The Spice Rack
Spices are the heartbeat of an Indian Kitchen and not all off them are used to make dishes fiery hot. Spices are used to flavour food, making each dish distinct and wonderfully aromatic. Build up your spice rack with The Taste Kitchen’s Guide to spices commonly used in Indian cuisine.
Cumin is one of the most popular spices used to flavour dishes. Known for its warm earthy aroma, it is used in the raw form, or cooked in hot oil to release its aroma. Sometimes the raw seeds are ground and sometimes the seeds are briefly roasted in a frying pan and ground into a powder. The roasted and fried cumin seeds impart a very unique, smoky flavour to food.
The fenugreek plant has a strong, sweet aroma but the mature leaves have a bitter taste. Ground fenugreek seeds have a warm, yellowish-brown colour with a strong curry-like taste. Fenugreek is one of the main ingredients of curry powders.
Chillies provide the hottest flavour on earth. As a general rule, dark green chillies tend to be hotter than red chillies. Small, pointed chilies are usually hotter than larger, more rounded varieties. Whole chilies can be seeded to make them a little less hot. Chilies and chilli powder should be used with extreme care. The hot vindaloo curries are made from the hottest chillies.
Coriander seeds have an earthy nutty flavour and the seeds are used whole or ground into a powder. Store bought coriander can lose its flavour very quickly if stored for too long. Grind your own coriander seeds by using a coffee grinder or spice grinder and store in an airtight container. By roasting the seeds first, the powder will be a darker shade and will have a different flavour to seeds that haven’t been roasted.
Turmeric is a rhizome resembling ginger. The rhizome can be grated and used fresh in cooking but, more often, it is dried and ground into a powder. It gives the food a vibrant yellowish colour and has a pungent, warm, earthy aroma and taste.
Cardamom pods hold tiny little black seeds inside. The seeds are taken out and used whole in cooking or in the form of a powder. It is very commonly used in Indian cooking, whether it be for vegetables, meat, rice or desserts.
Cloves are dried up flower buds and are used extensively in Indian cooking. The flavour they impart is strong and warm. They have been used in India for thousands of years, not only in cooking, but to sweeten the breath and to relieve the pain of toothache. Whole cloves are frequently used to flavour meat dishes, curries and soups.
Fennel has a sweet and aniseed flavour. Used sparingly, it gives warmth and sweetness to curries. They are also dry roasted and used with tiny sugar candies to make mouth fresheners after meals. Fennel is known for its digestive qualities.
Curry leaves can be used fresh or dried. Their aroma is released by heat and moisture. They are sometimes fried in the oil the food is cooked in, and then discarded. They are mainly used as an aromatic and for flavouring curries and soups. When starting a curry or soup dish, put the curry leaves into the oil to fry until crisp.
Garam Masala is a mixture of spices, namely cloves, cardamom, cumin, peppercorns, cinnamon and bay leaves, although recipes vary. The blend of spices in the garam masala varies according to the dish to which it’s added. Depending on the ingredients of your dish, you can enhance the garam masala by adding other spices like ginger and turmeric, which would suit chicken or fish. It is better to grind your own spices than to buy the mixture ready-ground.
Saffron is the most expensive spice of all. It is made from orange coloured dried stigmas of the especially cultivated crocus. Saffron adds beautiful flavour and colour to rice dishes, gravies and desserts. It has a distinctively pungent, honey-like flavour and aroma.
Peppercorns have a pungent, woody aroma and hot, biting taste. Black pepper is more aromatic, white is stronger and hotter. Pepper is one of the few spices that are used to flavour food before, during and after cooking.
ONIONS, GINGER AND GARLIC
No curry is truly complete without these three ingredients that are always best used fresh. Onions are nearly always finely chopped and sautéed until translucent or brown as the first or second step in any curry. Ginger is usually grated and garlic can be sliced or crushed or both in the same dish.