Punjab, located in the north of India and bordered by Pakistan, is considered to be the heart of India’s Sikh community. The region is home to city of Amritsar; founded in 1577 by Sikh guru Ram Das, it is where you will find the holiest Sikh temple of them all: Harmandir Sahib.
Punjab is famed for its diverse and rich food and its cuisine is celebrated across India and beyond. Most of the staple dishes are meat-based, and often the meat has been cooked in a tandoor oven. However, there is also a good variety of vegetarian fare on offer and some dishes are exclusive to the region, such as ‘sarsonkasaag.’
Lentils are a staple ingredient in Punjabi cuisine and provide the base to most vegetarian dishes. Lentils come in a range of varieties, each type adding a unique taste and texture to a dish. The most common lentils used include moong, masoorand mash daal.
A favourite lentil-based dish is ‘dal makhani,’ typically served during celebrations such as weddings and engagements. This hearty dish is made by combing red kidney beans with whole black lentils, full-fat cream and white butter. People often prepare roti, rice or naan to eat with this calorific dish, which is also often consumed by rural workers who need lots of energy in order to carry out physical, laborious tasks.
Along with numerous pulses, vegetables are used in abundance in Punjabi cooking. The most popular vegetables include aubergine, okra, cauliflower and cabbage; sometimes they are used on their own but they are also blended together to make a hearty dish.
One of the more distinctive vegetables used in Punjabi cooking is bitter gourd. In fact, it is considered to be a vegetable-fruit and is cooked in a number of ways, for instance, it is fried and used as a substitute for minced meat, and is also used to boost the texture and flavour of a number of vegetarian curries. Sometimes the bitter gourd is the main attraction and is served stuffed with a number of spices, such as chillies, turmeric, garam masala and cumin seeds.
Sarsonkasaag is a vegetarian dish synonymous with Punjabi cuisine. Sarson means ‘mustard,’ while ‘saag’ means ‘greens.’ Greens most often used in the preparation of this dish include spinach, radish leaves and mustard leaves; because these vegetables grow during the cooler months, sarsonkasaag is typically prepared and consumed during the wintertime. Some cooks like to further flavour the dish through the use of ghee, green chillies and onions.
Many Indian foods and cooking techniques we’re familiar with actually originate from Punjab, such as the tandoori cooking method, along with naan breads and pakoras. Punjab cuisine is also well-known for the use of paneer, which essentially is a home-made cottage cheese. Ingredients are added to paneer to form tasty dishes, such as shahi paneer which includes cream, a thick tomato gravy and a number of spices. Shahi paneer is typically enjoyed with breads such as chapatti or roti.
It can be tough finding a UK-based Indian restaurant that serves flavoursome vegetarian fare. Thankfully, there are a number of fine Indian restaurants located in the heart of London that serve-up authentic Indian food with a contemporary twist. Vegetarians will not be disappointed…