It was only after leaving my homeland that I actually realised what Indian food means to me! I have never been a foodie. I have quite basic cooking skills but I learnt a lot since my stay in a foreign land.
It has been almost a year of cooking my food myself. I am yet to fall in love with the art of cooking but the process has definitely opened up a new world of knowledge to me. I have become more interested in the ingredients I use, methods of cooking food, my dietary requirements and nutrition the food I eat provides.
There is a huge variety in Indian food that comprises different preparations using cereals, lentils, vegetables, milk products, oils, herbs, spices etc. As I consume vegetarian food only, I would be sharing vegetarian meals that I cook and eat. Once in a while I do order meals or go out to eat but most of the time I cook for myself and my husband.
During childhood, my every morning started with one or two parathas. Breakfast meant Parathas to me and I think it’s the same for most of the Punjabi families. Sometimes it would be plain paratha, sometimes parathas with various kinds of stuffings.
Love for Parathas
It could be Aloo paratha, Gobhi Paratha, Paneer Paratha etc usually accompanied with pickle, curd or tea. I still love parathas but I have a variety of things that I like to eat for breakfast. It could be Idli with some chutney, sprouted moong daal dosa, aaloo- poori, or paratha.
There are days when I feel lazy and need a quick-fix. At such times, I would have Poha or Dalia. Whenever I feel like having Parathas but don’t want to put in much effort for cooking, I go for Palak (spinach) Paratha or Onion Paratha. For these, you just need to chop them and add to the dough along with some salt and spices.
I would be very honest here. Paratha stuffed with veggies are not as delicious as paneer (Indian cottage cheese) paratha but they are healthier and easier to digest. Sometimes I use grated broccoli, raw papaya or beetroot for making Parathas.
According to Ayurveda, heavy food items should be consumed during day time. One should eat only those items after sunset that are easy to digest. I have been learning more about Ayurveda and have started incorporating it in my daily life including food habits.
My lunch usually comprises daal (lentils), sabzi (stir fried vegetables), chapati or rice. Aloo tamatar ki sabzi with poori or rice, Kadhi-Chawal, stuffed bitter gourd with chapatis, are some of my favourite lunch options.
I love having lassi along with my lunch. Nothing can replace homemade curd and lassi. They bring back the memories of my childhood spent at my grandparent’s village. Occasionally, I would add a dollop of butter or desi ghee to my food. It never fails to enhance the flavour of the food. Cucumber raita or boondi raita would complete my thali.
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Punjabi at heart
‘Sarson ka Saag and Makki ki Roti’ always reminds me of my homeland. Being a Punjabi, I have eaten it a lot of times at home. But never tried cooking it myself. Once I saw mustard leaves in the local market and bought those in order to cook it. I’m happy to say that it turned out quite well for the first time.
Food is not just about taste and filling the stomach. It has a deep emotional connect too. Just like Indian tea always reminds me of happy times spent with family. I have cut down on my caffeine intake but whenever I miss my family, I make a cup of masala or ginger tea for myself. It makes me feel at home.
I tend to sleep better when I eat a light meal at dinner and eat at least 3 hours before sleep. Hence, dinner is usually one of these- Khichdi (one pot meal that includes rice, lentils and lots of different vegetables), daal- chawal (lentils and rice), vegetable pulao.
Rice has always been my favorite so I like to experiment with various dishes with rice as the main ingredient. Adding some other ingredients help in enhancing the flavors and increasing the nutritional value of the food.
Lots of Greens and Veggies
Vegetable Pulao and Sprouts Pulao are one pot meals that go well with some raita (curd). For sprouts I usually use whole green moong or chickpeas. Vegetable Pulao loaded with peas, potatoes, baby corn, carrot, cauliflower, broccoli, spring onion, spinach or other seasonal vegetables. I try to include as much vegetables as I can into my cooking.
Delicious, healthy and easy to cook- is what I look for while trying something new. Whenever I feel like having something sweet after a meal, I go for sevaiyan (sweet vermicelli), kheer (rice pudding) or halwa. Gajar ka Halwa is one of my favourites.
Where do I start with Indian snacks? It would be an endless list of items that include all kinds of tastes- sweet, salty, tangy, spicy.
Cooking these at home is not something that I do often. But once in a while, I do like to munch on something spicy and crunchy like Aloo tikki (patty made of boiled and mashed potatoes), Daal wada (fritters made of lentils), Pakora (fritters made of chickpea) spiced peanuts, makhana (popped lotus seeds).
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All of these snacks go well with a cup of hot tea or sharbat. Chutney (sauce/dip) usually accompanies the Indian snacks. Peanut chutney, coconut chutney, tomato chutney and coriander/mint chutney are the ones that I like and often make. This spicy and tangy stuff helps me satisfy my cravings for Indian street food.
Want to try Indian street food but worried about getting sick? Check these 16 Tips on Eating Street Food in India & Not Getting Sick
Cooking Indian food in Taiwan
Since I started living in Taiwan, it took me some time to explore the local markets where I could get fresh produce for cooking. I often get asked if I am able to find all the ingredients here that I need for Indian cooking. Almost everything is available here either in the local markets or it can be ordered in from stores that sell Indian grocery products.
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Getting to know my food and the nutritional requirements of my body has helped me establish a healthier relationship with myself. More I cook for myself, the more I feel that it is better for me to cook my food myself than ordering from outside.
It is healthy, economical and I get to learn a lot. Do try some of the dishes that I mentioned here, if you have not tried before. Happy Cooking!