South Indian Food Series – An introduction

Our relationship with food can tell us a lot about ourselves. In my adolescents and even in early adulthood, I had an issue with everything that was served on my platter. Of course, it is figuratively and literally true of everything including food. But here, I am talking specifically about food.

So as an adult when I moved out of my home, I went out there looking for the perfect cuisine to fall in love with. Given I am a vegetarian who didn’t like a lot of vegetables, my search was to be doomed or so it seemed. Much of my 20s and early 30s was dedicated to this search. Yes, even vegetarians love food and search for their love everywhere. I found myself infatuated many times over by different world cuisines. But as the charm wore off, I was left looking for newer loves.

And in the last few years I have slowly discovered and found the cuisine that I have grown to love. Its healthy and well balanced. Its a vegetarian’s (even a vegan’s) delight. Its a treat to all your senses. Its easy on stomach and pocket. And I can go on to sing merits of the wonderful cuisine that is the gift of the southern rice cradle of India to the world.

So I decided that I am going to be doing a series on my quintessential Southern Indian delicacies. Vegans and Vegetarians craving for new and healthy recipes need look no further. And if you understand the principles of combining the food the way it is done in this part of the world, then you are automatically eating a balanced diet without trying too hard for it. Even if you pick only a few of these recipes, you are still packing some serious some serious taste and some serious health in your diet.

Some basic principles that are good to know when we talk about South Indian food are below for the uninitiated. This is actually true for Indian cuisine in general as well.

  1. The primary base of every meal is a grain. South of India is the rice cradle and therefore it is of course the staple grain.
  2. The secondary base of the meal is pulses and legumes. There are very many types of pulses and legumes grown in India, each with its distinct flavour and amino acid profile. But overall they add great depth of nutrition and taste to the dishes.
  3. The tertiary base are vegetables. Again there are very many vegetables that Indians cook with. As with legumes each vegetable has its own role to play.
  4. The main spices used in this region are red chillies and pepper, turmeric and asafoetida, coriander and mustard seeds and to a lesser extent Jeera(fennel) and Methi (fenugreek) seeds. Cardamom is the primary spice amongst the cooler spices used for sweets. Other spices are also used but more sparingly and in very specific recipes. But the heroes of south Indian flavours are curry leaves, tamarind and coconut.

So if you want to have a pantry of south Indian staples, then you would do well to stock up on the above items.

The sheer number of ways in which these ingredients can be combined is an absolute revelation. The number of Curries, Sauces and Pastes, made from different combination of ingredients, varying in their taste and texture, alone can probably give you a great number of basic recipes. Each of these basic recipes can be adapted to by altering the vegetable and/or pulses combination to make that number run in several 100s.

In this series I am going to be sharing some of my favourite recipes and I hope you enjoy them.


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