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
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
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.