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Indian Cooking Methods and Equipment

Baghar/Tadka/Chonk (Instant seasonings/Tempering): The goal of this technique is to add flavor to a dish very quickly. 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.

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.

Bhunao (Curry): This is Indian curry cooking. Oil is added to a wok or pan, and to this, chopped onion and cumin are added. After the onions are browned then the desired herbs and 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.

Dum (Steaming): 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".

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 the food doesn't stick or burn; the lid helps retain the aroma and flavor. Both bhunao and dum are aspects of Handi cooking.

Kadhai (Round bottomed pan): This is a wok in which the food is cooked. It is placed directly on the table, where everyone eats out of it. Kadhai cooking is quick, water is not used. The main ingredients cook with 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 for the sides to become seared and this wonderful flavor is scraped and added to the taste of the dish.

Talna (Frying): Frying Indian food is usually 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.

Tandoori: Tandoori cooking is one of the highlights of Indian cuisine. The Indian tandoor is a clay oven that can reach temperatures as high as 550F. It looks like 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 must be seasoned. A paste is made of spinach and applied to the inner surface and left to dry. 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: A tawa is a round, thick iron griddle, 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 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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