The Sense of Smell
In fact, the hallmark of fine Indian cooking is not the bunging in of disparate ingredients all together but a much more refined effect created by layering different notes of flavour. In a curry, for instance, that is cooked with finesse, you should be able to smell different notes in succession. At home when we cook, we don’t perhaps pay attention to the order in which we put in spices, but there is a method to the madness. The most volatile spice is added at the end, the least at the beginning to create a base. So the likes of green cardamom, mace (Javitri in Hindi) and so on are always used to finish a complex curry. These are the aromats that you sense first as you begin to spoon up a qorma or qaliya.A much humbler, mundane sort of use of aromatic spices is of course in the tempering of our dals. Many oblivious chefs today, without any understanding of the classical principles of Indian cooking, do what I call dhaba-style cooking. Temper everything with garlic and ghee and rely on these two powerful aromats to make your food smell delicious. It’s a shortcut to deliciousness for sure, but it does take away from the refined, subtler pleasures of using ingredients with discretion and judiciousness to create specific effects.
Anoothi Vishal is the author of Mrs LC's Table. She is also a columnist and food writer, specialising in cuisine history, culinary links between communities and regions, and the business of restaurants.
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