Raghavan Iyer and simple, inspired Indian food
Raghavan Iyer’s path from Mumbai to Minnesota taught him a lot about teaching others how to cook Indian food.
“I learned to cook the Indian way in a foreign land,” Iyer said during his recent “Taste Talks” visit to General Mills headquarters. When he landed in the small city of Marshall, Minn., 20 years ago, grocery stores didn’t even carry ginger.
But tastes all over America have changed, and as more people become curious about cooking Indian food, Iyer has made it his mission to make 6,000 years of culinary history easily accessible to home cooks everywhere.
The author of “Betty Crocker’s Indian Home Cooking” and the newly released “Indian Cooking Unfolded,” Iyer shared some Indian cooking history as well as fundamental tips as he prepared Mountain High Yoghurt-marinated tandoori chicken; samosas made with Green Giant frozen spinach; and chickpea curry made with Muir Glen organic tomatoes for a roomful of hungry employees.
“Indian food is like the original ‘fusion’ food,” he says. “We’ve got influences from the UK, Pakistan, China, Burma, Persia (Iran), Portugal and more.”
Some of the flavors reflected in Indian food include hot, bitter, sweet, tart, salty, astringent and umami, but Iyer stressed that Indian food is more about balance than one particular food or flavor.
“Each plate is a sense of balance between temperatures, flavors and textures,” he said.
Some of the tips he shared to help demystify Indian food include:
* Buy whole spices. “You can extract eight distinct flavors from each different spice,” he said. Store spices in a tight container, away from the light, at room temperature.
* Plain yogurt is a base for many dishes from dressings and marinades to curries and desserts.
* Curry isn’t a flavor, it simply means sauce or gravy.
* Use a grill with a pizza stone to replicate a tandoori oven.
And most of all, Indian cooking isn’t and shouldn’t be stressful.
“How do you cook at home?” Iyer asked. “Maybe a protein, a starch and a vegetable. Cook the same food, but ‘Indianize’ it with spices or a few ingredient substitutions.”
The top five spices to have handy, according to Iyer, are cumin, coriander, cardamom, mustard and turmeric. With those spices you can form a bridge between two cultures like the Mac and Cheese Outsourced recipe he features in “Indian Cooking Unfolded.”
“Most Indian food can easily be done ahead of time and many dishes keep well,” Iyer says. “People have a misperception that Indian food is complex, but it’s actually very simple. Indian meals can frequently be made in 30 minutes or less.”
Taste Talks is a food-focused speaker series for employees, hosted by The Kitchens of General Mills.
For recipes from Iyer, and more information about him, visit RaghavanIyer.com.