“For those of us who are not familiar with Indian or Thai food, where would we start on the menu? What would be the best dish (or kind of dish) to use as an entry point into these ethnic categories?”
Here’s my response:
Where to start with Indian or Thai? hmmm… that got me thinking! It’s a while since I’ve eaten Thai, so I’ll just do Indian!
Both cuisines use herbs, spices, and flavours that may be unfamiliar to you or very hot (various varieties of chilies), so for many people, these new tastes put them off. Start mild and work up!
If you’re unfamiliar with the tastes, here’s an easy entry into Indian ‘heat':
- Anything with “korma” in its title is mild and creamy. The creaminess comes from yoghurt.
- Anything with “rogan josh” in its title is fairly mild.
- Anything with “madras” in the title is medium.
- Anything with “vindaloo” in the title is hot.
“Tandoori” is meat (usually chicken) cooked in a Tandoor oven. The chicken is rubbed/marinated in a yoghurt + some sort of reddish spice for a time, then cooked in this special earthen oven. The result is quite a reddish looking chicken piece, which, if overcooked, can be quite dry.
Naan bread is also cooked in an earthen (Tandoor?) oven. Like a tortilla, but thicker and breadier, it is slapped on to the inside of the oven for a few minutes. It should come out nice and crispy on the edges, a bit like a good crusty pizza base.
Pappadums traditionally are cooked for a few seconds in very hot oil and drained, but many people now microwave them (I do – it takes seconds and they’re much healthier for you, and there’s a helluva lot less cleaning up!). They are a very crisp ‘bread’ (think tortilla chips), and usually served with dips and sauces.
Dahl (daal?) is cooked-to-almost-mush lentils + spices. Looks like crap, tastes great! Very healthy vegetarian. Eat it with rice. Good accompaniment.
Here’s a couple of decent looking websites:
- http://indianfood.about.com/od/thebasics/ss/restordertable.htm (printable reference card!)
Personally, I like *hot*. I’m a chili fiend and use it – or some variety of it – almost daily in my own cooking. So when we “do” Indian, it’s the hot stuff we go for!
Update: While wandering the web searching for something completely different, I came across this entry by Ian Anderson (of Jethro Tull fame for those of us old enough to remember…), on the official Jethro Tull website. It’s a good run down of the types of dishes – and their effects!