No wonder rice and ghee hold a distinct place in temples, holy rituals, and sacred ablutions and on the Indian thaali. Whether this thaali is being used for a specific puja or served on an Indian table, these ingredients are almost indispensable.
Their importance and charm are strong and feisty across the entire Indian landscape– from the hills of Northern most corners of India to the coastal fringes below, till the map ends. Add some Garam Masala i.e. a lip-smacking mixture of grounded spices like roasted cumin, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, and a variety of peppers; and you have a long list of scrumptious Indian recipes on every table across the map of India.
You could be in a Punjabi home, licking your lips as you finish Rajma and Chawal greedily. You could be in front of a huge Rajasthani spread, watching the ghee drip as you attack the delicious-looking baati. You could be in the foothills of Kumao region and enjoying some savory Kafuli with a huge appetite. You could be indulging in some special Machher Jhol as a warm Bengali serves you one more ladle on a rice bed. Travelling southwards, the ghee and rice still find a strong place in every kitchen, on every table.
Maharashtrians do not need an excuse to relish loads of ghee tucked deftly inside a tasty pooran-poli. Just the way their South-Indian neighbours need no excuse to enjoy their beloved Pongal made in endless recipes – from the sweet to the savoury. In Karnataka and around, rice comes in a feast of colours and varieties ranging from lemon rice, tomato rice or that formidable Bisi-bele bhath. Orissa and Bihar have their own fond versions of many twists of rice preparations – Pakhala, Kanika or Dal peetha. Coastal towns like Pondicherry and Kerala too have carried the legacy of seafood, rice, ghee, curries and savoury pickles since historical times. Then there’s curd rice, Vangi bhath and other South-Indian concoctions made of tamarind, sesame seeds, peanuts, etc. tossed in the magic of spices – a feat that changes the plain rice into a feast befitting Kings.
Some recipes have become so iconic and indispensable that they have found their way onto the special desks of five-star chefs who continue adding innovations and tweaks to some legendary recipes.
Biryani, for instance, retains its signature place, be it in the royal vestiges of Lucknow or the streets of Hyderabad – the Awadhi and Mughlai Biryani or the Mangalorean style or Kuska style or the very popular Dum Biryani –Indians love it in any form. Made of stacks of various layers of rice, condiments, caramelised onions and spices – this historic dish still retains the love and passion that generations of food connoisseurs as well as gourmands have worshipped it with.
Not to forget the universal Pulao, a staple-cum-special delicacy of Indian plates in umpteen regions and cultures. The flow and blend of spices or Garam Masala’s use may tweak a bit as we move away from the Kashmiri Pulao in the North, but armed with enough ghee and simple twists; this recipe still manages to shut many mouths in joyful silence.
Similarly, kheer jumps from one form to another changing its shape and texture slightly but is a universal favourite in every Indian household. Some use more milk, some apply more boiling, some make it with nuts, some cook it with ground rice flour, and some serve it with different accompaniments. But made with ghee and rice, this delectable dessert continues to rule the Indian palate no matter how many croissants, and cakes arrive on our tables and in our malls.
Times change but legendary recipes don’t, and they continue to adapt to new health needs, new taste-buds, and new formats. But the core has remained unchanged making them historic and loved through innumerable generations.
It’s important that we cherish such home-grown recipes before they fade in the noise of Western onslaught. They are bowls that harbour the love and pride of our elders from the forgotten times. They are a bite of history – passed on with a bit of story – from one grandchild to the next. We can ensure that they incorporate new textures of health by consuming organic ingredients when we make them. You can pick from a buffet of options: there’s the all-time favourite Basmati that comes in an organic avatar and accompanies those tempting curries with a great texture; there’s the health enthusiast’s brown rice that, incidentally, presents an irresistible aroma and elongates post cooking, making it as good as other alternatives for traditional recipes. There’s also the hulled or partly milled option for chewier recipes or the hand-pounded rice which stays away from machines throughout its journey. Similarly, you can choose Cow Ghee Bilona or the NOP, NPOP certified Garam Masala organic variants so that your food does not compromise on health while delivering you the explosion of unforgettable taste.
That way, ghee, masala and rice would remain the comforting and soothing sight on our tables and shelves, filling us with health as much as they fill us with nostalgia.
Good food is always cherished and adapted so that it moves on from one kitchen to another. Our kitchens have changed, from mortars to microwaves, but the recipes still smell the same- delicious!
The Three Musketeers of India’s Popular Recipes
By Terra Greens Organic
There’s no limit to what you can do with rice, ghee and garam masala in an Indian Kitchen