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North Indian Culinary Secrets

North Indian Culinary Secrets

Indian cooking uses a lot of curries as well as vegetables. (photo by S.K.)

Sid Khullar | Chef's Blade

You’ve probably read the previous piece on North Indian breads. This article focuses on North Indian cooking, which includes cooking style, spices used, terminology and some common foods.

North Indian cooking is nearly always quite spicy and uses a large number of spices in any given dish. The terms used for various dishes are normally descriptive of the food itself like Jeera Aloo for instance, which literally translates to ‘Cumin seed Potatoes’. Like most cultures there are also some misleading names like ‘Butter Chicken’, which is actually marinated chicken cooked in a tandoor and served in smooth, tomato gravy and doesn’t contain any butter. There are also terms which aren’t related to the food in question, like Pulao, which is rice cooked with spices and vegetables. The term sabzi (sub-zee) is used quite liberally when describing nearly any dry, vegetable preparation. The same applies to the term dal, which is used for most types of lentils. The term tari (tuh-ree) denotes gravy and is suffixed to the name of a dish when it has gravy.

In these days of fusion food, it is difficult to pin down a set of spices that a given region can claim. However, traditionally, north Indian cooking uses the following spices and herbs:


-Cumin seed (Jeera)
- Ajowan or (Ajwain)
- Red Chili Powder I – Flavor over color (Lal Mirch)
- Red Chili Powder II – Color over flavor (Degi Mirch or Kashmiri Mirch)
- Turmeric Powder (Haldi)
- Dried Mango Powder (Aamchur)
- Coriander Seeds (Sabat Dhania)
- Coriander Powder (Dhania)
- Fresh Coriander Leaves (Hara Dhania)
- Green Cardamom (Choti Elaichi)
- Black Cardamom (Badi Elaichi)
- Cinnamon (Dalchini)
- Garam Masala – A set mixture of spices – roasted cumin, cinnamon, cloves, caraway seeds, nutmeg (and/or mace) and green cardamom seed or black cardamom pods. The composition of Garam Masala changes from region to region.
- Dried Fenugreek Leaves (Kasuri Methi)
- Black Mustard Seeds (Rai)

This list is by no means complete – there are many more spices used in every day North Indian cooking – the purpose of this article however is to provide a feel for North Indian cooking.

Different spices are used in different situations, in different ways. The flavor and characteristics of spices change if you’re dry roasting them, frying them, adding them before simmering to cook or after cooking.

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