In the West, we tend to think spicy foods are unsuitable for children. Babies are given bland foods and older children play it safe when dining out, opting for pizza or fish and chips rather than curry.
Yet in India, children of all ages enjoy spicy food. According to local wisdom, babies absorb a taste for local cuisine in the womb and through mother’s milk, leading to a lifelong love of powerful flavours and aromatic spices. Could UK children learn to enjoy curry too?
Indian parents do not get their toddlers chomping on red-hot chillies; they start off with the so-called ‘aromatic spices’ such as cumin, coriander, ginger and garlic before gently introducing hot capsicum spices as children get older.
A ‘tiffin box’ is a kind of lunch box you will find everywhere in India, formed from stacking metal pots held together with a clip. Indian children skip off to school with tiffins stuffed with homemade goodies.
So what dishes are served to children in India? Let’s look at some of the most popular options.
These mild, fluffy cakes are made from semolina or rava, a ground wheat product like very fine couscous. The rava is mixed with ginger, water, oil, turmeric and lemon juice, with a little chilli if desired. The batter is mixed with baking powder then poured into a tin and baked in a steamer. A tasty oil temper made from hot oil, sesame seeds, cumin seeds and mustard seeds is poured over the top of the hot cakes, which are cut into finger-sized diamonds.
- Chana masala and puri
Chickpeas are a healthy, protein-rich option that most children love. This dish is made by simmering chickpeas in a rich tomato sauce flavoured with cumin, ginger and bay leaves. Adding a little fruity dried mango powder adds an appealing tangy sweetness. The dish is accompanied by puri, simple whole wheat breads used to scoop up the chana masala.
- Dal makhani
Unlike sandwiches which need to be made each day, children’s curries can be made in advance to save time in the morning. Dal makhani is a great example. It is a thick, creamy soup made from lentils, kidney beans, tomato and spices such as garam masala, cumin, cardamom and ginger. The ingredients are simmered until the lentils break down, then a swirl of cream is added at the end.
These crispy spirals are made from tasty dough made from butter mixed with millet flour, whole wheat flour, garlic, and nigella seeds, with an optional pinch of chilli. Curd cheese is added before the dough is forced through a press into long spiral sausage shapes with a rough surface. These are fried in hot oil until they are crunchy and golden brown.
- Aloo paratha
This filling, tasty flatbread will give kids energy throughout the afternoon. Simple whole wheat dough is wrapped around a spicy potato filling: mashed potato mixed with ginger, onion, cumin, coriander and turmeric. The dough balls are rolled out then cooked on a hot plate until crisp on the outside.
Would your children enjoy Indian food? Why not take them to an Indian restaurant to find out?