The cuisine of India is characterized by the use of various spices, herbs and other vegetables and sometimes fruits grown in India and also for the widespread practice of vegetarianism across many sections of its society. Each family of Indian cuisine is characterized by a wide assortment of dishes and cooking techniques. As a consequence, it varies from region to region, reflecting the varied demographics of the ethnically diverse Indian subcontinent.
India’s religious beliefs and culture have played an influential role in the evolution of its cuisine. However, cuisine across India also evolved due to the subcontinent’s large-scale cultural interactions with ancient Greece , Persia, Mongols and West Asia, making it a unique blend of various cuisines across Asia. The spice trade between India and Europe is often cited as the main catalyst for Europe’s Age of Discovery. The colonial period introduced European cooking styles to India adding to the flexibility and diversity of Indian cuisine.Indian cuisine has had a remarkable influence on cuisines across the world, especially those from Southeast Asia.
The staples of Indian cuisine are rice, atta (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses, the most important of which are masoor (most often red lentil), channa (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or yellow gram), urad (black gram) and mung (green gram). Pulses may be used whole, dehusked, for example dhuli moong or dhuli urad, or split. Pulses are used extensively in the form of dal (split). Some of the pulses like channa and “Mung” are also processed into flour (besan).
Most Indian curries are cooked in vegetable oil. In North and West India, peanut oil has traditionally been most popular for cooking, while in Eastern India, mustard oil is more commonly used. Coconut oil is used widely along the western coast and South India, Gingelly oil is common in the South as well. In recent decades, sunflower oil and soybean oil have gained popularity all over India. Hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee, is also a popular cooking medium that replaces Desi ghee, clarified butter (the milk solids have been removed).
The most important/frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed (rai), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi, manjal), fenugreek (methi), asafoetida (hing, perungayam), ginger (adrak, inji), coriander (dhania), and garlic (lassan, poondu). Popular spice mixes are garam masala, which is usually a powder of five or more dried spices, commonly including cardamom, cinnamon, and clove. Each region, and sometimes each individual chef, has a distinctive blend of garam masala. Goda masala is a popular sweet spice mix in Maharashtra. Some leaves are commonly used like tejpatta (cassia leaf), coriander leaf, fenugreek leaf and mint leaf. The common use of curry leaves, curry roots is typical of all South Indian cuisine. In sweet dishes, cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, and rose petal essences are seasoned.
Curry is a generic description used throughout European culture to describe a general variety of spiced dishes, best known in South Asian cuisines, especially Indian cuisine. Although there is no one specific attribute that marks a dish as “curry”, some distinctive spices used in many curry dishes include turmeric, cumin, coriander, fenugreek, and red pepper. The word curry is an anglicised version of the Tamil word khari, which is usually understood to mean “gravy” or “sauce” rather than “spices”.