Indian Cooking and Its Basic Ingredients

The best and traditional way of serving Indian food is to habe a brass or nickel plated round tray wich is called 'THALI' per person. On it are arranged two or more shiny bowls filled with various foods. Chapattis or other kinds of Indian bread are usually palced in the centre of the thalis. Although most people in the larger towns and cities use forks, spoons and knives, a majority of Indian people still eat with their hands. They sip the spicy food from the shiny bowls, and ingeniously manipulate the rest by gathering it up with morsels of bread. The traditional custom, mainly in the Punjab state, was to start the meal with a sweet dish and this is why i will be giving you the recipes for sweet dishes on my article.



Butter-fat, or GHEE as it is called in Indian and Bangladesh, is made in the following way.

Place some butter in a saucepan, and simmer for 1 or 1 and a half hours. Remove from the heat and strain through a fine cloth. The Ghee thus formed may be stored in glass or earthenware jars and will keep for a long time, with a tendency to crystallize as it is kept. Margarine can also be clarified by the same method and kept in the same way.

In my Indian cooking, I use either or a mixture of both, and have found that one heaped tablespoon of butter-fat, when sets, equals 3 and a half tablespoons (or 1 and a hal oz) of liquid butter-fat.

For frying purposes, clarified margarine, cooking fat, dripping, or any edible oil may be used.

Milk-curd or Dhahi

The best way to make dahi is to mix a tablespoon of yoghurt with 600ml (1 pint) of boiled lukewarm full-fat milk and keep this mixture in a warm place for 12-18 hours. When this mixture is set like a jelly, the curd is ready. Dahi can also be made by putting 1-2 tablespoons of lemon juice in 600ml (1 pint) of boiled lukewarm milk, and letting it set in the usual way. This method,, however, does not bring quite satisfactory results at the first setting, because the curd will be rather thin. But, by using 1-2 tablespoons of this thin mixture again in 600ml (1 pint) or warm milk and letting it set as before, the dahi is greatly improved; and when the process is repeated the next time it should have the right consistency.

In very cold weather, the milk for making dahi should be warmer (not very hot), and the quantity of the curd which you are mixing in should be slightly increased and at the temparature of full-heat. Some people wrap a piece of blanket round the pot or the jug to give extra warmth. After the dahi is set, it should always be kept in a cool place. In India, people make dahi in earthenware pots, but i have found that it retains its flavour fairly well even in china jugs. When using dahi, care should be taken to save a little for making the next lot.

Dahi can be served as it is, while some people prefer it with added sugar. It is readily digested, even by those who are allergic to ordinary milk. Some special cold preparations called RAITHAS are made from it. A traditional cool and refreshing drink called LASSI can be made by whisking and diluting the curd and adding a little salt or sugar to it, while in summer some ice may be added as well.

Dahi paneer (cottage cheese) may be made by placing the curd in a muslin bag and letting it drip overnight. Some people add a little salt to it when it is ready.

Making Butter from Dahi

Dahi is also used for making butter, which is done every day in many Indian households, particularly in the villages. Very early in the morning one hears the sweet, music-like sound of the curd being churned, which is an exercise in itself. Some women say their long prayers or sing their songs as they churn vigorously. Although it is impossible to obtain the original madhani (churns) and the earthenware pots that we use for butter-making in India, I have tried making butter from dahi made with full-fat milk and was successful. Here is a recipe which will make 100grams (4oz) of butter. You will need a strong egg-whisk.

Ingredients - 2.3 litres (4 pints) of milk, and 3 tablespoons of dahi.

Firstly, boil the milk very gently for 1-2 hours. Remove from the heat and when lukewarmmake it into dahi by adding the 3 tablespoons of dahi to it, and keeping in a warm place for 12-18 hours. When ready, transfer into a large strong bowl (not too wide), and in the summertime cool the dahi slightly before whisking. This should be done vigorously, as gentle whisking does not give satisfactory results. Keep a jug of water at hand, cold or warm according to the time of year;  indeed, in summertime, iced water is preferable. Add some of this water to the dahi from time to time as you churn. At first bubbles will form, then they will gradually change colour and thicken. Whilst the butter if forming, continue to add water, whisking in the middle, keeping the butter to the sides. When it is thick enough to gather, do so with both hands and place it in a bowl of cold water. It will very soon become as thick and solid as ordinary butter. All this should not take more than half an hour. Sometimes a second whisking yields a little more butter but usually it comes all at once.

Butter-milk or whey is the proper Indian lassi, which is commonly used for drinking. It may be used in curries instead of dahi, and is very good in soups.

Paneer (Soft Milk Cheese)

There are two ways of making paneer.

1) Heat 600ml (1 pint) of milk in a saucepan, and when boiling add to it half teacup of curd that has been made a day or two previously. Bring to the boil again, and when solid lumps are formed, strain through a fine cloth. The whey can be used in soups and gravies. Press the bag containing the paneer with a heavy weight, so as to squeeze out all the whey.

2) Bring 600ml (1 pint) of milk to the boil, stirring a little so that all the cream does not come to the top. When the milk rises, add one tablespoon of lemon juice to it; mix well, and as soon as the lumps are formed, strain through a fine cloth and press with a heavy weight, as in the previous method.

Paneer is used in making certain sweetmeats, while cubes of paneer may be cooked with fresh peas, potatoes or tomatoes.

Khoya (Khoa)

This may be made by boiling milk fairly quickly in a shallow iron pot (Karahi) or in a thick aluminium frying pan for an hour, stirring continuously when it begins to thicken. When cool, the residue is Khoya, which becomes like stiff pastry. It is used in many Indian sweetmeats. 600ml (1 pint) of ordinary milk will make just over 50 grams (2 0z ) of Khoya. Full-fat milk yields a little more Khoya than ordinary milk.

Khoya - Made with Full-fat Powdered Milk

I have made Khoya by mixing 50 grams (2 0z) of full-fat powdered milk with 1 and a half tablespoons of hot water, and working this into the same smoothness as ordinary Khoya.