Ajowan seeds are very similar in appearance to cumin seeds and have a strong,distinctive flavour that resembles aniseed. The spices is used to add a zing to many fish and vegetable dishes as well as some flour-based snacks. Chewed on their own, Ajowan seeds may help alleviate stomach-ache as well as diarrhoea and colic. The spice comes from a herbaceous plant closely related to caraway which has feathery leaves, flowers and tin seeds. These seeds, when dried, are the spice.
Chata masala is a spice mix, usually made with salt and pepper, cumin seeds, ground ginger and dried mango. Look out for it in Asian grocers.
Often confused with cinnamon, cassia bark is harder and coarser and with an inferior flavour. It is used in much the same way as cinnamon.
Coconut palms are grow in abundance all over Southern India and Sri Lnaka.The white flesh is used fresh or shredded, either as a garnish or in chutneys and pastes. Creamed Coconut is used as a base for curries, and coconut milk is used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Its delicate flavour enhances fish and chicken curries as well as vegetable dishes. Do not keep shredded coconut for more than a month, as it will eventually go rancid. Coconut milk can bought in cans, as powder or in block form. Coconut water, the liquid inside coconuts, is used mainly for drinks and its very healthy.
This fresh herbs is not used extensively in Indian cooking but it does appear in recipes for chutney and dips and in some specific meat and chicken dishes such as minced lamb with peas and mint
Oil and Ghee
Indian cook variety of oils. Groundnut of sunflower, Coconut oil is mots commonly used for starting off dishes and is also used for deep-frying.
Coconut oil, with its strong aroma, is used more in south and Sri- lanka, while the dark yellow mustard oil is used extensively in bengal in fish dishes. Ghee is clarified butter and many Indian recipes use ghee as the cooking fat. It can be heated to very high temperatures without burning and does not require refrigeration. In most cases oil can be subtituted for ghee and increasingly Indians are using the lighter vegetable oils as a healthier alternative.
Paneer is a fresh Indian cheese made with curdled milk, originally introduced by the Mughal invaders. It quickly became a favourite dish in the north but it is now eaten all over the India. It doesn’t have a great deal of flavour but it does have a wonderful firm texture and will take on other flavours during cooking. For vegetarians, it is also an excellent source of protein. It is often cubed and lightly fried until golden brown before being added to other ingredients. It holds its shape well and will not crumble during cooking. You can make your own, but good quality paneer is much more readily available now.
Rice is one of the main staples of Indian food but is much more fundamental to the southern and sri lankan diet. In the south, you are likely to eat rice at every meal, from uttapam for breakfast to sweet rice puddings. Long grain white rice is the most common but there are countless varieties.
The Tamarind tree is evergreen and bears long, crescent-shaped pods. Within these pods are the seeds, surrounded by a flesh pulp. It is this pulp, with its fruity sweet and sour aroma, that is used in Indian cooking. It appears in a number of south Indian and Gujarathi lenthil dishes and can be made into a wonderful sweet chutney. According to Ayurvedic medicine, it is beneficial as a mild laxative, and tamarind water is often recommended to soothe a sore throat. Many women eat green Tamarind when they are pregnant.