Spices may be used fresh or dry, whole or powdered. The best option is to buy whole spices and grind them when required. Store the whole spices in suitably sized jars so that their essential oils don’t evaporate.
Spices lend flavour, colour and texture to the dish. Different Indian spices are used in different dishes due to the varied properties of the spices. Most common spices used in Indian cookery are cumin, coriander seeds, fenugreek, mustard, sesame, ajowan etc.
Cumin ( Jeera) seeds are oblong in shape and yellow-brownish in colour. Its flavour is enhanced when it is fried in fat, its use in dal tadka is well known. Cumin seeds are the main component in the Indian appetizers like jal jeera and beverages like lime – soda etc. due to its cooling property. It can be roasted, ground and sprinkled over any raita, dal or vegetable curry, meat, poultry etc. to make the dish more appetizing
Coriander ( Dhania ) seeds are round in shape and have lemony citrus flavour when crushed. Coriander seeds are added to hot oil before adding vegetables and meat to impart a very pleasant flavour to the dish. Coriander leaves are used to garnish dishes.
Fenugreek ( Methi) Fresh leaves have strong nutty flavour and are used to finish off many dishes like butter chicken, shahi paneer etc. Fenugreek seeds are small yellowish amber coloured and very hard. They are used in cooking potato, sambar, chutneys, pickles etc. The seeds are one of the main components of spice mixes like curry powder, sambar powder, panch phoron .
Mustard (Rai) seeds are very small round seeds. Three kinds are most common, white, brown and black. White mustard seeds are milder in flavour and suitable for pickling. Black mustard is smaller in size and more pungent. The brown ones are small like the black ones but not as pungent in flavour. Mustard seeds have a strong pungent flavour that goes very well with many Indian dishes like sambar, poha etc. The seeds are fried in hot oil or ghee till they pop.
Sesame seeds ( Til ) are flat and small in size. They come in many colours and varieties including white seeds and black seeds. The hulled sesame seeds are used in confectionery products like cookies, burgers, breads, cereals etc. Sesame seeds have a slight crunch and delicate nutty flavour. The flavour becomes more pronounced when they are gently dry roasted or added to hot oil. They have heat producing effect and are thus consumed more in winters in the form of laddos, gajjak ( sesame brittle), and other Indian sweets. Sesame seeds have a high content of oil so should be stored in air-tight jars in cool dry places.
Ajowan, seeds are small, greyish green and striped like cumin. The flavour is like thyme but stronger. It is used in very small quantities as it has a strong dominant flavour. Ajowan tastes great in savoury dishes like spicy biscuits, naan, pakoras, dals vegetables, soups, sauces, drinks. It is extensively used in pickles due to its pungent aroma.