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Food for the Soul Article in Scarborough Mirror July 25/2003 Cooks Corner

Spices used in Indian cooking allow people to enjoy great tastes while healing their bodies

Indian cooking is for the body and soul. "Its very healthy, very healthy for the body", said Santha Purushotham, who owns the Madras Palace on Ellesmere Road in Scarborough with her husband Chrial. Chiral said while Indian people eat because it is tasty, the food is also mean to heal the body.Using herbs and spices including cardamom, bay leaves, turmeric, garlic coriander, fennel and cumin among others, dishes are created that are said to ease congestion, stop colds and help digestion.

India has been called an invader's paradise because of its location between the East and the West. The country, which consists of 26 states, borders Pakistan, China, Nepal and the Indian Ocean. Throughout its history, India's cuisine has changed as countries invaded and brought their food and cooking styles with them. In the 16 th century, Muslims from western Asia invaded the country, bringing along a number of meat dishes, the idea of sweets after a meal and tandoori clay ovens.

Chrial said tandoori-style cooking allows the fat to drip out of the meat, creating a healthier meal. Samosas are a Portuguese influence, while the commercial cultivation of tea came from the British.


But other countries too, benefited from India. Chiral said when people returned to their native countries, they brought back the spices they found in India. Jamaica, which claims tamarind, ginger and garlic as its own, actually got those items from the India, Chiral said.

"Its all came from the East. Jamaica didn't have these spices; they brought the spices from here. India which runs approximately 3,200 km from its northern to southern point, boosts different styles of cooking from one end of the country to the other. Northern India, with its Muslim influence, enjoys meats including mutton, chicken and goat, while people in the south are mainly vegetarian, Santha said.

Santha is from the state of Kerala in southern India, which is nicknamed "God's Own Country" for its weather similar to Florida and with produce, and spices that are found there and nowhere else. A southern Indian enjoys a vegetarian diet, lentils are found in many dishes. Also common are yogurt, tomatoes, okra, spinach, mango, pumpkin (almost like Canadian squash) and squanee, a type of eggplant. Cocunut is also an important staple with its fruit, milk and oil used in a variety of dishes. Rice is also eaten at every meal. "Rice is the main food, "Chiral said. "Without rice, you don't eat" Not only as it consumed as is, it is ground down to make a variety of other items including dosa, a type of pancake that is rolled into a cone shape and either eaten plain or stuffed with other items and dipped in a coconut chutney.


Indian with more than a billion people boasts 14 official languages and has a large religious community. The dominant faith is Hindu, which covers about 80 percent of population. Ten per cent worship Islam, five per cent are Sikhs and Christians and the rest are Buddhists, Janis and Bahai's among others. Religion, which is central to Indian culture, also plays a role in the food that is consumed. Chiral said some Hindus don't use garlic and the cow is sacred, although some moderate worshippers do eat meat now. Some religious also dictate what can be eaten on certain days such as Fridays when people avoid meat.

Curry is an important spice in an Indian kitchen. Unlike in Canada where curry is purchased by the bag, each Indian family has its own secret recipe that is guarded and different from each other. Curry is created by blending spices including turmeric, cardamom, ginger, coriander, nutmeg, and poppy seed. The purpose of curry is to enhance the flavor of the food, and it is consumed at least once a day.

Traditionally in a southern Indian home, rice would be served on banana leaves surrounded by a number of different curry dishes, Chiral said. Naan bread and pappadam, which is made out of lentil flour, would be used to scoop up the food and eat it.


"It's a great feeling (eating with your hands)", he said, "More satisfactory". Rasam, a type of soup made out of black pepper, water, chili powder and turmeric, is also served along with a meal. Rasam which is quite spicy helps clean out the system. To wash everything down, people can enjoy lassi, a yougurt-mango drink or cumin seed drink. The latter, Santha said is made by boiling water with two to three cumin seeds. "It's refreshing" she said. "It clears the system. It clears toxins from the body". Santha, who is self-taught, said Indian cooking is time consuming and require experimentation. She encourages everyone to enjoy Indian cooking "because it's healthier"

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