Deconstructing Indian cooking

Raghavan Iyer says Indian cooking is built around basic spices, such as salt, cumin, coriander and clove. (Thinkstock)

WASHINGTON – Thirty-one years ago, Raghavan Iyer moved from Mumbai to Minneapolis. The then 21-year-old already held a bachelor’s degree in chemistry, but wanted to pursue a second degree in hotel restaurant management.

Recreating the tastes of India in the kitchen is one way Iyer planned to make his home, 8,000-miles away, feel closer. But he quickly realized his biggest limitation in this quest: American grocery stores.

“I know what it is to live in the middle of nowhere and to learn to cook Indian with main grocery store ingredients,” says Iyer, author of “Indian Cooking Unfolded.” “Over the years it’s gotten so much better.”

Iyer took the challenge as an opportunity to deconstruct Indian cooking and identify the cuisine’s simplest ingredients.

“It’s such a misunderstood cuisine in terms of people think it’s complex and it’s hard to execute,” says Iyer, who worked in restaurants before becoming a teacher for 22 years. “To me, the complexity in Indian food comes from using the same ingredient in a multitude of ways.”

So what are some of these basic ingredients used in Indian cooking that are available in most every grocery store?

Iyer says it’s as simple as cumin, coriander, turmeric, cayenne, salt, cardamom, cinnamon, clove and peppercorn.

“These are all everyday ingredients, but they’re also very intrinsic to the way we cook. What I’ve always said,


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