When I visited India for the first time, I could barely scramble eggs, let alone prepare a full Indian meal. Over the years, I have become familiar with cooking several Indian dishes, from simple chai to paneer. Here are a few tips I used to get started and ways you too can begin to explore this wonderful culture and its delicious cuisine.
Frequent Indian Restaurants
While one of the main reasons to learn to cook Indian food in your own kitchen may be to get away from having to pay for expensive Indian cuisine at a restaurant, it really is a good place to begin your adventure. In my experience, the American dishes I eat everyday are bland and tasteless compared to any Indian dish, which was an awakening for my taste buds. I know this is due to the variety of spices and the common inclusion of onions, chilies, and ginger root (commonly referred to as tarka.) Because Indian restaurants often offer a buffet, they can be a cheaper and simpler way to begin to sample many common Indian dishes at one time and acquire a taste.
Go Grocery Shopping
Since the variety of ingredients used in Indian recipes differs widely from American cuisine, an Indian grocery store is a good place to learn about Indian cooking. Spend time looking around at the names and variety of spices, vegetables, salty snacks (namkeen), and sweets (mithai) offered. You may even wish to buy some and take them home to sample, but be wary! Many of the spices are imported and can be expensive. If you are not sure what to buy, ask the grocery store clerk, who can often offer you their expertise and advice.
Learn From Experience
I have been lucky enough to live with Indians for many years, so I have several experienced cooks as teachers. A one-on-one environment helped me learn not only the basics, but also the vocabulary needed to shop for and prepare tasty dishes at home. While living full time with an Indian family is probably not an option for many people, the next best thing would be to find a friend or acquaintance to teach you. As another alternative, I have also seen Indian cooking classes offered for a small fee by some community centers.
It may be difficult and different at first, but don’t be afraid to explore the exotic world of Indian cooking, and above all, have fun!