SPICES AND SEASONINGS:
Every cook has their select spices. But you have to start somewhere.
You start with basics. The Essentials which will allow you to cook basically any curry.
To make sure your spices remain as fresh and flavourful as possible, you need to store them in the right place. Spices should be stored in a dark, cool environment away from direct heat or sun to prevent sun bleach, loss of colour, the loss of flavour and extend shelf life.
This means steering clear of storage near appliances that generate heat.
Try to keep your spices in glass not plastic jars as plastic is porous and absorbs flavours. You may end up with an odour full spice cupboard which over time will filter into your kitchen and fixate permanently then left with a dull spice mix.
Spices you use regularly are better in smaller containers as each time you open the container you expose it to oxygen and then their quality slowly deteriorates, which over time will reduce its flavour. This way you use it up sooner.
You will likely use the individual spices much more often than you’ll use a mix as this gives you freedom to vary up the spices hence taste. Remember, the idea is to avoid waste but expand what you can do and achieve taste wise.
Toasting whole spices before grinding them takes their flavour to a whole new level, adding complexity and aroma to a dish. To do so, just place them into a dry pan over medium-low heat and toast, swirling often, until fragrant. As soon as you start to smell them, remove them from the pan to make sure they don’t burn. But don’t keep too long as flavour diminishes stored too long.
Instead of buying a fancy spice grinder or mortal and pestle, just use a coffee grinder to grind your spices. After using, you can grind up some uncooked white rice to clean it out and get rid of the flavour.
Dried herbs are best used during cooking — either stewed in the sauce, simmered in the curry or braised in your dish. This gives them time to infuse their flavor into the dish and come back to life. Fresh herbs, on the other hand, are already bursting with flavour and best used without much cooking to retain its fresh flavour.
So let’s look at what we need for our essential spices for cooking!
We start with a good oil or ghee.
I use both. Ghee for veg and Pulao/biriyanis.
Vegetable oil for meat, poultry or fish.
Sometimes if I’m indulging, mix of both.
Find what you like. What suits your palate and health needs.
Green Cardamom pods
Tej Patta (Indian bay) or dry Bayleaves
Dried whole chillies
Brown Mustard seeds
Equal quantities of the above 5 whole seeds.
The above are the essential spices called for in most recipes throughout the various regions of India and beyond.
To start…you will be well equiped with the above untill you expand your repertoire.
Now that we have listed the key basic essentials let’s look at them in a little more detail to see what they are, their uses and why. Firstly:
Coriander is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. It is also known as Chinese parsley or cilantro. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking.
As heat diminishes their flavour, coriander leaves are often used raw or added to the dish immediately before serving as a garnish. In Indian and Central Asian recipes, coriander leaves are used in large amounts and cooked until the flavour diminishes. The leaves spoil quickly when removed from the plant, and lose their aroma when dried or frozen. I do freeze but the impact in your dishes is poor…so I freeze the roots!
Fresh Coriander or cilantro:
Coriander roots have a deeper, more intense flavor than the leaves, and are used in a variety of Asian cuisines, especially in Thai dishes such as soups or curry pastes.
I prefer to wash thoroughly and freeze these without chopping as they have more potency than frozen coriander leaves.
Garam masala adds warmth, sweetness, floral notes, and a touch of heat from the black pepper. It is intended to be a fragrant spice as well as flavourful. While cumin, coriander, and turmeric may remind you of curry, garam masala is generally not firey hot.
The composition of garam masala differs regionally, with many recipes across the Indian subcontinent according to regional and personal taste and none is considered more authentic than others. The components of the mix are toasted, then ground together.
A masala mix may be toasted before use to release its flavours and aromas
Curry spice blends vary from region to region in India and throughout the world, depending on the region, the availability of ingredients as well as the preference of the curry blend maker. There is no singular curry powder.
The ground spices used in curry blends do vary from region to region, but some common ingredients in curry powder include a base of coriander, turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, and ground chili peppers, such as cayenne pepper. Other additional ingredients might include asafoetida (Hing spice), caraway, cinnamon, clove, ginger, garlic, fennel seed, mustard seed, green and/or black cardamom, nutmeg, white turmeric, curry leaf, and black pepper, among others.
Curry powder, available in certain western markets, is a commercial spice blend, comparable to the traditionally used concoction of spices known as “garam masala” in the Indian subcontinent. It is conceived as a ready-made ingredient intended to replicate the flavour of kari or an Indian gravy in a dish. It was first sold by Indian merchants to British colonial traders, resulting in the export of a derived version of Indian concoction of spices, in a ready made form for the British as an aide to making a general curry.
Panch phuron or Pancha Phutana is a whole spice blend, originating from the Eastern, North Eastern India and Bengal.
The name literally means “five spices.”
Give them a toast in a dry pan, and wait for them to pop to release their aromatic properties. Tasty nigella seeds can be sprinkled over vegetables and stir-fries, and give a satisfying crunch to your salads and flatbreads.
Mixed Spice homemade/familial recipes.
All these are used solely or in conjunction with other spices depending on what the original blend mix is.
These are widely used in regional cooking but I like to use 1 at a time rather than mixing or all as I enjoy the individual characteristics the blends offer…
Lastly I add to this but optional
So get your essentials ready.
Organise your spices as it suits your cooking styles and Curry on!
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