it adaptable
Thanks for the props.

Black mustard seeds are for flavor, not heat.
Also, I cannot stress enough the importance of using fresh curry leaves from a market or your own tree. Dried curry leaves really have no flavor and curry powder is an abomination -at least in our house! Fresh curry leaves in hot coconut oil add an extremely savory, mouth-watering flavor/aroma to your food. If you can't get them from a market, do order a curry leaf tree from a nursery. They grow very easily in a pot if you protect them from cold and give them good sunlight.

India has vastly different foods and recipes that vary by region. For example, In many North Indian recipes they like to use lots of garam masala. They use it in the South too, but not nearly as much. Be careful with garam masala -it is quite strong for a non-Indian palate.
Since my wife is from Kerala we tend to focus on Southern style cooking, which tends to be VERY spicy hot. There are certainly plenty of recipes that call for coconut milk and other spices/ingedients, but I have found this basic start is so very common in many dishes with only little to no variation. If you don't like so much heat, cut your dried chili in half and shake out the seeds. Also use less (or none at all) green chili (jalapeno/serrano)

When my wife makes uppma she makes it very spicy hot, but we have some raita with it that has no chili at all. Raita is plain yogurt with chopped up fresh tomato, cucumber and onion mixed in with a bit of salt. You mix it with your savory dish as you eat. The sour of the yogurt and the savory of the uppma go really nicely together and the yogurt can cool your palate for another bite of spicy.

There is a very simple recipe I love (most everybody else love too) Potato Masala. It's basically the stuffing inside a Samosa or a dosa. You can eat it plain too. Just follow the basic formula from the cutting board and add boiled potatoes. You can add tumeric, cilantro, chili powder, or even a little cumin to make it your own. Every household makes it slightly different. Sort of like how meatloaf is made a little different in every household in the USA.
 
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I do like Indian food (although as you pointed out, different regions of India do have somewhat different styles). I wonder if the reason my home-made Indian style meals taste different from restaurant-made is because I don't have the right ingredients? (Well, that, and because if a recipe calls for an unusual spice I don't happen to have, I usually leave it out... :p )
 

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Discussion Starter · #7 ·
I do like Indian food (although as you pointed out, different regions of India do have somewhat different styles). I wonder if the reason my home-made Indian style meals taste different from restaurant-made is because I don't have the right ingredients? (Well, that, and because if a recipe calls for an unusual spice I don't happen to have, I usually leave it out... :p )
Cooking with my wife and on occasion, her mother, I have found that there is no hard-and-fast rule about most dishes, but sometimes a particular dish requires a certain set of ingredients and/or a certain process -and any deviation will result in something you didn't want. A perfect example is appam. I have a post on this board about appam from 7 or 8 months ago. It's a delicious rice and coconut pancake thing. Deceptively simple to make, but if the batter is not correct you will not be eating appam.

There are several popular food items that require a wet grinder to grind rice, dal, coconut, etc.. without a wet grinder, or a commercial-grade blender like a vitamix, American kitchens simply can't replicate certain Indian foods due to incorrect/inadequate equipment.

Ingredients also play a large role in how the flavor turns out. If you are trying to replicate a restaurant dish (or a home dish) that calls for curry leaves and you don't have any, there really is nothing else you are going to use to get that dish to taste 'right'. It's just one of those crucial ingredients with no substitute.

The intent of this post above was to show the most basic structure of South Indian home cooking. In Kerala, this basic start would be used with meat dishes, veg-only dishes, breakfast, lunch, and dinner. The only ingredient that might be a little difficult to get easily is fresh curry leaves. As I said before, however, you can order a tree from a nursery and grow it yourself. I have fifteen curry leaf trees now. A couple of months ago I planted five more suckers from my large tree. They grow so easily. Smell so good.
 
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