In times of microwaves, ovens and electric tandoors, we Indians have somewhere forgotten the authentic taste of food which comes essentially only when cooking in a traditional way. For instance, a chutney prepared in mixer grinder will taste substantially different from one made on stone ground. Heritage style of cooking comes from diverse regions of India, and some of the techniques are elaborative and have a delightful effect on the taste of food. So, let’s take a walk down the heritage cooking lane and recollect fond memories from our grandma’s kitchen.
Fresh bamboo and leaf steaming
In the Eastern region of India, we have a style called ‘fresh bamboo and different leaf steaming’ style which involves wrapping fish or meats of choice in leaves. The leaves used are banana, poi and colocasia leaves. The meats or fish is wrapped in the leaf with flavourings and cooked in steam or flames. This unique style helps preserve the food nutrients. Another way to cook is to use a thick bamboo stem, fill it with rice and meats and using the same steaming method. This too helps preserve flavours and nutrients.
Cooking over a live wood fire is popular style of cooking in Northern India. Here, meats and vegetables are cooked in high temperatures in a tandoor or sigri or chullah, imparting a smoky flavour to food. Since oil usage is negligible, cooking on wood fire is healthy.
The stone ground style is used in various regions of India. In this, a hand operated stone grinder is used to pulverise ingredients, just like a mixer grinder. This gives chutneys a great taste. This method of cooking helps retain colours as well.
Raw mud cooking
Indians are known to use utensils made of raw mud. Mathkas (mud utensils) are used to cook stew or braise vegetables and meats. The flavours get mixed with earthy and fresh ingredients. Cooking in raw mud also helps retain essential nutrients. Mud griddles are used to make whole rotis which yield short crust breads that have a longer shelf life.
Wooden mallets (or hammers) are used for pounding fresh meats in a wooden bowl to make it soft. It works like magic when masalas and flavourings are added before cooking the meat. Dishes like goshtaba and rista (meat mousse balls) are made using this method.
Cooking in copper vessels is another unique style. The cooking is done over a slow fire for tough meats such as lamb or venison. Copper adds a distinct flavour to the dish.
Indians love their pickles, and pickling and sun-drying are popular methods. Using vegetables, mustard oil and freshly ground spices, and then maturing it in direct sunlight. Poppadum is made by sun-drying flattened mixtures of rice and lentils. This gives the food texture, flavour and preserves its essential nutrients.
This style originates from the northern frontier region. Dum style (or sealed cooking) involves making meats tender and tasty by cooking them in their own juices. This style of cooking retains flavours and nutritional value of meats.
Curing and smoking
Another interesting style is curing and smoking of meats — especially pork — by burning wood in a controlled manner. It adds flavour to meat and helps in preserving it.
Fermentation is used for making Kombucha and rice wines. It’s a natural style of cooking which involves no chemicals in the production process. So, these are the different styles of heritage cooking techinques which are popularly followed in India. Almost every Indian home, eatery, or fine-dining restaurant uses these methods daily, to serve up some of the most delectable dishes from the various regions of the country.
Fish wrapped in banana leaf
2 King fish darnes
25 gm shredded coconut
250 gm coriander leaves
10 gm cumin seeds
3 green chillies
2 banana leaves
2 gm garlic
20 gm lemon juice
Salt to taste
2 gm pepper
200 gm onions
100 gm tomato
1/5 turmeric powder
In a mixing bowl, marinate fish with turmeric, salt, pepper and lemon juice and keep it aside for 15 minutes
Make fine paste of coriander, coconut, garlic, cumin seeds, and green chillies in a grinder.
Once the paste is ready, place the fish in banana leaf and apply marinade gently
Fold the banana leaf gently, and steam in an oven.
For onion and
Finely chop onion and tomatoes, add chat masala and finish with cilantro.
Lamb curry in a pot
5 lamb chops
25 gm cardamom
250 gm cinnamon
10 gm cumin seeds
10 green chillies
2 bay leaves
2 gm mace
20 gm coriander seeds
3 gm turmeric powder
25 gm ginger and garlic
200 gm onion
100 gm tomatoes
1/5 gm red chilli powder
Salt to taste
200 gm hung yoghurt
2 gm fenugreek seeds
1/2 gm lemon juice
Marinate lamb chops with ginger, garlic, red chillies and hung yoghurt.
Season the clay pot, to start cooking in it.
Start by adding desi ghee, ginger and garlic paste and blend of spices mentioned above.
Cook onions until brown, followed by tomatoes on a slow flame so that the desired taste is achieved.
Add lamb chops and cook until it leaves water.
Gradually add salt to taste.
Cover the pot with a lid so as to retain flavours in it.
Cook on a low flame for 15-20 min.
Remove from heat and let it rest.
Break the mathka with a hammer in front of guests.
Garnish with fresh coriander and serve.
500 gm raw mango
1 l mustard oil
1 gm kalonji seeds
10 gm fennel seeds
12 gm fenugreek seeds
10 gm black cumin seeds
20 gm salt
30 gm turmeric powder
50 gm red chilli powder
Cut raw mango into small dices and marinate with salt, red chillies and turmeric for 15-20 min.
Once it absorbs the spices, start blending the other spices
Start off in a big tray by adding mustard oil, turmeric, kalonji seeds, fennel seeds, fenugeerk and black cumin seeds together.
Once the mixture is ready, put the marinated raw mango dices into the same.
Mix it well.
Take a jar and add the raw mango pickle in it and keep it for fermentation.
Make sure it is kept under the sun to get the desired pickle taste.
Saurabh Udinia, Head Chef, Masala Library, Farzi Cafe & Masala Bar