Fine Indian Food
The Spices of Life
The differing climates of the Indian subcontinent have led a variety of spices being grown. In addition, many spices have been imported and are now part of the Indian culinary range.
Spices in Indian cooking are primarily to add flavour, not heat, and result in some wonderfully aromatic dishes. Each spice has its own unique flavour but can also be combined with other spices to excellent effect. Many spices also have medicinal or health benefits.
Here are some of the major spices found in Indian dishes:
Asafoetida – also known as hing, this is the dried sap from the stem and root of the plant. It has an unpleasant smell in its raw uncooked state, but is delightful when added to hot oil or ghee.
Cinnamon – cinnamon sticks are actually the dried bark of a tree. They can be used in its stick form or powered. It is used extensively in Indian cooking, most usually in savoury dishes.
Coriander – coriander seeds are ground before being added to dishes.
Cumin – a very common spice in Indian cooking, cumin (or jeera) seeds are roasted or fried and give a distinct smoky flavour to food.
Garam masala – this is a powder including five or more dried spices. Ingredients usually include cardamom, cinnamon and cloves.
Mustard seeds – there are some forty different kinds of mustard. Those most commonly found in Indian cooking are black, white (actually more yellow than white) and brown, of which black have the strongest flavour. Seeds are often ground into paste used in cooking fish and vegetables, or to make pickles.
Turmeric – raw turmeric has an appearance like ginger. It is usually grated or dried and ground for cooking purposes.