West Indian Food:

West Indian Cuisine

West Indian culinary traditions are based upon thousands of years of Indian culture, but they have also absorbed and assimilated the influences of the many settlers, conquerors, and colonists that made their way onto Indian shores. Even within west Indian cuisine, there are distinct regional influences, with individual styles arising out of several states, including Gujarat, Maharashtra, and Rajasthan. Climate and geography have played a role in the development of the variety of West Indian culinary traditions.

While rice is the fundamental part of most West Indian cuisine, the dishes out of Gujarat are the exception, as wheat and other grains also play a major role in the dining experience. Rotis and several other types of flat breads are served with most meals. Jainism, which is a branch of Hinduism, has had a great affect on the culinary of traditions of this area and thus the area is well known for its vegetarian cuisine. The foods of this area tend to be simpler than the cuisine of other regions of India, reflecting basic Jain values.

Seasonings aren't meant to overpower or mask foods but rather to enhance natural flavors and to encourage the subtle blending of the flavors of combined vegetables without losing the unique flavor contribution of each. Cooking methods refrain from overcooking that can make individual components of a dish indistinguishable from each other. The texture of the food, as well the color and presentation style is as important to the Gujarati cook as are the spices and freshness of produce.

The food of Maharashtra is perhaps one of the more varied cuisines in India, ranging from simple vegetarian preparations to complicated delicacies created from the abundance of seafood available in the region. Like most Indian dishes, rice is the foundation. However, West Indian cuisine, particularly that of Maharashtra, uses a good deal less oil than other regions of India.

Rather than ghee, which is prominent in other locales of India, peanut oil is used, and in small amounts. In fact, for many dishes, the mark of quality is the lack of visible oil. Vegetables are often prepared in more health conscious ways, such as steaming. Deep-frying is rarely used in the cuisine of this region. Sweet and sour flavors, created through the use of jaggery, a type of deep brown sugar, and tamarind, are popular for both vegetable and fish dishes.

Kala masala is a regional spice mixture common to many dishes. Aside from being flavorful, it has a long shelf life when kept in the refrigerator. It is made of coriander seeds, dried coconut, red chilies, bay leaves, cloves, peppercorns, black cardamom, white cumin, turmeric, karala, asafetida, nakeshwar, dagad phool, masala phool, sesame seeds,poppy seeds, and cinnamon or cassia tree bark. Different cooks use slightly different ratios to blend these spices.

Although the regional cuisines grouped together as West Indian culinary traditions may differ somewhat, with various states having their own specialties, they do have a few common elements. Primary among these elements is the attention devoted to quality of ingredients and the creation of harmonious dishes that allow the essential note of each ingredient to have voice, even as they blend to create a delicious whole.

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