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About Indian Beauty

About India and its History

Indian Culinary History

India's Vegetarian Culinary Culture

The Jain Influence on India's Cuisine

The Muslim Influence on India's Cuisine

Indian Cuisine

What is Curry?

The Role of Indian Spices

North Indian Cuisine

South Indian Cuisine

Indian Cooking Techniques

Indian Restaurant Guide
North Indian Restaurant
South Indian Restaurant

Indian Entertaining

Food Pyramid



Healthy Eating

Indian Cooking Technique

Baghar/Tadka/Chonk (Instant seasonings/Tempering)
The goal of this technique is to add flavor to a dish in a flash. Spices and herbs are added to hot oil/ghee. Hot oil extracts and retains the aroma, essence and flavor of the spices and herbs. This tempering is done in two ways.
1.  As the first step in the cooking process, before adding the rice, vegetables or lentils.
2.  Pouring the tempered oil over dal. Spices and herbs cooked this way retain and enhance their flavors.
A common recipe for baghar is to add either cumin or mustard seeds in hot oil and let them sizzle for a few seconds then add a pinch of asafetida and red chili powder.
Uses - Pour over cooked lentils that has already been boiled with ginger and turmeric, over steamed vegetables and over yogurt raitas and rice.
Also known as tadka or chonk.

Balchao (Pickling)
A Goan specialty, influenced by the Portuguese, where vegetables like eggplant or seafood like prawns are "pickled" in sugar, vinegar and spices for a day or two before eating.
Balchao - Prawn Preserve
8 oz or 1/4 Kg prawns (shelled).
1 tsp. cumin seeds
1 tsp. peppercorns
10 kashmiri chilies
vinegar to taste
1 tsp. ground turmeric 2 cups oil
4 medium onions, minced
handful of curry leaves
1 inch piece of ginger, finely chopped
3 heads of garlic, finely chopped
4 green chilies, seeded and chopped
salt to taste
Preparation Method:
1.Grind together the cumin, peppercorns and chilies with the vinegar. Mix in the turmeric.
2.Fry the onions in the oil until all the water has gone.
3.Add the prawns, masala, curry leaves, garlic, ginger and green chilies.
4.Simmer for 10 minutes or so.

Bhunao (Curry)

techni3.jpg (2577 bytes) This is Indian curry cooking. Oil is added to a wok or pan. To this chopped onion and cumin are added. After the onions are browned then the desired herbs, spices are added (tomatoes may also be added). Small quantities of water, yogurt, and stock are introduced to the pan if and when the ingredients start to stick. After the oil separates from the mixture, the main ingredient (meat or vegetable) is added and cooked

Dhuanaar (Smoke Seasoning)
Glowing charcoal is placed in a small pot, which is ten put in a bigger pot.    Cooked meats, are placed around this. Dry spices and ghee are poured on top of the coals and a lid is quickly placed over the larger pot. This meats imbibe the fresh smoke taste of ghee and cumin.  Very popular in the cold months of North India especially in the dessert areas.

Do-Piaza (Cooking with Onions)
There are 2 theories for the origin of this method.
1.   Akbar the Great - India's great Mughal ruler liked to surround himself with the most talented people.  He called them his 9 Gems. Mullah Do-Piaza, the legendary cook was one of them. He created a style of his own and items cooked in this style are called Do Piazza.
2.  The other is cooking with 2 (Do) Onions (piaz). 
Potatoes and meats are cooked generally with 2 onions, yogurt and spices.  Tomatoes are generally not added in this method of cooking.

Dum (Steaming)

techni1.jpg (4125 bytes)

This process reflects the ingenuity of the Indian chefs.  They virtually created a baking oven and a pressure cooker with very simple ideas.  Food was partially cooked before hand.  They then put this in a pot and sealed the cover with atta (dough) to capture the moisture within the food as it cooked tenderly and slowly over a charcoal fire. Coals was also placed on the lid to ensure even cooking.

They then added their main ingredients like rice or vegetables or meats or all three with spices, herbs, seasonings, saffron, tomato and let the food continue to cook in its own steam.  The entire dish retained all its flavor and aroma and the slow cooking created perfect foods fit for their emperors and kings and rajahas.
The Indian Biryani is one of the most popular dum dishes.  Dum means, "to steam".  Below is a recipe I make when I entertain.

Dum Aloo
12 oz baby potatoes, boiled in salted water and peeled
4 small onions
4 tomatoes, blanched, peeled and chopped
3 green chilies, finely chopped
5 large flakes garlic
1" piece ginger
2 tablespoons plain yogurt
1 teaspoon ground cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon garam masala
1 1/2 teaspoon chili powder
1 cinnamon stick
2 bay leaves
2 cloves
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds
seeds of 2 Cardamom
salt to taste
oil for frying

Preparation: Deep fry the potatoes till golden brown. Grind the onions, ginger, green chilies, cinnamon, cloves, Cardamom seeds and 1 bay leaf(grind the dry ingredients first, to get a smooth paste). Heat the oil in a pan. Add half the cumin seeds. Then add ground onion paste. Fry well (7 to 10 minutes). Add all the powdered masalas, tomatoes and cook till pulpy. Add the beaten yogurt. Add the potatoes and 3/4 cup 1 cup water. Cover with a tight lid and simmer on low for 5-10 minutes. Add if needed. Garnish with cilantro. Serve hot

techni4.jpg (3099 bytes) Handi
Handi is an Indian pot that has a bottom like a wok and then has a narrow opening on the top. Slow cooking in steam or in seasoned moist flavorings are its special attributes. The cooking is done in a thick bottom pan so that the food does not stick or burn; the lid helps retain the aroma and flavor. Both bhunao and dum are aspects of Handi cooking.

Kadhai (Round bottomed pan)

thali-ro.jpg (8382 bytes)

This is a wok. Usually the kadhai, in which the food is cooked, is placed directly on the table, where everyone eats out of it. Kadhai cooking is quick and no water is used in this style of cooking. The main ingredients cook in the natural juices released by the tomatoes and meat in the dish, which is constantly stirred until cooked.  The main aspect of this cooking is that the sides get seared and this wonderful flavor is scraped and added to the taste of the dish..

Kadhai Chicken
Whole Chicken 1 no.
Medium Tomatoes 8-10 nos.
Coriander leaves 2 tbsp.
Medium onions 2 nos.
Garlic paste 2 tbsp.
Ginger, finely chopped 2 tbsp.
Dry red chilies 6-8 nos.
Chopped green chilies 8 nos.
Red chili powder 1 tsp.
Whole Coriander (dhania) 1 tbsp.
Garam masala powder 1 tsp.
Coriander powder (dhania powder) 1tsp.
Whole Garam masala 1 tsp.
Oil 2 tbsp.
Salt As per taste
Preparation Method:
1. Skin and cut the chicken into pieces.
2. Take whole dhania, dry red chilies and pound together.
3. Slice the onions.
4. In a Kadhai take oil, add Whole Garam Masala, garlic, whole dhania, green chilies and red chilies mixture. Add onions. Fry till onions are golden brown.
5. Put in tomatoes, ginger, dhania powder and red chili powder.
6. Add some water. Cover and let it cook. Once the gravy is reduced put in the chicken pieces, salt and coriander leaves.
7. Mix well, sprinkle the Garam Masala Powder. Cover and cook for 8-10 min on low flame.
8. Serve hot.

Talna (Frying)
In Indian cooking frying, when it is called for, is done in a wok or kadhai. The round bottom uses less oil and cooks the food evenly. Many times ghee is used as this fat can be used over and over again and does not go rancid due to its high smoke point.    Another good frying oil is peanut oil.


techni6.jpg (4017 bytes)

Tandoori cooking is one of the highlights of Indian cuisine. The Indian tandoor is a clay oven that reaches very high temperatures of about 550 F. It resembles a rounded bee-hive. Tandoori is a hotter and quicker form of cooking than the western barbecue.

It is used to make naan breads, kebabs, tandoori meats and stuffed rotis and paranthas.

A traditional tandoori oven has to be seasoned. A paste is made of spinach and applied to the inner surface and left to dry. A paste of mustard oil, buttermilk, jaggery and salt is applied over the spinach. A small fire is lit and the temperature allowed to rise gradually until the emulsion peels away from the walls of the tandoor. Repeat for a few times.  A brine solution is sprinkled on the inner walls to facilitate the sticking of breads like naans to the sides. To know if the oven temperature is optimum, try and stick a naan to the sides, if it falls off, the oven is not hot enough. Meats and Paneer are marinated, the kebabs are seasoned with herbs and spices. They are also basted with ghee to withstand the drying of meats which happens at such high temperatures.    Meats, Kebabs and Naan come out perfect in a Tandoor.



Tawa.jpg (3642 bytes) Being a true Indian I cannot be separated from my tawa for too long.  I crave for rotis and chappatis everyday and cannot go without them for more than 3 days.  A tawa is a round, thick iron griddle, it is also slightly concave in the center. It is used when very high temperatures are needed and is mostly used for Indian unleavened breads called chappati or rotis. It is also used for cooking some unique dishes which require fast cooking with the outer rim is used to keep the dish warm. Popular in street food especially Pau-Bhaji is a typical tawa dish and needs to be constantly stirred to avoid burning, and is served straight out of the tawa and eaten immediately on sour dough bread.

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This work is dedicated to my mother Shanta who taught me the tenants of Ayurvedic Cuisine and Knowledge.


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1990 to 2001 - Kavita Mehta.  All Rights Reserved.
Kavita has been giving classes on Indian Cuisine in Minneapolis for the past 10 years.  She now shares her work on her website for all to enjoy.


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