Before we start this mouthwatering and heavenly list of some of the most delicious foods ever to exist on the planet, there are some things you need to know if you are not familiar with the sub-continent cuisine. Everything is filled with dozens of spices, after all that’s what the English were looking for when they came to India. Even chopped fruits are sprinkled with sour and hot spices, that makes it fruit chaat or desi fruit cocktail, if you may. Desi ghee (clarified butter) – made by boiling butter and removing milk solids from it – is used wholeheartedly in innumerable foods. As for the sweet dishes, they are enriched with desi ghee, and almost always buried under grated or crushed sugar before serving. And one final thing, – garam masala – literally translated to “hot spice”. No dish is complete without this magic ingredient. It is a blend of usually eight ground spices, although six or seven might also do. They are black and white peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon, mace (part of nutmeg), bay leaves, cumin, coriander, and black and green cardamom pods. Now let’s look at ten such delightful dishes that you absolutely need to try at least once in your life.
It is quite surprising that a country with highest majority of Hindu population – who are known to be vegetarians – love Butter Chicken more than anything. It might not have been originated in Punjabi, and therefore not Punjabi by that sense, but it was invented by a Punjabi family and is most popular in Punjab province of India. Lightly spiced, laced with desi ghee or a more processed oil, Butter Chicken is loved by young and adults alike. It is served with naan or roti, often paired with yogurt based sauce known as raita. As the name suggests this dish has a heavy dose of butter but it also requires other ingredients like onion, garlic, ginger, tomato paste, fenugreek, black pepper, and heavy cream. The final dish is sprinkled with garam masala before serving.
While we are at chicken, there is one more dish to be added to the top favorites of Punjab. Tandoor is a cylindrical clay oven, traditionally reserved for cooking naan and rotis. However, this delicacy known with the name of Tandoor is an invention that made tandoors much more precious because there are multiple ways to cook roti, none so far to make this aromatic, delightful dish. Chicken is marinated in yogurt and an array of spices and is then placed in the deep, hottest part of the tandoor to cook. Although regular ovens are also being used to cook this dish, but the taste that comes out of the direct fire, and the blend of spices that result purely because of the tandoor is impossible to replicate. A prime combination of the local flavors, the marination for Tandoori Chicken requires garlic, fresh red chillies, ginger, lemon, cinnamon, cumin, coriander, paprika, broccoli, and garam masala.
If justice is to be done to this delectable food it needs to be called Aalo da Parantha. Paratha, shallow fried flatbread, itself is an Indian dish eaten with almost all gravy based spicy dishes, and sometimes just with tea or lassi – which is also on our list. Aaloo is the local name for potato, so this is basically a flatbread, filled with mashed potatoes along with a number of spices and condiments. Potatoes are boiled and then after peeling they are mashed with chopped onion and green chillies, and finely chopped coriander. The spices including black pepper, dry mango powder, and garam masala are added. Aaloo da parantha is a routine breakfast for the denizens of Indian Punjab, who are traditionally known for strenuous physical activity in the agricultural fields. This flatbread is packed with carbohydrates to maintain body sugar level and energy for quite some time, allowing for much physical exertion. Sometimes, a dash of butter is also added on the top of these paranthas before serving.
Needless to say how popular this dish is supposed to be, that in 2018 Bollywood released a movie named Rajma Chawal. Rajma means kidney beans and chawal translate into rice. So there you go, this dish is just kidney beans cooked in tomato puree with handful of spices, served on top of boiled white rice. Rich in proteins and carbohydrates, this is one of the top favorites of a vegetarian nation, and loved by people of all ages. Some Punjabi families even have a tradition to cook Rajma Chawal every weekend and get together to eat it. In addition to kidney beans and tomatoes, this wholesome dish requires onions, ginger, cloves, green chillies, cumin seeds, coriander, salt, and – you guessed it – garam masala. Rajma Chawal is a heavy dish and is traditionally kept for lunch, but the lovers of this food eat it in breakfast, lunch, dinner, and anytime anywhere they like!
Sarson means the leaves of the mustard plant, and makki is the local name for corn. Saag is the name of the dish that is made by crushing, grating, squishing and grinded mustard leaves. Believe us, a lot of effort and strength goes into finely crushing these leaves so they are like whipped cream. And Makki ki roti is the flatbread made from corn flour. This unrivaled duo is a traditional dish that has proven to be peerless over centuries. It is high in nutrition, higher in calories, and highest in taste, especially if served with ghee or butter. Since ghee is high in fat content itself, it quickly adds more to the calorie counter. In addition to the main title holders of this dish, sometimes spinach is also added to enhance taste. Other ingredients for this dish include, onions, tomatoes, green chillies, garlic, ginger, salt, and – if you forgot it – garam masala!
Almost all types of roti (bread) from Indian cuisine is one form of flatbread or the other, but the tastes differ tremendously, as do the combinations that go with them. As explained previously, saag is especially favored with Makki ki roti. Others have their top pairs too. Chapati for instance is the most common form of bread used with Punjabi foods, closely followed by naan. Roti is whole wheat grain doughed and cooked in a Tandoor or on a tawa – a circular griddle. It is usually thin in structure and often crisp when fully cooked. You can imagine it as a taco shell. Naan on the other hand is made more frequently with white flour and has sesame seeds sprinkled on top of it – called roghni naan. Chappati is taken with drier foods like mixed vegetable or daal – lentils, curry based while naan is more preferred with curry and soup based dishes in which it can be soaked. Then there is Baajre ki roti made from pearl millet. These also make good combinations with curry based dishes and require a pinch of salt and ghee or oil along with the flour. The best part about this roti is that it is gluten free. Finally, Jowar ki roti is made from Finger millet and requires salt and a few drops of oil. It goes well with spicy curry dishes and is also low on calories so good for those watching weight or keeping their heart healthy.
As promised, here is the revered local drink. Made from beaten curd and milk, Lassi is one of the healthiest edibles of the region, and perfectly suited for the scorching hot weather experienced in most of Punjab. Lassi is drunk both sweet and salted. Although the more preferred type is sweet. It is frequently taken with breakfast, but can be drunk at any time of day. It is always served chilled and is the perfect anti-dote to both heat and tiredness. No joke, when we say, that Lassi can make you sleepy, it is really that good. So avoid it during peak working hours. Requiring two simple ingredients, curd milk and full fat milk, Lassi can be made anywhere anytime. If you prefer it sweet add a spoonful of sugar, or if you prefer it salty add a dash of salt. In olden days it used to be made with a tool called madani in local language which is used to blend the ingredients together. However, nowadays a blender works just as fine. Sometimes a mud pot was used to blend lassi, which also gave it a name of Matka lassi. To make it more formal, a dessert called perda is also added and blended to the mix, while to make it lighter a little bit of water is also used. This is one of the most flexible of drinks that retain all its benefits as you adjust it to your taste preferences, sweet, salty, heavy or light.
While we are at the topic of drinks, here is another one loved by Punjabis. Like Lassi, this is also an energizing and invigorating drink drunk any time of the day you want. You may take it as a local non alcoholic version of mint margarita. Tailor made for hot summer afternoons, Jaljeera is bound to make your insides as happy as your skin and eyes. The list of ingredients for this drink, however, is a little longer and a blender is required here as well. To make this Punjabi treat, you will require mint leaves, lemon juice, cumin seeds, coriander, ginger, black salt, salt, sugar, water, ice cubes, and if you incline towards a tingle of sourness then a bit of seedless tamarind. Make as large a serving as you like and drink it without any worry about your stomach feeling heavy. Enriched with the nutrients and packed with flavor down to every single drop, Jaljeera will make you take a trip to the land that came up with the recipe.
Now let’s move to the sweet tooth pallet of Punjabi food. Making its entry into almost all movies with Punjabi characters, Rabri is as Punjabi as the province itself. It is made from condensed milk and takes forever to prepare, but once it is ready all amount of effort that goes into it is justified. To prepare rabri, fresh milk is boiled on low heat for a long time until it starts to become dense and changes color from white to pinkish. Then sugar, crushed nuts like pistachio and cashew nuts, are added to enhance flavor and then it is further cooked until it becomes grainy with the texture of egg pudding. Cardamom and few more nuts are sprinkled on top of it while serving. It is a dish of festivities and dinner parties in Punjab, and it is served cold, like ice cream. Although it can be prepared at home in small amounts too but care needs to be taken so it doesn’t burn and also not stirred too frequently because a layer of cream needs to rise on top of it for it to taste its best.
The local go to snack with tea – this is one of the sweetest inventions of Punjab – literally! Made with three simple ingredients – flour, semolina and sugar – with a touch of oil, this is the perfect dessert that is sweet on the taste buds and light on the stomach. A modern variation in the recipe has white flour and includes a dash of cardamom powder. It is often coated with crushed, coarse sugar and sometimes grated coconut is also sprinkled on top of these ball-like bite pieces to add more flavor to the taste. The best part of Shakkar Paaray is that it takes a little over an hour to prepare and can also be stored for two to three weeks. Such a sweet and healthier alternative to the preserved packed snacks that are more chemicals than food!
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