I really want to start experimenting with indian food, without relying on jars of paste. I am looking for any good information so:
- What spices to buy?
- What equipment?
- Any good books?
- Any good web sites?
- Any other resources?
What spices to buy?
I have listed commonly used spices/ingredients. If you are on a budget, purchase the ones with a (!) before them.
Powders and Pastes ("Masalas")
Lentils & Beans
Buy these on a need basis, depending on the recipe.
In the US, most towns have an Indian Store. A while back, a small packet of each spice/powder would be around $2.
To cook Curries, you don't need anything special.
A small grinder/food processor to grind spices is very helpful. If you don't have one, you can always crush the spices using a rolling pin before putting it in the frying pan.
A pressure cooker is helpful to cook/boil lentils or beans. If you don't have one, you can always cook them in an open container - it just takes more time.
Any good books? Any good web sites?
Youtube has some great videos on Indian cooking, but you need to know what to search. Read the blogs I mentioned above, pick up a curry/dish you find interesting and search it on youtube. That's perhaps the best way to find good videos.
Any other advice?
Just some little tips that I think would help you get started -
A great book to start with is "50 great curries of India", by Camellia Panjabi (ISBN: 978 1 84509 264 1). Besides 50 curry recipes, the book contains a 60-page explanation of typical curry ingredients, spices, cooking techniques, necessary equipment and so on. There are also chapters at the end on Indian breads, rice, side dishes, desserts and drinks to make your meal complete.
You can also find a lot of video recipes on the website "Show Me the Curry".
One note: the above book and website are focused on home-style Indian curries. If you're more interested in reproducing restaurant-style Indian cooking, you should also take a look at the books by Kris Dhillon ("The Curry Secret" and "The New Curry Secret") and the website "Curry Recipes Online".
There are several simple basics to Indian cooking. One is to remember that each dish (sabhji) is usually based around 1 lentil/bean or two vegetables. The second is to remember that anything with lentils or beans is for long cooking. Indian food requires patience.
Aside from that, there are several things that you can only really learn from making food and making mistakes. Cumin goes in at the start with the onions and hot oil. Turmeric only goes in with the liquids.
There is also a basic ratio of spices, but it's not easy to remember which goes where. The ratio is 4:2:1, more or less. Cumin, mustard, salt and black pepper go in the first category. Turmeric, curry, chilli and coriander seed go in the second. Cloves, cardamom, and cinnamon are in the third.
The best advice is to read ten different recipes for anything, and then choose what seems best.
Find some recent Indian immigrants whom are running night school cooking lessons, or make friends with same. It's the only way. Most books and things are very un-Indian
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Look for a local company that sells bulk spices.
Spices can get expensive and for some dishes you often use just a small amount. In Indian cuisine, you often toast the whole spices first, then either grind the spices or leave whole in some dishes. Look for a good spice grinder (a coffee grinder works as well). Some of the common spices are: cumin seed, coriander seeds, black mustard seeds, nigella seeds, cardamom pod, fenugreek, saffron or turmeric.
I enjoyed this book a lot.
It's clearly a short introductory book with nice tips and techniques and every recipe is a flawless winner.
Also, (important to me) the recipes has good photographs that guide you on the appearance of the dish ... sometimes when cooking something I never saw before, I keep thinking .."should this be like so, or is overcooked? ... Is this the supposed shape of hungarian tagliatelle :) ? ... etc.
I would think the place to start is with a good book. Your questions about spices and equipment should be covered there.
At our house, we like cookbooks by Madhur Jaffrey. She has a quick and easy one that's really good, and makes it possible to make an after-work dinner that tastes like you cooked it all day (though you'll need a pressure cooker for that kind of speed). She has a bunch of others, though (her first came out in the early 70s), including two or three James Beard award-winners. I think she'd be a great place to start.
In my experience, standard kitchen equipment is all you'll need if you're not going to get into building a real tandoor oven or something crazy.