Indian and Pakistani Culinary Ingredients

Indian and Pakistani Culinary Ingredients

Besides the all-important spices, there are a few ingredients used in Indian and Pakistani cooking that may be unfamiliar but that are readily available or, if not, can be made at home.

Panir - Home-made cream cheese. Bring milk to the boil, stirring occasionally to prevent a skin forming on top. As the milk starts to rise in the pan, stir in lemon juice in the proportion of 1 tablespoon to 2 1/2 cups milk. Remove from heat and let stand for 5 minutes, by which time firm curds will have formed. Strain through muslin. Let it hang for at least 30 minutes, then press to remove as much moisture as possible. If it has to be very firm, weight it down and leave for some hours in a cool place. This is necessary when it is cut into cubes and cooked with vegetables dishes. It may be added to any of the vegetable preparations for extra nutrition.

Khoa - Unsweetened condensed milk made by boiling milk quickly in a shallow pan (such as a large, heavy frying pan) to allow for as much surface evaporation as possible. It must be stirred constantly. When ready, khoa has a consistency of uncooked pastry. Four cups of milk yield about 90 g of khoa. It is an ingredient in Indian sweetmeats.

Malai - Thick cream. This is not the separated cream sold commercially, but is collected from the top of the milk. The milk is kept boiling steadily in a wide pan, usually with a fan blowing on the surface to cool the top of the milk and hasten formation of the skin. When cool, the skin is removed and the process is repeated. It is possible to buy this type of cream from Lebanese shops, where it is called ashtar.

Panch Phora - 'Panch" means five in Hindi, and panch phora is a combination of five different aromatic seeds. These are used whole and, when added to the cooking  oil, impart a flavor typical of certain Indian dishes. Combine 2 tablespoons each of black mustard seed, cumin seed and black cumin seed, 1 tablespoon each of fenugreek seed and fennel seed. Put into a glass jar with a tight fitting lid. Shake before use to ensure even distribution. No substitute.

Oils for cooking - Different oils used in various parts of India give the cookery of each region its distinctive flavor. Til (sesame) seed oil and coconut oil are much used in southern India, and in Bengal, the favorite cooking medium is mustard oil. It is up to your personal taste what type of oil you use, but olive oil is not used in Indian cooking. A tasteless oil such as maize or sunflower oil is best, and may be flavored with ghee.

Ghee - Clarified butter or pure butterfat. It is what gives the rich, distinctive flavor to north Indian cooking. Having no milk solids it can be heated to much higher temperatures than butter without burning. It is sold in cans, packets or tubs. If you find it difficult to buy ghee, make your own by heating butter in a saucepan until it melts and froths. Spoon off foam from the top and pour the melted butter into a heatproof glass bowl, discarding the milk solids in the pan. Leave to cool to room temperature, then chill until set. Spoon off the fat from the top, leaving the residue. Heat the fat again, then strain through fine muslin to remove any remaining solids. This will keep for three or four months without refrigeration.

Yoghurt - In India, this is called dahi or curd and is always unflavored. Natural yoghurt should be used, and if possible choose one with a definite sour flavor. Goat-milk yoghurt or Greek yoghurt is most suitable.

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