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Indian Pickles

What is a pickle? In western countries it is a way to preserve vegetables like onions, gherkins, cucumbers etc in a solution of brine. They are mostly sour in taste. These pickles are incomparable to what we have in India. Pickles in itself could be the best example to show how diverse our heritage in India is. Indian pickles are a part of our gastronomy since ages, more than a thousand years old, yet there is not a single recipe that could be followed saying this is the only authentic one, as there are so many varieties and flavors in it. The taste of pickle could differ from home to home, from one state to the other. Pickles in northern part of India would taste so different from the ones in the Southern part.

However, there is one thing in common: Mangoes are one of the popular ingredients around the country used in pickles. There are more than 100 recipes used all around the country to make mango pickles. It could be the spicy and sour pieces of raw mango, the whole immature green mangoes with the skin, flesh and soft stone that are all edible, or it could be a sweet pickle made with ripe mangoes. Apart from mangoes, lemons, chillies, garlic are commonly used in making pickles in India. In many parts of the country, seafood and meat are also preserved with vinegar, oil and spices. ‘Achar’ as we commonly call pickles in India, pickles can be made with oil, vinegar or salt, though oil is most commonly used in India. While gingelly oil is used widely in south India, mustard oil is used in north India to make pickles.

Pickle making is an intricate process as it requires care to be preserved in the right way. This is why our grandmothers used to prepare pickles from scratch and once done right it does not require refrigeration. It is a perfect accompaniment to have with Indian food as it is spicy and sour, gives a contrast of flavors with the usual food Indians make at home. Packing pickles before leaving home when you are settled in a different city would be a common ritual in every household. The usual process involves cooking in which the main ingredient like mangoes or limes are cooked in oil along with other spices like chilly powder, asafoetida and turmeric powder. The spices and other ingredients vary in different households. Sometimes mangoes are first sun dried to impart a rustic flavor to the pickle.

Pickles are an essential part of India’s culture, it is an accompaniment consumed with every meal. Be it stuffed parathas with pickle for breakfast, rice with dal and pickle for lunch or Biryani with some pickle for dinner, it has to be there. The meal would be incomplete without a touch of the spicy and sour pickle. It feels nostalgic when Indians see the traditional ceramic jars sold on the street as our grandmothers used to prepare in bulk and store the pickles in them.

So what type of pickle do you like ?

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Regional Cuisines Of India

Indian cuisine is popular for its flavor and complexities in the culinary world. But can we generalize the regional food of India into one category? The answer is no. As you may know, India is a country with more than 22 spoken languages. Each state has its own culture and traditions, thereby the cuisines are different. These cuisines evolved over the years and were influenced by the history of that region, the trade practices (which would explain the use of several ingredients like vegetables, fruits, spices etc from other countries) and the religious beliefs which are considered very important in the country.

One of the most unique factors in Indian cuisine is the diverse use of spices. All regional cuisines have its own spice mix that gives the food its unique flavor. For instance, garam masala is a mix of ground spices like cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, cumin, coriander and nutmeg. This is added in a lot of north Indian curries and gravies. Use of these spices became vital during the trades from other countries in Europe and Arab. In earlier days, goods were exchanged in place of currency. This way, ingredients like potatoes, tomatoes, chillies and spices were introduced to India from other countries like Portugal, Spain and Mexico.

The cuisines also developed during the rule of emperors and different dynasties. Many dishes like biryanis, pulaos, kebabs, samosa and jalebi were all introduced by the Mughal emperors and hence have a Persian influence. Hence, cities like Lucknow and Hyderabad have strong influence of Persian food. As Pakistan was a part of India before partition, northern parts of the country has influence from this country. This way, Punjabi food has similar dishes from Pakistan like lassi, Biryani with raita etc. South India has a staple diet of rice as paddy is cultivated widely in this region. Also, as there are many tropical regions in this part of the country, coconut and banana are used diversely in the south Indian cuisine. Food is prepared in coconut oil, served on banana leaf and coconut and raw bananas are used in vegetable and meat preparations.

The cuisine of any place is highly influenced by the type of agriculture (the type of soil, availability of water, climate etc thereby contributed to agriculture). For instance, Rajasthan, the western state of India mostly has deserts and cultivation of crops like rice, wheat and green vegetables are difficult. Hence, the staple there is a grain called ‘Bajra’ which requires less water and more heat. The people in the desert depend on wild berries and plants to prepare food. Similarly, North eastern states are mostly in the mountains and are closer to Tibet, Nepal and Bangladesh. The consumption of meat in this area is more as people require more protein to survive in the mountains. As winters get too harsh in this part of the country, it gets difficult to procure ingredients for cooking. Hence, people are used to preserving meats and other ingredients for months here.

Therefore, it is only fair to mention the regional influence of different preparations from India instead of mentioning all the dishes under one category of Indian cuisine.