The Global Table
O, The Oprah Magazine | From the August 2005 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine
It's tough to shorthand the diverse cooking of the subcontinent, but some things remain constant: There will be very little beef and even less pork, and a good number of vegetarian options, such as panir makhni, cubes of Indian farmer cheese cooked in tomato sauce, and dal, made of peas, lentils, or beans.
Underneath it all: Suffusing every curry (a soupy meat or vegetable stew) is garam masala, a wildly variable aromatic spice mix with heat provided by red chilies, black pepper, and sometimes ginger (you can order it mild if you wish). A quick cooldown comes from fluffy basmati rice and raita, a condiment typically made of yogurt-dressed cucumber.
Beginners: If you're not an intrepid eater, go for chicken tandoori (the spice paste that turns it a bright orange-red is familiar enough to remind you of barbecued chicken but sufficiently exotic to introduce you to Indian flavors) or biryani, a tasty rice casserole.
Hot flash: Beware the ominous sounding vindaloo, a particularly fiery curry.
Try this recipe: Mild Vegetable Curry with Earl Grey Rice