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Understanding the basics of South Indian cooking

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South Indian food comprises cuisines from Andhra Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, Telangana, Karnataka, Kerala. With hot and humid weather and coastal regions, Nizami rule, Chettinad and Malabar influences, the cuisine from this region is genuinely unique. 

If you are looking to get acquainted with the basics of South Indian cooking, you are at the right place!

Cooking oils/fats used.

Coconut in most regions is widely consumed in cooking and frying. Oils such as sunflower oils, sesame oil, ghee are also used in preparing dishes on special occasions.

Essential spices.

The most common spices used in south Indian cooking are dried curry leaves, mustard seeds, tamarind (used in dried and in pulp form for sambar, rasam, etc.)

Unique Cooking method – Tempering

South Indian food uses Tempering, also called Tadka or Thalipu. It involves frying dry spices such as mustard seeds, curry leaves, jeera and hing powder in hot oil or ghee to enhance the flavours and aroma. Tempering is either done at the beginning of the end of the preparation of the dish. It is used in dishes such as chutneys and some curries giving the cuisine a distinct flavour.

Commonly used ingredients

  • Rice is an ingredient heavily used in South Indian cooking to prepare meals that are savoury and sweet. Besides consuming it with curries, rice is also used in various forms, such as rice flour and rice pastes to prepare dosas and idlis. Dosa is a home-made pancake prepared out of fermented rice and lentil batter and hot with sambar and chutney. Idlis are steamed cake made out of fermented rice and lentils served with condiments like sambar and chutney.
  • Yoghurt or curd forms an integral part of every meal and is taken with rice as the final course; spicy buttered milk is commonly served in hot summers. 
  • Ragi (Eleusine coracana) also forms a staple diet in southern Karnataka. Raggi mudde or Raggi balls are a staple nutritious meal item in Karnataka and Telangana.    

Gravies and curries prepared.

These are some commonly prepared gravies and curries:

  • Sambar or sambhar is a very popular South Indian stew prepared with lentils, vegetables, and tamarind. 
  • Rasam, a tamarind-based soupy dish prepared with tomato, cumin, pepper, and chilli pepper, can also comprise any combination of vegetables with lentils.
  • Kuzhambu, a gravy dish made of toor dal, urad dal, tamarind and other spices that can include different vegetables. 
  • Thayir that is curd when taken with rice is called ‘Thayir Sadam’ where Sadam means rice.
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