There are 2 lentils, less well known outside of India, that look similar at first glance but are quite different. Even in India these two lentils are confused, with many writers and bloggers thinking they are the same. Similar in colour, both are grown in dry almost inhospitable land on vines. Both have an earthy taste and require good soaking before cooking. They are even used to make similar dishes. However, they are different, with different shapes, colours, textures and tastes.
Don’t you L O V E tamarind? I am not sure what I would do without this ingredient in the kitchen. While others rave about black garlic, it is the commonly available tamarind that gives that umami taste to my dishes. As a added bonus, it is at once sweet and sour. Oh, the delights of tamarind!
Occasionally, fresh tamarind pods are available at our Indian and Asian groceries. Sometimes we just nibble the tamarind from the pod, and sometimes we make tamarind paste for our Indian food, and a Mexican Summery cooling drink from the fresh paste. Win-Win.
The origin of the name comes from tamar-e-hind, which means fruit of India or date of India. It was called this in the Arab countries although it is a native of Northern Africa. Its arrival in India shows of healthy trade routes between Africa, the Middle East and the Sub Continent. The fruit was well known to the ancient Egyptians and to the Greeks in the 4th Century BCE, and is now commonly grown and used in used in India (where it is called imli in Hindi), Africa, Mexico, the Philippines, the Caribbean and throughout South East Asia.
Curry leaves add that indefinable flavour to South Indian dishes, without which they are incomplete. They are an exclusive Indian garnish that gives a subtle taste and aroma to almost all South Indian dishes. Curry leaves don’t taste like curry – they assumed that name because of their ubiquitous use in the dishes of South India.
Whole leaves are added to ghee, coconut oil or Indian sesame oil when making a tadka – popping mustard seeds and/or cumin seeds.
Long Melon, Lauki, Doodhi, or the Bottle Gourd species produces fruit in a range of sizes and shapes, from long and thin, straight or curved to bottle shaped. But always the skin is smooth, tough and most commonly light green. When buying it is good to select the younger ones as they will be more tender and sweeter.
In Asia and India, taste is as much about the texture of food as it is about the flavour. That is why such flavourless ingredients such as the wide range of grains used, and tofu are often the star of the dish, while the flavoursome ingredients play a back role. Sago and Tapioca fall into this group – valued for its mouth feel, its slightly bouncy, often gelatinous texture.
Subudana or Subu is sago or tapioca (often called tapioca sago) and these are mostly used interchangeably in Indian cooking. Indeed the rules of the Indian Standards Institution set in 1956 determine that sago can be made from either true sago or tapioca starch. There is often confusion about which is which, because sago and tapioca look remarkably the same. Both are typically small, dry, opaque balls. Both are white in colour, if pure. When soaked and cooked, both become much larger, translucent, soft and spongy. Both are widely used around the world, usually in puddings. But tapioca comes from tubers of the cassava plant and sago comes from the sago palm. And they require different preparation for some recipes.
To add to the confusion, packaging and distribution companies often refer to sago as tapioca and vice versa. This makes no difference if you are making a sticky sago pudding or a payasam, but for some recipes, such as Sago Kitchari, the pearls of sago remains more separated than tapioca pearls will. Sago needs to be soaked for a longer period of time than tapioca and is less temperamental to deal with.
The stiff, bright green pandanus leaf is used for its colour and flavour in curries and rice dishes in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Fiji, Chinese, Indonesia and the S.E. Asian countries. There is no real substitute for the unusual nutty, grassy but sweet flavour of the leaf, which is cut into pieces or tied in a knot and added to dishes. Different varieties have flavours that are variously described as rose-like, almondy, and milky sweet, vanilla-like. (There are over 700 varieties of Pandanus, some edible and some not. The most aromatic types are from Southeast Asia and Sri Lanka.)
Screwpine leaf was the name given by English traders who travelled to Asia. The Indian name for it is Rampe and in Bangladesh it is called ketaki. Kewra is the flower of the Pandan plant.
South India, especially Tamil Nadu, has a culture of drying vegetables, mixtures of lentils and spices, and pastes made from rice, sago and similar. This is sensible of course – it preserves summer produce for use throughout the year, and thus in leaner seasons they extend freshly available ingredients and provide additional taste and texture.
The three terms are used interchangeably, strictly speaking:
Tulsi is an amazing herb, indigenous to the Indian subcontinent. The word “tulsi” means “the incomparable plant“. It is a bushy shrub that grows up to 2 metres in height. The plant has hairy stems with leaves that are oval and serrated of about 5cm in length – the colours ranging from light green to dark purple, depending on the variety. The plant has delicate lavender-coloured flowers, and its fruit consists of tiny rust-coloured nuts. There are two main varieties, the one with the green leaves is called Rama or Shri Tulsi and the one with the reddish leaves is called Krishna or Shyama tulsi.
Tulsi is a plant that has a whole raft of health benefits. Modern research has classified Tulsi as a herb that supports the body’s natural immune system while relieving the body’s negative reaction to stress. It has been used in traditional Ayurvedic herbal medicines for thousands of years to promote and maintain wellness.
It’s referred to in Ayurveda as a rejuvenative, rasayana or restorative herb. It is said that you should eat seven Tulsi leaves a day for good health. They balance kapha and calm vata. It is said to be effective against respiratory tract diseases, coughs and colds. It helps the body adapt to environmental, physical and emotional stressors, supports normal functions, and restores balance. It is a tonic for the heart and the immune system, it clears the mind and is also said to break up pranic congestions in the aura. The plant itself has a purifying effect on the environment.
You might like to try Tulsi Rasam and Phanta Tea with Tulsi. Tulasi can also be spelt as Tulsi or Thulasi, or called Holy Basil. Don’t get it confused with Thai or South East Asian Holy Basil, it is an Indian Holy Basil and quite different to the Thai herb. Our Tulsi recipes are here.
Technically, ghee is a type of clarified butter. But it’s not just any old type of clarified butter: all milk solids (including lactose) and moisture must be removed before it can become ghee. Clarified butter that still retains some moisture and milk solids is not ghee.
Often Indian recipes will call for clarified butter when ghee is required. This is misleading – let me explain why.
Although technically Ghee is a type of clarified butter, much confusion arises from equating ghee with clarified butter. This is because the term clarified butter is broadly associated with the French version of the same which is clarified for seconds (whereas ghee is clarified for 10 – 20 minutes). If we read the need for clarified butter in a recipe, we assume the French version, beurre clarifié, which is utterly tasteless compared with ghee, and is different in colour and in medicinal properties. Ghee is cooked longer until the milk solids to brown and all moisture has evaporated. The resulting flavour is more nutty and toasty compared to that of clarified butter. It also means ghee contains no water, so it’s almost spoil-proof – it will last about a year.
Beurre Noisette or brown butter is closer to ghee than clarified butter. Brown butter is heated until the milk solids separate and toast. If the butter is not mixed during and after cooking it will separate into 2 layers, the top layer is close to ghee, the bottom the toasted brown milk solids. But ghee takes this clarification process much much further driving off all water and cooking the solids until very dark. Only the oil is left.
Note that the three butters mentioned here – ghee, beurre noisette and beurre clarifié – are not interchangeable. Tastes vary considerably.
Tamarind, translated literally as Indian date, is used extensively in Sth Indian and SE Asian cooking. It is the brittle, dark brown pod of the tamarind tree, a tall shade tree, originally a native of East Africa. The Tamarind seeds pods look like wide beans and as they ripen, their sour green flesh turns a chocolate colour -a sour fleshy and sticky pulp that is dried with or without the large seeds intact.