Maeve O’Meara journeys into the colorful spicy vibrant world of Indian food and learns how to make some fabulous 10 minute dishes as well as the secrets of great curries from the subcontinent. Food explorer and broadcaster Maeve O'Meara joins her friend chef Ajoy Joshi in a spice emporium to learn the secrets of choosing the right spices—and comes up with some surprising finds–spices used for fertility and antiseptic properties as well as taste.
Chef Daisy Rajan shares her recipe for the comfort food she whips up after a night in her restaurant The Raaj—high protein, delicious fresh tasting dhal fragrant with spices and fresh herbs, her restaurant-style palak paneer made in under 10 minutes, and sensational and easy Gujarati potatoes made in 5 minutes.
Top chef Kumar Mahadevan, of Abhi’s Restaurant, shows the easy steps to a tender flavorsome rogan josh (an aromatic lamb dish), while Ajoy Joshi cooks Hyderabadi chicken in spices and its own juices. Scene stealers are two vibrant women—Kuki Singh who extols the virtues of Indian sweets and Raini Singh who makes a cheat's version of coconut and cardamom burfi with just 4 ingredients.
Click here for the recipes featured in this episode.
As the world's largest democracy and a rising economic giant, India is as well known across the globe for its mastery of computer technology as it is for its many-armed gods and its famous spiritual traditions. But India is also the world's most ancient surviving civilization, with unbroken continuity back into prehistory. Like Greece or Egypt, over the millennia it has enjoyed not just one but several brilliant golden ages in art and culture. Its great thinkers and religious leaders have permanently changed the face of the globe.
India's history is a 10,000 year epic, but for over two millennia India has been at the center of world history. It has seen successive invasions from Alexander the Great and Genghis Khan to Tamerlane and the British, all of whom left their mark but ultimately succumbed, in the end, to India herself. For all that time India has been famous for its spiritual traditions, giving birth to two world religions, one of which—Buddhism—had a profound impact on all of East Asia, China, Japan and Korea, and in modern times has found root even in the US and Europe.
The subcontinent is home to an extraordinary spectrum of music, dance and literature. India was also, and still is, a great center for technology and science, inventing for example the decimal system with zero, which is the basis of all modern science, mathematics and economics. India gave birth to some of the most remarkable characters in world history, including the Buddha, the Mauryan emperor Ashoka, and the Moghul emperor Akbar the Great, not to mention the likes of Nehru and Mahatma Gandhi.
Now, in the era of globalization, India has once again become a leading player in the world. Home to more than one billion people it is a land of amazing contrasts, and while moving at the speed of light into the 3rd millennium, India alone, of all the civilizations on the earth, is still very much in touch with her ancient past.
Indus Valley Civilization:
The Indus Valley Civilization was a Bronze Age civilization (early period: 3300-1300 BCE; mature period: 2600-1900 BCE known as the Harappan Civilization) that was located in the northwestern region of the Indian Subcontinent, primarily located in modern-day India (Gujarat, Haryana, Punjab and Rajasthan provinces) and Pakistan (Sindh, Punjab, and Balochistan provinces). Flourishing around the Indus River basin, the civilization primarily centered along the Indus and the Punjab region, extending into the Ghaggar-Hakra River valley and the Ganges-Yamuna Doab.
Not only was the Indus Vally Civilization the largest ancient civilization in the world, it is one of the world's earliest urban civilizations, along with its contemporaries, Mesopotamia and Ancient Egypt. At its peak, the Indus Civilization may have had a population of well over 5 million. Inhabitants of the ancient Indus river valley, developed new techniques in metallurgy and handicraft (carneol products, seal carving), and produced copper, bronze, lead, and tin. The civilization is noted for its cities built of brick, roadside drainage system, and multistoried houses.
The Harappan Civilization collapsed before the end of the second millennium BCE and was followed by the Iron Age Vedic Civilization, which extended over much of the Indo-Gangetic plain, was centered in the northern and northwestern parts of the Indian subcontinent. The Vedic period is characterized by Indo-Aryan culture associated with the texts of Vedas, sacred to Hindus, which were orally composed in Vedic Sanskrit. The Vedas are some of the oldest extant texts, next to those of Egypt and Mesopotamia. The Vedic period lasted from about 1500 to 500 BCE, laying the foundations of Hinduism and other cultural aspects of early Indian society. This period succeeded the prehistoric Late Harappan period, during which immigrations of Indo-Aryan-speaking tribes overlaid the existing civilizations of local people whom they called Dasyus.
In the later Vedic Age, a number of small kingdoms or city states had covered the subcontinent. By 500 BCE, the Mahajanapadas were the sixteen most powerful kingdoms and "republics" of the era, located mainly across the fertile Indo-Gangetic plains from modern-day Afghanistan to Bengal and Maharastra, however there were a number of smaller kingdoms stretching the length and breadth of Ancient India. This period saw the second major rise of urbanism in India after the Indus Valley Civilization. The educated speech at that time was Sanskrit, while the languages of the general population are referred to as Prakrits. Many of the sixteen kingdoms had coalesced to four major ones by 500/400 BCE, by the time of Siddhartha Gautama. These four were Kosala, Magadha, Vatsa (or Vamsa), and Avanti.
Hindu rituals at that time were complicated and conducted by the priestly class. It is thought that the Upanishads, late Vedic texts dealing mainly with philosophy, were composed in the later Vedic Age and early in this period of the Mahajanapadas (from about 600 to 400 BCE). The Upanishads had a substantial effect on Indian philosophy and were contemporary with the development of Buddhism and Jainism, indicating a golden age of thought in this period.
Age of Enlightenment:
It is believed that 537 BCE, that Siddhartha Gautama attained the state of "enlightenment" and became known as the "Buddha"—the enlightened one. Around the same time, Mahavira propagated a similar theology that was to later become Jainism. However, Jain orthodoxy believes it predates all known time.
The Buddha's teachings and Jainism had doctrines inclined toward asceticism. They have profoundly influenced practices that Hinduism and Indian spiritual orders are associated with, including vegetarianism, prohibition of animal slaughter and ahimsa (non-violence). While the geographic impact of Jainism was limited to India, Buddhist nuns and monks eventually spread the teachings of Buddha to Central Asia, East Asia, Tibet, Sri Lanka and Southeast Asia.
Persian and Greek Conquests:
Much of the northwestern subcontinent (present-day eastern Afghanistan and Pakistan) came under the rule of the Persian Achaemenid Empire in 520 BCE, during the reign of Darius the Great, and remained so for two centuries. In 326 BCE, Alexander the Great conquered Asia Minor and the Achaemenid Empire, reaching the northwest frontiers of the Indian subcontinent. There he defeated King Porus in the Battle of the Hydaspes (near modern-day Jhelum, Pakistan) and conquered much of the Punjab.
Alexander's march east put him in confrontation with the Nanda Empire of Magadha and the Gangaridai Empire of Bengal. His army, exhausted and frightened by the prospect of facing larger Indian armies at the Ganges River, mutinied at the Hyphasis (modern Beas River) and refused to march further East. Alexander, after the meeting with his officer, Coenus, was convinced that it was better to withdraw.
The Maurya Empire was founded in 322 BC by Chandragupta Maurya, who had overthrown the Nanda Dynasty and rapidly expanded his power westwards across central and western Inida taking advantage of the disruptions of local powers in the wake of the withdrawal westward by Alexander the Great's Greek and Persian armies. By 320 BC the empire had fully occupied Northwestern India, defeating and conquering the satraps left by Alexander.
The Maurya Empire was one of the world's largest empires in its time, and the largest ever in the Indian subcontinent. At its greatest extent, the empire stretched to the north along the natural boundaries of the Himalayas, and to the east stretching into what is now Assam. To the west, it conquered beyond modern Pakistan, annexing Balochistan, south eastern parts of Iran and much of what is now Afghanistan, including the modern Herat and Kandahar provinces.
Under the conquest of first emperor Chandragupta the Great, and then his son emperor Bindusara, the Maurya Empire included the whole of India except the region of Kalinga (modern Orissa) and the friendly Dravidian kingdoms of the south. Kalinga was conquered by Bindusara's son, Ashoka the Great. The population of the empire has been estimated to be about 50-60 million making the Mauryan Empire one of the most populous empires of the time.
Ashoka converted to Buddhism after witnessing the mass deaths of the war of Kalinga, which he himself had waged out of a desire for conquest. He was later dedicated to the propagation of Buddhism across Asia and established monuments marking several significant sites in the life of Gautama Buddha. Ashoka was a devotee of ahimsa (nonviolence), love, truth, tolerance and vegetarianism.
Ashoka is remembered in history as a philanthropic administrator. The Edicts of Ashoka are a collection of 33 inscriptions on the Pillars of Ashoka—a series of columns dispersed throughout the areas of modern-day Bangladesh, India, Nepal and Pakistan—expresses support for all the major religions of his time: Buddhism, Brahmanism, Jainism, and Ajivikaism, and his edicts, addressed to the population at large, generally focus on moral themes members of all the religions would accept.
Ashoka was followed for 50 years by a succession of weaker kings. Brhadrata, the last ruler of the Mauryan dynasty, held territories that had shrunk considerably from the time of emperor Ashoka, although he still upheld the Buddhist faith. Brihadrata was assassinated in 185 BCE during a military parade, by the commander-in-chief of his guard, the Brahmin general Pusyamitra Sunga, who then took over the throne and established the Sunga dynasty. Buddhist records such as the Asokavadana write that the assassination of Brhadrata and the rise of the Sunga empire led to a wave of persecution for Buddhists, and a resurgence of Hinduism.
The once vast Maurya Empire had become fragmented, with various parts ruled by numerous Middle kingdoms for the next 1,500 years. This is known as the classical period of Indian history, during which India has sometimes been estimated to have had the largest economy of the ancient and medieval world, controlling between one third and one fourth of the world's wealth up to the 18th century.
The Golden Age:
Much of northern and central India was once again united in the 4th century CE, and remained so for two centuries thereafter, under the Gupta Empire. This period, witnessing a Hindu religious and intellectual resurgence, is known among its admirers as the "Golden Age of India". During the same time, and for several centuries afterwards, southern India, under the rule of the Chalukyas, Cholas, Pallavas, and Pandyas, experienced its own golden age. During this period, aspects of Indian civilization, administration, culture, and religion (Hinduism and Buddhism) spread to much of Asia.
During the period 200 BCE–200 CE, the warring Tamil kingdoms in southern Indian penisula was being ruled by the Cheras, the Cholas and the Pandyas, dynasties that traded extensively with the Roman Empire and with west and south-east Asia. In north India during the same time, Hinduism asserted patriarchal control within the family. By the 4th and 5th centuries CE, the Gupta Empire had created a complex administrative and taxation system in the greater Ganges Plain that became a model for later Indian kingdoms. Under the Guptas, a renewed Hinduism based on devotion rather than the management of ritual began to assert itself and was reflected in a flowering of sculpture and architecture, which found patrons among an urban elite. Classical Sanskrit literature flowered as well, and Indian science, astronomy, medicine, and mathematics made significant advances.
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Medieval Ages & Early Modern Era
The Indian early medieval age (600 CE to 1200 CE) is defined by regional kingdoms and cultural diversity. No ruler of this period was able to create an empire and consistently control lands much beyond his core region. During this time, pastoral peoples whose land had been cleared to make way for the growing agriculture economy were accommodated within caste society, as were new non-traditional ruling classes. The Indian caste system—a system of social stratification and social restriction—consequently began to show regional differences.
In the 6th and 7th centuries CE, the first devotional hymns were created in the Tamil language. These were imitated all over India and led both to the resurgence of Hinduism and to the development of all the modern languages of the subcontinent. Indian royalty, big and small, and the temples they patronized drew citizens in great numbers to the capital cities, which became economic hubs as well.
Temple towns of various sizes began to appear everywhere as India underwent another urbanisation. By the 8th and 9th centuries, the effects were evident elsewhere as well as South Indian culture and political systems were being exported to Southeast Asia, in particular to what today are Thailand, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia and Java. Indian merchants, scholars, and sometimes armies were involved in this transmission, and south-east Asians took the initiative as well with many sojourning in Indian seminaries and translating Buddhist and Hindu texts into their languages.
The Islamic Sultanates:
The southwestern state of Kerala had had maritime business links with the Roman Empire from around 77 CE. Islam was introduced in Kerala through this route by Muslim traders. Muslim rule in the subcontinent began in 712 CE when the Arab general Muhammad bin Qasim conquered Sindh and Multan in southern Punjab in modern day Pakistan. After the 10th century, Muslim Central Asian nomadic clans, using swift horse cavalry and raising vast armies united by ethnicity and religion, repeatedly overran South Asia's north-western plains, and led eventually to the establishment of the Islamic Delhi Sultanate in 1206. The Sultanate was to control much of North India, and to make many forays into South India. Although at first disruptive for the Indian elites, the Sultanate largely left its vast non-Muslim subject population to its own laws and customs.
By repeatedly repulsing the Mongol raiders in the 13th century, the Sultanate saved India from the destruction seen in west and central Asia, and set the scene for centuries of migration of fleeing soldiers, learned men, mystics, traders, artists, and artisans from that region into India, thereby creating a syncretic Indo-Islamic culture in the north. The Sultanate's raiding and weakening of the regional kingdoms of South India, paved the way for the indigenous Vijayanagara Empire. Embracing a strong Shaivite tradition and building upon the military technology of the Sultanate, the empire came to control much of peninsular India, and to influence the society and culture of South India for long afterwards.
The Mughal Era:
In the early 16th century, northern India, being ruled then mainly by Muslim rulers, fell again to the superior mobility and firepower of a new generation of Central Asian warriors. In 1526, Babur, a Timurid descendant of Timur and Genghis Khan from Fergana Valley (modern day Uzbekistan), swept across the Khyber Pass and established the Mughal Empire, covering modern day Afghanistan, Pakistan, India and Bangladesh.
The Mughal Empire, while often employing brutal tactics to subjugate their empire, did not try to stamp out the local societies it came to rule, but rather balanced and pacified them through new administrative practices, and diverse and inclusive ruling elites, leading to more systematic, centralized and uniform rule. Mughal emperors married local royalty, allied themselves with local maharajas, and attempted to fuse their Turko-Persian culture with the ancient Indian culture, which is what made them successful where the short-lived Sultanates of Delhi had failed. Akbar the Great was particularly famed for this.
The Mughals were perhaps the richest single dynasty to have ever existed. The Mughal state's economic policies, deriving most revenues from agriculture, and mandating that taxes be paid in the well-regulated silver currency, caused peasants and artisans to enter larger markets. The relative peace maintained by the empire during much of the 17th century was a factor in India's economic expansion, and resulted in greater patronage of painting, literary forms, textiles, and architecture. The Taj Mahal at Agra is the epitome of Mughal architecture. Expanding commerce during Mughal rule gave rise to new Indian commercial and political elites in the southern and eastern coastal India.
In addition to the Mughals and various Rajput kingdoms, several independent Hindu states, such as the Vijayanagara Empire, the Maratha Empire, and the Ahom Kingdom, flourished contemporaneously in southern, western, and northeastern India respectively. A section of the Rajput Chandelas ruled much of the Bundelkhand region of central India for long periods between the 10th and 13th centuries AD. The political capital of the Chandelas was Kalinjar. The Chandela dynasty is famous in Indian history for King Vidyadhar, who repulsed the attacks of the Persian sultan Mahmud of Ghazni. Between 950 and 1150, the Chandela monarchs built the Khajuraho temples the largest surviving group of medieval Tantric and Jain temples, famous for their erotic sculptures.
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The Mughal Empire suffered a gradual decline in the early 18th century, which provided opportunities for the Afghans, Balochis, Sikhs, and Marathas to exercise control over large areas in the northwest of the subcontinent until the British East India Company gained ascendancy over South Asia.
Trading rivalries brought European powers to India. Dutch, British, French and Danes established trading posts in India in the early 17th century. As the Mughal Empire disintegrated in the early 18th century and then the Maratha Empire became weakened after the third battle of Panipat, the unstable Indian states that emerged were increasingly manipulated by the Europeans through dependent "friendly" Indian rulers.
Beginning in the mid-18th century and over the next century, India was gradually annexed by the British East India Company. In the late 18th century the British and French entered into intense struggles for dominance through proxy Indian rulers and by direct military intervention. The defeat of the redoubtable Indian ruler Tipu Sultan in 1799 marginalized French influence. This was followed by a rapid expansion of British power through the greater part of the subcontinent in the early 19th century.
Dissatisfaction with the British East India Company rule, set off by diverse resentments, which included British social reforms, harshness of land taxes, and the humiliation of landed and princely aristocracy, led to the Indian Rebellion of 1857, after which India was directly administered by the British Crown and witnessed a period of rapid development of infrastructure. By the middle of the century, the British had already gained direct or indirect control over almost all of India. India was now no longer exporting manufactured goods as it long had, but was instead supplying the British empire with raw materials, thus little industrial employment was generated for Indians. British India was the most populous and valuable colony of the British Empire and thus became known as "the jewel in the British crown".
During the first half of the 20th century, a nationwide struggle for independence was launched by the Indian National Congress and later joined by the Muslim League. The subcontinent gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, after being partitioned into the dominions of India and Pakistan.
Independence and Partition:
After World War I, in which some one million Indians served, a new period began, which was marked by British reforms, but also repressive legislation, by more strident Indian calls for self-rule, and by the beginnings of a nonviolent movement of non-cooperation, of which Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi would become the leader and enduring symbol. During the 1930s, slow legislative reform was enacted by the British and the Indian National Congress won victories in the resulting free elections. However, the next decade would be beset with crises, which included, the World War II, the Indian National Congress's final push of non-cooperation, and the upsurge of Muslim nationalism lead by the by the Muslim League. The subcontinent gained independence from the United Kingdom in 1947, after being partitioned into the dominions of India and Pakistan.
Vital to India's self-image as an independent nation was its constitution, completed in 1950, which put in place a sovereign, secular, democratic republic. In the 60 years since, India has had a mixed bag of successes and failures. On the positive side, it has remained a democracy with many civil liberties, an activist Supreme Court, and an independent press; economic liberalization in the 1990s, has created a large urban middle-class, transformed India into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, and increased its global clout; and Indian movies, new music, and spiritual teachings, have increasingly contributed to global culture.
However, on the negative side, India has been weighed down with seemingly unyielding poverty, both rural and urban; by religious and caste-related violence, by the insurgencies of Maoist inspired Naxalites, and separatists in Jammu and Kashmir; India has unresolved territorial disputes with the People's Republic of China, which escalated into the Sino-Indian War of 1962, with Pakistan which resulted in wars in 1947, 1965, 1971 and 1999, and nuclear rivalry which came to a head in 1998. India's sustained democratic freedoms, for over 60 years, are unique among the world's new nations; however, in spite of its recent economic successes, freedom from want for its disadvantaged population, remains a goal yet to be achieved.
The Economy of India is the tenth largest in the world by nominal GDP and the fourth largest by purchasing power parity (PPP). Despite fast economic growth India continues to face massive income inequalities, high unemployment and malnutrition. Agriculture is the predominant occupation in India, accounting for about 52% of employment. The service sector makes up a further 34%, and industrial sector around 14%.
Major industries include telecommunications, textiles, chemicals, food processing, steel, transportation equipment, cement, mining, petroleum, machinery, information technology-enabled services and pharmaceuticals. The labor force totals 500 million workers. Major agricultural products include rice, wheat, oilseed, cotton, jute, tea, sugarcane, potatoes, cattle, water buffalo, sheep, goats, poultry and fish. In 2009-2010, India's top five trading partners were United Arab Emirates, China, United States, Saudi Arabia and Germany.
With 1.21 billion citizens as of the 2011 Census, India is the world's second most populous country with 17.% of the world's population. Over 70% of India's population continued to live in rural areas; there are 27 cities in India with inhabitants, with Mumbai, Delhi and Kolkata being the largest. The Indian Constitution recognizes 212 scheduled tribal groups which together constitute about 7.5% of the country's population.
India has nonational language. Hindi, with the largest number of speakers, is the official language of the union. English is used extensively in business and administration and has the status of a 'subsidiary official language; it is also important in education, especially as a medium of higher education. Every state and union territory has its own official languages, and the constitution recognizes in particular 21 "scheduled languages".
In the 2001 Census, over 800 million (80.5%) of the population recorded Hinduism as their religion. Other religious groups include Muslims (13.4%), Christians (2.3%), Sikhs (1.9%), Buddhists (0.8%), Jains (0.4%), Jews, Zoroastrians and Bahá'ís. India has the world's third-largest Muslim population and the largest Muslim population for a non-Muslim majority country.
India's languages, religions, dance, music, architecture, food and customs differ from place to place within the country, but nevertheless possess a commonality. India is the only country in the world to have so many religions and beliefs. The culture of India is an amalgamation of these diverse sub-cultures spread all over the Indian subcontinent and traditions that are several millennia old. Several elements of India's diverse culture—such as Indian religions, yoga and Indian cuisine—have had a profound impact across the world.
Tourism in India:
Tourism in India is the country's largest service industry. India witnesses more than 5 million annual foreign tourist arrivals. Majority of foreign tourists come from USA and UK. Concerted efforts are being made to promote new forms of tourism such as rural, cruise, and eco-tourism. India has a growing medical tourism sector.
India's 5,000 years of history, its length, breadth and the variety of geographic features make its tourism basket large and varied. It presents heritage and cultural tourism along with medical, business and sports tourism. UNESCO recognizes 23 cultural and 5 natural World Heritage Sites in India.
Indian cuisine is the general name for foods of the Indian subcontinent, characterized by the extensive use of various spices, herbs, and other vegetables, and sometimes fruits grown in India and also for the widespread practice of vegetarianism in Indian society. Each family of Indian cuisine includes a wide assortment of dishes and cooking techniques. As a consequence, India's regional cuisines varies from region to region, reflecting the varied demographics of the ethnically-diverse subcontinent.
Hindu beliefs and culture have played an influential role in the evolution of Indian cuisine. However, cuisine across India also evolved as a result of the subcontinent's large-scale cultural interactions with Mongols and Britain, making it a unique blend of some various cuisines. Thus some dishes are vegetarian, while others are not.
The spice trade between India and Europe is often cited as the main catalyst for Europe's Age of Discovery. India's colonial period introduced European cooking styles to India, further adding to the flexibility and diversity of Indian cuisine. Similarly, Indian cuisine has influenced cuisines across the world, especially those from Southeast Asia and the Caribbean.
Indian dining etiquette should be observed when dining in any Indian household or restaurant, though the acceptable standards depend upon the situation. Traditionally, meals are eaten while seated either on the floor or on very low stools or cushions. Food is most often eaten without cutlery, using instead the fingers of the right hand. Often roti (flat bread) is used to scoop the curry without allowing it to touch the hands. Other etiquette includes eating with one hand only, preferably the right hand. Along the coast to the south, where the staple is parboiled rice, rural dwellers raise a hand full of rice to eat while urban folks tend to only use the fingers and thumb. In the wheat growing/consuming north, a piece of roti is gripped with the thumb and middle finger and ripped off while holding holding the roti down with the index finger.
Traditional serving styles vary from region to region in India. One universal aspect of presentation is the thali, a large plate with samplings of different regional dishes accompanied by raita, breads such as naan, puri, or roti, and rice. Most South Indian meals end with plain curd and rice. In South India, cleaned banana leaves, which could be disposed of after the meal, were traditionally used as an alternative to plates. When hot food is served on banana leaves, the leaves add aroma and taste to the food. Leaf plates are still utilized on auspicious and festive occasions but are much less common otherwise.
Traditional ways of dining are being influenced by eating styles from other parts of the world. Among the middle class throughout India, spoons and forks are now commonly used, although knives are not.
The staples of Indian cuisine are bajri (pearl millet), rice, atta (whole wheat flour), and a variety of pulses (legumes), the most important of which are masoor (most often red lentil), channa (bengal gram), toor (pigeon pea or yellow gram), urad (black gram), and mung (green gram). Pulses may be used whole, dehusked or split. Split pulses, or dal, are used extensively.
Spices & Curries:
The most important or frequently used spices in Indian cuisine are chilli pepper, black mustard seed (rai), cumin (jeera), turmeric (haldi), fenugreek (methi), asafoetida (hing), ginger (adrak), coriander (dhania), and garlic (lehsun). Popular spice mixes are garam masala, a mix that typically includes five or more dried spices, especially cardamom, cinnamon, and clove. Each region, and sometimes each individual chef, has a distinctive blend of garam masala. Goda masala is a similar sweet spice mix, popular in Maharashtra. Sweet dishes are seasoned with cardamom, saffron, nutmeg, and rose petal essences.
Most Indian curries are cooked in vegetable oil. In northern and western India, peanut oil is most popular for cooking, while in eastern India, mustard oil is more commonly used. Coconut oil is used widely along the western coast especially in Kerala; sesame oil is common in the south as well. Hydrogenated vegetable oil, known as Vanaspati ghee, which usually made from palm oil, is another popular cooking medium. Butter-based ghee, or desi ghee, is less used than formerly.
Indian sweets, known as mithai, are a type of confectionery. Many are made with sugar, milk and condensed milk, and cooked by frying. The bases of the sweets and other ingredients vary by region. In the Eastern part of India, for example, milk is a staple, and most sweets from this region are based on milk products.
Tea is a staple beverage throughout India; the finest varieties are grown in Darjeeling and Assam. It is generally prepared as masala chai, wherein the tea leaves are boiled in a mix of water, spices such as cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, and ginger, and large quantities of milk to create a thick, sweet, milky concoction. Different varieties and flavors of tea are prepared to suit different tastes all over the country.
Another popular beverage, coffee, is largely served in South India. One of the finest varieties of Coffea arabica is grown around Mysore, and is marketed under the trade name "Mysore Nuggets". Indian filter coffee, or kafee, is also especially popular in South India.
Lassi is a popular and traditional Punjabi yogurt-based drink of India. Lassi is made by blending yogurt with water or milk and Indian spices. Traditional lassi is sometimes flavored with ground roasted cumin. Sweet lassi is a form of lassi flavored with sugar, rosewater and/or lemon, strawberry or other fruit juices. Saffron lassis, which are particularly rich, are also very popular.
Indian beers are either lagers (4.8% alcohol) or strong lagers (7.8% alcohol). With the average age of the population on the decrease and income levels on the increase, the popularity of beer in the country continues to rise.