The Indian kitchen certainly puts the fruits of the land to good use. The sub-continent is made up of a wide variety of rich and varied landscapes – somewhere crops and fresh vegetables thrive, others where glittering waterways offer an abundance of fish and shellfish to be utilised by the creative cooks of the region. Much of the flavour of Indian dishes comes from herbs and spices, natural ingredients that are rich in nutritional benefits. Some work best with savoury dishes, others might blend better with sweet. However, there are a few ingredients that are particularly versatile and work across a range of dishes.
Mint is a zesty herb that is not just popular in India, it is used widely here in the UK too. This might be in part due to its appealing flavour but also due to the plant’s hardy nature – mint thrives in most conditions. In fact, if you are not careful you might find your modest mint bush taking over the garden. However, it can also be grown successfully in a window box or as a potted plant – a technique which is much kinder to the other plants you might plant nearby.
In the Indian kitchen, mint leaves are used to add flavour to a wide variety of dishes. Curries, gravies, drinks, chutneys and vegetable preparations are brought to life with the addition of mint. It has even been known to be baked into the flatbread pudina paratha, a tasty bread which can be created in a range of different, herby flavours and cooked to perfection in the hot Tandoor oven.
One of the most popular Indian dishes which shows off mint in its best light is the light and delicious pudina pulao, a flavoursome rice dish featuring chopped mint leaves, green chilies and fresh, grated coconut. The rice is cooked with a range of spices including star anise, cinnamon, cloves and cardamom. It is generally served along with a curry and creamy raita dip.
Raita makes a common appearance at Indian restaurant tables all over the UK. Ideal for use with appetisers such as papadums, samosas and bhajjis, a cooling raita dip also works well with a spicy curry, soothing the tongue with its mixture of thick yoghurt and minty fresh leaves.
Mint tea also makes an excellent choice of after dinner drink as it is well known for its medicinal properties. Mint is thought to soothe stomachs and relieve indigestion; it is also anti-bacterial and anti-inflammatory, helping to calm skin irritations and minor infections.
Whether it is mint, bay leaves, spice or fresh produce, the many traditional dishes that make up Indian cuisine make the perfect vehicle to show off these natural ingredients to their very best. Just pay a visit to one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants and experience for yourself just how the experts flavour the dishes and put herbs such as mint to excellent use. Who knows, it may even inspire you to start tending your own mint plants so you can add fresh leaves to your recipes whenever the mood takes you.