There is an inherent sense of satisfaction and happiness if what we make turns out to be close to the taste standards that our folks at home expect. For a long time I thought that some people are great cooks.. but until I got around to keep my own kitchen, I didnt realize that almost anyone and everyone with some interest in cooking + knowledge of few formulae can cook well.
From my minimal experience here are some generic observations:
- Almost all dishes have one of these items to add to the cholestrol and of course taste and flavor too: Ghee, Butter, Paneer, Yoghurt.
- Coriander leaves are used for garnishing your freshly prepared dish.
- Kashmiri Chilli powder ( colored bright red and tastes a little less spicy) is usually added for the dark color.
- Your kitchen must have Jeera or Cumin seeds to prepare any north indian dish.
- It will seem like potato is staple ingredient in a north indian dish.
- Sugar needs to be added to all yoghurt included dishes.
- Garam Masala( mix of all spices finely ground, available in all stores catering to the Indian population) has an esteemed presence.
- Tomatoes and Onions should be available in plenty as one or more of these are ground and sauted with ginger garlic paste in Jeera for most gravy dishes.
Do anything you want with the vegetables, but make sure you add these ingredients appropriately to give your dish a north indian touch. Most cooked vegetables taste nicer than you can ever imagine, if you know some basics of North Indian cuisine.
Be generous with oil/ghee/butter if you want to win the taste-match with the nearest popular north indian restaurant chef... and....
Most importantly.........Dont look for me to help you, if your doctor has something to say on your new eating habits and your soaring weight and cholestrol. Use your judgement when you add oil, ghee, butter, garam masala, chilli powder, potato, and sugar in your favorite north indian dish.
- Most of the main dish is centered around rice. Rice, Rice Flour, Rice Flakes are extensively used in south india.
- Most dishes use Urad Dhal and Red Chilly when you saute vegetables.
- Curry leaves are a must for most South Indian dishes. They are used when you saute or garnish, but they must be used if you want to get a 'nod' from some seasoned critics of South Indian cuisine.
- Refined oil is added as generously as you use water in some sinfully fatty and tasty fried vegetables. Use your sense of dieting when you pick up an oil can the next time you cook. And also be prepared for a sorry face, because folks are not going to like it much if you reduce oil. It shows when Lady's finger ( Okhra ) fry is not looking brownish green/blackish green with an oily shine over it.
- Use a lot of Garlic (Chettinad style) or Asafoetida(Tirunelveli) and/or Ginger to ensure you get a proper South Indian Flavor. Most of the pure-vegetarian dishes click off well with Asafoetida.
- If you have Tamarind at home, you are half set for a South Indian cooking session.
- Turmeric is added in all dishes that involve vegetables.
- Your kitchen must have all Dals to make chutneys ( indian substitute for sauce dips) with any green vegetable under the sun. Andhra Pradesh is famous for these chutneys.
- If you are in Kerala, dont start cooking without grated coconut. Keralites use at least one coconut each day is a statistic from my experience.
- Tanjore style cooking involves very less coconut and a lot of Rice flour as a thickening agent.
- Rasam and Sambhar are stapled dishes in most south indian dining tables.
- Every dish has to be sauted with Mustard seeds, except a few Kerala specialities such as, Olan and Avial. You must know this even if you do not know how to cook.
- Every Andhra dish uses an extra chilly effect and every Karnataka dish uses an extra spoon of sugar.
- Most tamilian dishes that use tamarind also use a pinch of jaggery to fight the tamarind tart.
Most importantly, beware of the increased carbohydrates that you eat in a day. Most South indian dishes have a lot of carbohydrates. An increased use of Tamarind necessitates an increased in-take of salt and chilli powder. Beware of these intruders in your cardiac zone.
The ancient ( olden days would be apt, but for some reason that eating pattern sounds ancient to me today) south indian eating habits had a fair balance of fats, protiens,vitamins, minerals, fibre, carbohydrates making a south indian meal very healthy and apt for the then more disciplined eating habits/lifestyle/exercise.. Presently with the invasion of multi-cuisine interest and life style changes, this ancient diet pattern does not work in favor of health. Dosa/chutney for breakfast, Rice/Rasam/Sambhar/Potato for lunch, Pav Bhaji for snack, Piza/Icecream for dinner does not contribute to good health at all. Use your mind to decide what you eat on a given day.
Lastly, do not follow the books that teach cooking exactly to the measure because they teach the right way for the taste and in today's world we are forced to follow the right way to health.