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Vivek Singh’s 6 crucial tips for improving your Indian cooking

Vivek Singh’s top 6 cooking tips for Indian recipes

by Great British Chefs 29 September 2014

Celebrate the Indian Summer by brushing up on your Indian cooking skills. Vivek Singh is on hand to provide expert tips to ensure

Great British Chefs is a team of passionate food lovers dedicated to bringing you the latest food stories, news and reviews.

Celebrate the Great British Chefs’ Indian Summer by brushing up on your Indian cooking skills. Vivek Singh is on hand to provide expert tips that you may not already know.

1. Harness the power of marinades

Though many are aware of the positive effects of using marinades and rubs, few of us will take the time to marinate proteins when cooking at home. But just five minutes of prep the night or even the morning before making an Indian dish could make the world of difference. Wet ingredients like oil and yoghurt can be combined with spices and aromatics to make simple marinades and, once you have followed a few recipes, you could even start to experiment with a few concoctions of your own.

Vivek Singh says…

'Marinades are essential in terms of pre-cooking as they help to tenderise, flavour and colour the meat. Marinades help to protect the meat from the fierce heat of the tandoor. At home, you could smear your seared piece of meat with tandoor marinade and create the same flavour by roasting in the oven.'

2. Buy spices whole

While having a cupboard full of ground sub-continental spices may make you feel like a pro, many chefs will tell you that in fact the opposite is true. Invest in a good pestle and mortar and take the time to grind them yourself – it will be well worth it.

Vivek Singh says…

'Buy whole spices – not pre-ground as they lose their flavour very quickly. There are only two spices that you should buy ground and that’s red chillies and turmeric, as they’re messy and dangerous to grind at home. They keep very well for a good few months!'

3. Use spices carefully

 
 
The more expensive the spice, the more sparingly they should be used. Only add these spices at the last stage of cooking as a seasoning.

Whether cooking a korma or a kappa meen, there can be a temptation to use spices liberally in the hope that it disguises some of your shortcomings (that’s right, we’re onto you!). But though the cuisine has no tradition of using precise measurements, it is important to call on seasonings judiciously; after all, Indian food is as much as a science as it is an art. Follow recipes closely to learn how Indian chefs masterfully sequence their use of spices – and don’t throw things in just for the sake of it!

Vivek Singh says…

'The more expensive the spice, the more sparingly they should be used. Only add these spices at the last stage of cooking as a seasoning.'

4. Temper the oil

As Vivek Singh explains below, tempering, in this context, refers to flavouring oil with spices – a neat little hack that is widely practised in Indian cuisines but can apply to other styles of cooking, too. Use neutral oils and do not attempt to store the tempered oil for too long – prepare it as the first stage of a recipe and stir it into a dish just before serving.

Vivek Singh says…

'The term chaunk refers to tempering in both North and South India – it’s the act of heating oil and then adding spices until they crackle and pop. You can then take the flavoured oil and add it to lentils or rice for added flavour.'

5. The rice principles

 

Sometimes it is the simple things that can impress the most – and while cooking rice may appear simple, many still struggle to replicate the fluffy, often fragrant rice you will find in any decent Indian restaurant. There are many different methods you can use, but the most important thing is to treat the cooking of this Indian staple like a military exercise – with precision, care and expertise.

Vivek Singh says…

'Measure out rice before adding to the pot, usually 2x quantity of water for 1x measure of rice.'

6. The case for pastes

Pastes can be used to enhance curries, dhals and many other dishes, and most experts will tell you that ginger-garlic paste in particular is a key thing to keep in your fridge if you are serious about Indian cooking. But Vivek Singh believes the case for pastes is overstated, arguing that their effects can be achieved in other ways. Take his advice and do not rely on shop-bought pastes too heavily.

Vivek Singh says…

'Contrary to what people think, pastes are not crucial to Indian food. You get a similar flavour with chopped vegetables, onion and garlic. If you do decide to use paste, then it’s always best to make your own.'

 
 

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