Spice are the very heart and soul of Indian cuisine. They from the foundation of a cuisine that has excited for centuries. It is virtually impossible to cook Indian dishes without spices, even if they are only red chilies and salt.
Each and every spice has its own function and should be used to develop the flavour as required. The attributes of the various spice are varied and they must be used in the portions recommended. You may decide to vary these proportions, but a word of caution is required here. Do not vary the quantity until you have read this chapter fully and understood the significance and purpose of these spices.
Garlic : This is used either coarsely or finely chopped, cracked, whole or ground with a little water. Garlic, being a strong spice, has a very distinct flavour and must be used cautiously. It complements ginger when used with it in a dish.
Ginger : A root,this must be used after scraping the skin with either a sharp knife or a potato peeler. To ensure that it is fresh, make sure that the root you use is firm to the touch and not wrinkled. Cut the ginger coarsely when you require have a distinct flavour. Ginger can also ground with a little water, or only the juice of the root may be used. Ginger complements garlic in most Indian dishes. It also help in reducing the pungency of the flavour of garlic. Dry ginger powder is made by drying the root and then grinding it until it is in powder form, Dry ginger powder is used extensively in kashmiri dishes.
Onions : Onions play a fundamental role in almost all Indian dishes. Onions can be used in different ways, most commonly being sliced or chopped. Onions are also ground with a little water or fried, and used wither in the beginning or later, as the recipe proceeds. Onions can taste different, they impart their own flavor and taste. When fried, they impart a nutty sweet taste,and when ground, they form the base of a thick sauce of gravy.
Asafoetida : This resinous gum has a very strong and unpleasant smell. It must only be used in very small quantities. The best way to control the quantity that you have to use, is to keep the resin in a glass jar and add water. Use the water as indicated in the recipe.
Cardamoms : One of the world’s most expensive spices, grown mainly in India and Sri Lanka, there are two varieties the large, black- brown one’s which have a heavier flavor and the small green ones which are aromatic and have a delicate flavor. The flavor is best if only the seeds are used to make a powder.
Chili and chilli powder : There are at least 20 known varieties of chili powders. The range of chilies can be form white and yellow to safforn and red in colour. While capsicums or peppers are mild and flavoured, Goan chillies are dark red in colour and not pungent. Green chilies are similar to fresh red chilies and their seeds are the most pungent. Red kashmiri chilies are very mild and can be used for coloring. Red chilies, either whole or finely chopped or sliced, are used for flavoring.
Cinnamon : Most Indian food is cooked with cassia bark, which is a good substitude for real cinnamon. However, it does not have the delicate flavour of cinnamon as its flavour is much strong.
Coriander : Coriander seed powder is a very important spice in Indian food. Fresh coriander leaves are used for garnishing. Coriander has a strong, pungent smell but it is almost indispensable to Indian cuisine.
Cumin seeds : Cumin seeds come in two varieties; white and black. The white is the more common one and is used as extensively as coriander seed powder, while the black variety is more aromatic and peppery.
Fennel Seeds : Fennel seeds are a common ingredient for flavoring stocks and sauces. They are used as a pickling spice and for flavoring curries. Used extensively as an ingredient in paan and as an effective digestive, they freshen and sweeten the breath.
Fenugreek : Fenugreek seeds and leaves are used differently. The seeds are square, flat and yellowish-brown in colour. Care must be taken in using the seeds as they are bitter and the quantity used must be controlled. The leaves are even more bitter and the taste imparts a unique flavour to the dish.
Mace : Mace is a part of the nutmeg. It is the shell of the nutmeg kennel. It has a flavour similar to nut mug but is more delicate and is used in rice dishes.
Mustard Oil : A pungent, deep yellow oil estract from mustard seeds, mustard oil must be used after raising its temperature to a smoking point then cooling it before any ingredients are added.
Nutmeg : This is used to make fragrant garam masala. The kennel must be finely grated just before use. Excessive use must be avoided as it can be poisonous.
Poppy Seeds : White poppy seeds, roasted and ground, are used to provide a nutty flavor and to thicken gravies.
Safforn : The world’s most expensive spice, safforn must be soaked in either warm milk or water and used at the end of cooking a dish. To preserve the flavour, grind 10 gm of safforn with 8 sugar cubes.
Turmeric : Turmeric is a rhizome of the ginger family and is orange – yellow in colour.