Whatever way you may choose to mix them in a recipe, spices are the critical component in preserving Indian food's flavor and integrity throughout its travel across the globe. Without Indian spices, we won't enjoy the Indian food we have come to love and absorb into the American dining experience.
We can find many of these spices on our kitchen shelves at home, but without correct guidance, the complexity of using them for cooking an Indian (or even American) dish can be daunting.
There are various authentic elements to Indian food in America, but what's important is that India is a vast country, so what's typical varies significantly from region to region.
The most common Indian food in the U.S. comes from North India and is, more often than not, Punjabi. Also, a large percentage of the population in the Indian subcontinent is vegetarian, so vegetarian dishes are far more common in India.
Many Americans who are unfamiliar/new to Indian food think that it's all fire and spice. But that's not true. Yes, there are masalas and herbs, but it's not all chilies. There are various fragrant spices, robust ones, and even peppery ones. There's cinnamon, cumin, and cardamom.
Each spice is used thoughtfully and carefully. Every masala mix powder has a unique flavor and aroma, adding a distinctive character to any dish.
In India, every kitchen makes its spice mix that varies by state, district, region, and even individual home! Different blends are used for different types of meats and vegetables. The varieties are just mind-boggling. Each Indian spice has its pride of place in any recipe or kitchen shelf, and when combined in correct proportions, they create the next level of magic.
Almost everyone knows the term 'masala' — the closest thing Indians have to Western curry powder: A mixture of spices and herbs that form the base of Indian dishes and gives them their characteristic flavors.
Every Indian kitchen has a 'masala dabba' or two — round steel containers with an inner and outer lid and about six smaller round containers inside that are the heart and soul of Indian kitchens. One holds the whole spices, and the other contains the masala powders and personalized blends of spices.
Why do we need whole and powdered versions of the same spice? The reason is simple. Each Indian dish has multiple layers of spices that combine through various cooking methods. Some use whole spices. Others use only masala powders in different proportions. And finally, there are dishes with both natural and powdered masalas!
Let's now delve into some of the masalas and spices used in the most common comfort foods in America:
Americans love meat, and how! They are often criticized for over-consuming meat products but bite into juicy, succulent barbecued chicken, and you may be hooked.
The term 'barbecue' is quite generic and can describe several different meats and techniques; however, the most classic barbecue is a cut of beef usually seasoned with a dry rub of spices and then slowly cooked on flavorful wood chips until it becomes tender.
The dry rub of spices can be Indian masalas, too, if you need that extra tang and flavor to your barbecued meat.
Chili is an enigma in the USA. In its classic form, chili is a thick stew made of meat, beans, and onions in a base of spices, chili peppers, and tomatoes. It can include several ingredients, and you can consume it in countless ways.
You can kick chili into higher gear with spicy peppers and unique flavor combinations. You can even use Indian masalas for added spiciness and flavor.
Chili is traditionally served plain with cornbread or tortilla chips.
Almost all countries and cultures worldwide have their version of fried chicken. But the United States has taken it to the level of a national obsession. Americans can find fried chicken at the seediest fast-food restaurants, right up to some of the country's most elegant fine-dining destinations.
Though taste and quality differ from place to place, the basic cooking remains the same — you batter chicken pieces and then deep-fry them to create a deliciously crispy, flavorful dish that's crispy from the outside and moist and tender inside. And when you add Indian masalas, fried chicken becomes just divine!
Macaroni And Cheese
Although Americans didn't come up with the idea of a pasta dish baked with cheese, they have put their unique twist on it. When not made artificially from a can, good old "mac 'n' cheese" is an object of lust for most Americans! Elbow-shaped noodles are coated in a flour and milk-based sauce, like béchamel, and outrageous amounts of cheddar cheese to make this delicacy.
Like many other food items, external cultures also influence the American meatloaf. This mixed-meat entrée strongly resembles a sizeable Swedish meatball in looks and flavor.
The American version, however, takes the mixture of breadcrumbs, ground beef, vegetables, and egg and molds it into a loaf or bread pan. It is then usually covered with ketchup and baked. Once cooked thoroughly and solidified into its traditional bread-like shape, it is sliced into portions for serving. For added flavor and kick, Indian masalas are a welcome addition to the meatloaf.