2. Kachampuli VinegarBut the Kachampuli vinegar used for the pandi curry in Coorg is a regional improvisation brought about by the need to preserve fruit. The Kodampuli fruit is only available in monsoon, collected in baskets and then left to break down into pulp and vinegar which can then be used in the subsequent months. This is the kachampuli vinegar that gives a distinct taste to the pork.
3. Kachri PowderThis is one of the most fascinating souring agents that I know and cook with. A wild berry that grows in Rajasthan and a few parts of northern India, dried and powdered kachri is used in a sophisticated Delhi Kayasth dish like Badam Pasande. It acts both as a tenderiser for meat (it is used in the marinade along with yoghurt) and a souring agent. In fact, the use of the local kachri in a dish clearly influenced by Mughal cooking points to the syncretic Ganga-Jamuni culinary culture of the Kayasths. In Kayasth homes, it was humble, every day spices, tenderisers, aromatics and souring agents that were used, even if the cuisine created was sophisticated. This separates it from the more "royal" Mughal cooking, where dishes were cooked by cooks who went out of their way to find more elusive and expensive ingredients in a bid to outdo each other and perhaps tell a better story to the royals!
4. Pomegranate SeedsEver wanted to recreate the same black chickpeas with a tang that you have had as part of the Punjabi chole-bhature classic in restaurants or shops? Homes today use tomatoes to sour the chickpeas. But the "correct" souring agent is anar dana; it has a distinct flavour and bite to it that cannot be missed.
5. YoghurtOne of the distinguishing marks of any meat dish with "courtly" Mughal/Nawabi/Nizami is the use of yoghurt as a souring agent. In Delhi, whisking together fried onions and yoghurt and adding it to the spices and almost cooked meat at the final stages of cooking gave body to the curry too. The thin shorvas of home-style meat curries on the other hand also always derived their sourness from yoghurt-not from tomatoes. On the other hand, fish was never cooked in yoghurt. Perhaps because of the Ayurvedic underpinnings of Indian kitchens (fish and curd are a non-combination, according to Ayurveda).
6. KokumA fruit of the mangosteen family, the sun-dried outer fruit is used as a popular souring agent in Maharashtra, Karnataka as well as Assamese food, pointing to geography and natural availability of ingredients as one of the most important factors to consider when trying to understand pan-Indian cuisines.
7. AmchoorIn UP and Bihar, dried mango powder is the souring agent of choice for vegetarian preparations, including lentils. When the fruit is in season, small pieces of unripe, tart mangoes are cut and cooked along with arhar dal, or in vegetables. But when the season gets over, it is amchoor that takes over.
8. TamarindBy far the most popular souring agent in Indian cuisines because of its wide availability in our tropical climes. The Indian tamarind is sour (well, sweet and sour), unlike the Thai sweet tamarind, and is used in dishes across the Subcontinent-the south of Vindhyas, all along the east and west coasts. A substitute could be lime. But the complexity of flavour is just not the same.
These different souring agents are used in different ways through the length and breadth of the country making for distinct dishes, even when the main ingredients remain the same.About the Author:Anoothi Vishal is a columnist and writes on food for The Economic Times and NDTV Food, and runs the blog amoveablefeast.in. She tracks the business of restaurants and cuisine trends and also researches and writes on food history and the cultural links between cuisines. Anoothi's work with community-based cuisines led her to set up The Great Delhi Pop-Up three years ago, under which she promotes heritage, regional and community-based cuisines as well as researched and non-restaurantised food concepts. She has also been instrumental in reviving her own community's Kayastha cuisine, a blend of Indo-Islamic traditions, which she cooks with her family and has taken across India to a diverse audience.
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