Indian Cuisine Heats Up the Kitchens of the North

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Hot and Hearty Spices Help to Ward Off The Season’s Colds, Coughs, and Sniffles

I love Indian cuisine at this time of year. Its blend of pungent spices and fiery peppers are ideal for cold-weather dining as they help to drive colds and ‘flus from the body, while easing arthritic pain and warding off viruses and bacteria.

And aside from all the wonderfully exotic ingredients known to benefit health by working to “fight cold and ‘flu while clearing the sinuses” as my grandma would say, the dishes are delicious, too!

To create authentic Indian dishes, you need to have a well-stocked spice rack. When I was a girl growing up in rural Muskoka, grandma bought her exotic spices like cumin, coriander, mustard, and curry powder in fancy little tins from the “Rawleigh Man” who travelled through our neck of the woods once a year peddling his wares. And according to grandma, the spices were very “dear” which is why they were used rather sparingly in her kitchen!

Today, unlike in grandma’s time, a wonderful array of imported spices from around the world can be bought at supermarkets everywhere, and due to a competitive marketplace the prices are much more affordable than they were years ago. If you’re a creative cook like me who enjoys bringing Indian – as well as other – international dishes to the table, you’ll find that one key step needed to prepare is a trip down the spice aisle.

What follows are some of my favourite recipes that capture the enlivening tastes of India and are perfect to warm up with on a cold day! Even though the veggies in these recipes can be varied any way you wish, before you don your apron, make a list and check it twice to ensure you have the needed spices to create a taste combination that your family will love!

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Here’s a popular Indian curry that is so economical, your family will never have to know they’re eating a super thrifty meal! I like to cook my chickpeas (as they are known in English, or garbanzo beans in Spanish) from the dried state as in the recipe below because I can control the salt content. But you can cut down on preparation time by using canned chickpeas, if you prefer.


  • 3 tablespoons of olive oil or butter or ghee
  • 3 chopped onions
  • 1 teaspoon grated ginger root
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon each of ground coriander, ground cumin, and chilli powder
  • 2 minced jalapeño peppers
  • 1/2 cup vegetable stock
  • 1 cup diced potato
  • 1 minced sweet red pepper
  • 2 cups cooked chickpeas (or about one 14-ounce can).
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice

Cinnamon, cardamom, and cloves are three key spices in Curried Butternut Squash Soup

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My grandparents grew a huge patch of mixed squashes in their backyard garden – all kinds of gourds from acorn and butternut squash to pumpkins and zucchini. And they all found their way into grandma’s big soup pot! According to grandma’s old handwritten doctoring journals, this satisfying soup has the power to ward off winter ailments like colds and ‘flus, as well as clean up congestion and flush impurities from the system. Grandma also claimed that butternut squash, like carrots, is “good for the eyes…,” and since it’s a rich source of beta-carotene, the old claims about squash helping to “sharpen the eyesight…” are hard to dispute.

I have two methods for making this wonderful curried butternut squash soup – one is grandma’s original recipe that simply calls for a dash of ready-made curry powder in place of all the whole spices, making it suitable for those who fancy a milder soup or are new to Indian cuisine. The other option is an authentic Indian curried soup made using fresh ground spices that produce a much deeper flavour and aroma. As a side note, you can make this soup with pumpkin and other members of the squash family and if you don’t have enough of one type to fill the pot, you can mix squashes or use carrots to make up the measure. Using a pestle and mortar or spice mill, grind to a fine powder the following:


  • 1-1/2 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1/2 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp each of yellow and black mustard seeds
  • 2 cardamom pods
  • 3 black peppercorns
  • 1-inch piece of cinnamon bark
  • 2 whole cloves

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This colourful, low-fat meal is so versatile, you never have to serve the same platter twice! For endless variety, try mixing and matching broccoli florets, sliced parsnip, cubed turnip, and sliced okra with the vegetables used in the version below.  (Serves 6)


  • 2 cups baby potatoes (or large peeled potatoes cut into hefty chunks)
  • Small head of cauliflower
  • 2 cups green and/or yellow beans
  • 2 sliced carrots
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 2 Tbsp olive oil
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 diced sweet pepper
  • 2 minced chillies or jalapeños
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1 teaspoon peeled grated ginger root
  • 2 Tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole black mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon whole yellow mustard seeds
  • 1 teaspoon turmeric

Spicy Dals are often served with a topping of roasted mustard seeds or sautéed onions

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Dal made from lentils and pulses is a number one staple dish in the cuisine of India (as well as Nepal, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, and Bangladesh). The varieties of dried beans and peas used in dal make it a high source of protein; thus it can take the place of meat to ensure a balanced diet for vegetarians or for those wishing to cut down on their meat intake.

In grandma’s house when I was a kid, yellow and green split peas were most often served as “soups”, chunky or pureed on their own or added to other soups and stews for what grandma called “a boost of healthy fill.” Today, I have come to enjoy pulses most when cooked as “spicy dals” and have found countless recipes for delivering them to the table with a worldly flair, for it is often said that “no two dals are ever the same.”

To serve them authentically, dals are typically eaten with rice or Indian breads such as chapati. They are almost always topped with something special to tickle the taste buds, which is known as “tempering” the dal. My favourite way of tempering the dal is to top it with roasted spices. To roast spices: heat a little vegetable oil in a small cast iron skillet and fry a tablespoon or two of mixed mustard and coriander seeds until they toast and pop. Then scatter these over the top of the dal upon serving.

Another delectable topping is thinly sliced onions fried until golden. I find the toasted seeds and fried onions also make delicious toppings in the soup tureen.Here’s a warming dal soup that’s very easy to make, and a welcome addition to any winter menu when you’re short on time. (Serves 6.)


  • 3 Tbsp butter or ghee
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 1 minced jalapeño pepper
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • A pinch of freshly grated ginger
  • 1 Tbsp ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 2 cups rinsed red lentils (*or other lentils of choice)
  • 6 cups vegetable stock

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It is often said that “no two dals are ever the same” and in my house, they never are, for I often add bits of carrots, turnips, cauliflower, and other vegetables lingering in the crisper, along with the onion and garlic for added flavour. Makes a hearty meal when served with steamed brown rice on the side. (Makes 4 to 6 servings.)


  • 2 tablespoons butter (or ghee)
  • 1 chopped onion
  • 4 cloves minced garlic
  • 1/2 teaspoon turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon whole coriander seeds
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons homemade or store-bought curry powder
  • 2 cups of rinsed red, brown, or other lentils of choice
  • 3 cups vegetable stock

1 Comment

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  1. A
    August 09, 01:51 Aakriti Sharma

    Hi Linda,

    I must say just one word for this article “Awesome”. I love India food and your tips are really amazing.

    Will try them out soon!


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