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Cocktails and Cuisine

By Rajni Hatti

Fast and Delicious South Indian Dishes

What do you think of when you hear the words “Indian food”? For me it conjures up many tastes and memories, including my mom’s delicious South Indian cooking, tasty Bengali curries I’ve eaten at my friend’s house and dishes at my favorite Indian restaurant. The same words probably conjure up a whole different set of tastes for you, because Indian cuisine is one of the most diverse in the world.

Most Indian restaurants in the Unites States serve North Indian dishes, but, in fact, Indian food is much more diverse than the array of dishes you might see on a typical menu. Not only are there many variations of food within North India, but South India has its own distinct cuisine, too.

Each of the five states in South India - Andhra Pradesh, Goa, Karnataka, Kerala, and Tamil Nadu - have their own regional cuisine, which has evolved through historical and cultural influences. Some people of South India are pure vegetarians, while others eat non-vegetarian food. North and South Indian cooking use many of the same spices; however, certain ingredients such as coconut, black mustard seeds, tamarind, and curry leaves are distinctly South Indian.


Rajni Hatti

Here are two delicious South Indian dishes that make for quick and satisfying meals. Coconut Chicken Curry is a great alternative to the typical tomato-based chicken curry served in Indian restaurants. Vegetable Upma is made using cream of wheat and is a hearty vegetarian dish.

Tip: Don’t be intimidated by the long list of ingredients! Remember a few simple guidelines:

- Get all your ingredients together before you begin cooking, to avoid going back and forth to the cupboard.

- Prepare ingredients (such as chopping and grating) before you begin cooking, or, while pan is preheating.

- Most of these ingredients can be found at well-stocked supermarkets. Look in the international and gourmet spice aisles for Indian spices and coconut milk.

Coconut Chicken Curry
Makes 4 servings

This dish comes from Hyderabad, which is the state capital of Andra Pradesh. Hyderabadi cuisine is influenced both by the indigenous people of the area, as well as the Mughal emperors who ruled there thousands of years ago.

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon oil
1 medium size onion, chopped
3 medium size garlic cloves, chopped
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
½ teaspoon ground cardamom
½ teaspoon ground cloves
½ teaspoon ground cinnamon
¾ teaspoon turmeric
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1½ teaspoon salt (adjust to taste)
1½ pounds boneless chicken, cut into bite size pieces
1 cup fresh grated coconut (or 1 cup canned coconut milk, available at regular supermarkets)
¾ cup diced tomatoes
1 tablespoon lime juice
3 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
2 cups water (use 1 cup water if using coconut milk)


 

Tip: Buy spices that are already ground so you don’t have to grind them yourself.
Don’t buy ground spices in bulk, as they tend to lose flavor if stored for more than 10-12 months.

 

Time Saver: Buy boneless chicken that is already chopped so you can save on preparation time.

Instructions:

1) Add oil to large pan and place over medium heat until oil is hot, about 2 minutes.

2) Add onion and garlic to pan and sauté until they begin to brown, about 2-3 minutes.

3) Add ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, turmeric, cumin, red pepper and salt to pan and mix together.

4) Add chicken and sauté for a few minutes until chicken begins to turn white.

5) Add fresh coconut (or coconut milk), tomatoes, lime juice, cilantro, and water.

6) Increase heat, if necessary, to bring to a low simmer. Simmer uncovered until chicken has cooked completely (about 10 minutes), stirring occasionally.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with rice, roti, naan, or store-bought flat bread.


Vegetable Upma (Roasted Cream of Wheat with Spiced Vegetables)
Makes 4 servings

Upma is a traditional vegetarian dish of South India, and is served for breakfast or brunch. Yogurt normally accompanies this dish.

Ingredients:

2 tablespoons oil
1 tablespoon black mustard seeds (available at Indian grocery stores)
2 tablespoons channa dal (bengal grams) (available at Indian grocery stores)
1 teaspoon crushed red pepper
1 small onion, chopped
1 medium potato, chopped
½ cup carrots, chopped
½ teaspoon chopped green chili
2 teaspoons salt (adjust to taste)
1 teaspoon ginger, grated
1/8 teaspoon turmeric
¾ cup course sooji (or ¾ cup cream of wheat, available at regular supermarkets)
1 ¼ cup + 3 tablespoons water
¼ cup cilantro, chopped
¼ cup peas
5-8 curry leaves (optional, available at Indian grocery stores)


Photos by Rajni Hatti


Tip: Almost any vegetable can be used in this dish. Substitute with any vegetable you have on hand, such as eggplant, cauliflower, corn, or bell pepper.

 

 

Time Saver: Use frozen vegetables so you can save on preparation time.

Instructions:

1) Add 1 tablespoon of oil to a medium size pan and place over medium heat until oil is hot, about 2 minutes.

2) Add mustard seed, channa dal, and crushed red pepper. Sauté until mustard seeds begin to pop.

3) Add onion, potato, carrots, green chili, salt, ginger, and turmeric. Mix ingredients until thoroughly combined.

4) Add 3 tablespoon water to pan and cover with lid for about 10 minutes, or until vegetables are soft.

5) While vegetables are cooking, heat a separate pan over low heat. Add 1 tablespoon of oil and sooji. Roast sooji until it begins to turn slightly golden brown, about 5-8 minutes.

6) Uncover pan with vegetables (check to make sure vegetables are soft) and mix in 1 ¼ cup water, cilantro, peas, and curry leaves (optional). Reduce to low heat.

7) Add roasted sooji and mix well until mixture begins to thicken. Cover pan for a few minutes until all the water has absorbed. Mix one more time and then serve.

Serving Suggestion: Serve with yogurt.


Copyright © 2006 Rajni Hatti. All rights reserved.




Rajni Hatti is a freelance food writer and is currently writing an Indian cookbook which focuses on simple and delicious Indian cooking. She lives with her husband and son in the Washington D.C. area. Email askrajni@yahoo.com with comments or questions about this column.


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