Ancient Indian cooking techniques influence the food and methods used in our cultures. Techniques used in ancient dynasties have been combined with cooking processes from all over India and even other cultures to create a liberal modern tradition. The ancient art of cooking included spices, which still factor heavily in modern Indian cuisine.
“Ayurveda” is the study of the science of life; it began during the Aryan period of ancient Indian civilization. It is deeply connected to the art of cooking. The Aryans invaded from Europe and Asia Minor and developed the ideas of the Ayurveda, which led to new foods and cookery techniques intended to benefit people physically, mentally and spiritually. Large granaries became a common way of storing and preserving grain during this time. Grain formed the basis of many traditional meals.
One of the biggest influences on Indian cooking methods was the introduction of vegetarianism. According to Indian Foods Co., vegetarian dishes were introduced in the second century B.C. when Emperor Ashoka popularized them as an alternative food source. For example, tomato, chili and potato were all brought from outside India and added to growing culinary traditions. Mahavir and Budda extended the tradition of vegetarianism. The practice has continued into modern culture. In fact, most Indian people are vegetarians.
Since the Mughal period, from 1526 to 1858, in which Persian rulers came to India from present day Uzbekistan, India has incorporated a range of traditional Mughal cooking methods. Mughal cookery is known for its fine, delicate flavorings, silky sauces and a regular use of yogurt, cream, fruit and nut butters, as described by India Net Zone. The Mughal traditions add depth, character and smooth textures to the Indian spiced foods and allow very hot recipes to become more mellow and have thicker sauces. Mild, fragrant herbs and spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, nutmeg and clove are commonly used.
One example of a specific technique is “bhapa” or steaming. Steaming or parboiling the food meant that vitamins were preserved, which makes it more nutritious than other forms of cooking. The Nizams of Hyderabad, a city located in the central region of India, developed biryani, one of the most respected dishes in Indian cuisine. Made traditionally, it involves cooking yogurt-marinated meat with rice in a sealed “handi,” a vessel made of dough, and steaming it over hot coals, called “dum.” Skill is required to regulate the temperature to avoid overcooking or undercooking.
Religion, neighboring civilizations and powerful ancient rulers have all played an important role in the overall development of Indian cooking techniques and the foods eaten. However, the various regions of India still evolved very different styles of cookery. Choices of food eaten and cookery styles depended on geographical location, seasonal availability of food, local cultures and traditions and the differences between regions near the sea or those inland. The region called Andhra Pradesh, for example, combined South Indian cookery with a more refined Deccani style of cooking involving vegetables, hot spices, chilies and different pickles, such as mango pickle or “avakaya” to create a cuisine known as “Telugu.”