Essential Indian Spice – Cardamom, Mustard Seeds

SPICES-2

Cardamom – along with cumin and coriander seeds, cardamom are an essential Indian spice. The pungent and warm bouquet of cardamom seeds with their distinct aroma is unforgettable and the spice adds a pleasing, warm, slightly lemon-like flavour, with an element of eucalyptus and camphor. The plant grows in tropical and sub-tropical areas and comes mainly from India, which produces 80% of the world’s crop. It is a tall shrub with short stems that, after flowering, carry small green seed capsules. Green cardamoms are the most common and useful; white cardamoms are the same type of pods that have been bleached (they are used in Indian desserts). Black cardamoms are quite different; the black spice is used in long cooked, highly flavoured savoury Indian dishes. The flavour is coarse and too overpowering for light dishes. Cardamom plays an essential role in both sweet and savoury dishes worldwide. It is an essential flavour in Indian curries, pulaos, garam masala and other spice mixtures, and is also essential to the flavour of many Indian sweetmeats, desserts, ice-creams and drinks such as the classic chai. The spice is also used widely in Scandinavian and German cooking- in pickles, with herrings and in cakes and pastries. It is one of the spices that flavour aquavit, along with caraway. It is also said that chewing cardamom seeds helps to freshen the breath. The ancient Egyptians used the spice for this purpose, simultaneously whitening their teeth. The eucalyptus and camphor of cardamom does seem to be an antidote to the smell of garlic or alcohol on the breath. Cardamom is also widely used in Arab and North African cooking in spicy stews.

Mustard seeds – the word mustard comes from the Latin word mustum or must, the name for the grape juice used to mix the ground seeds to a paste, known in turn as the mustum ardens, the burning paste. There are three different kinds of mustard seed: white (alba), brown (juncea), and black (nigra). Mustard seeds have little or no smell. The hot taste that gives mustard its bite is released only when the seeds are crushed and mixed with water. Crushing and moistening the mustard, or mixing powdered mustard with water, activates an enzyme present in the seeds, and it reacts with other natural constituents to develop the essential oil, which gives mustard its characteristic taste. Black seeds have the sharpest, most pungent flavour, white seeds are much milder, while the brown seeds come somewhere in between. Mustard is an indispensible ingredient in cooking: the different whole seeds, ground or powdered seeds, prepared pastes and oil are all used. The white seeds are used in pickling and the brown and black seeds are used throughout India in curry powders and also as separate spice for tempering. The seeds are cooked in hot oil until they pop and are then stirred into a variety of vegetable and daal dishes. Mustard oil is used in many Indian recipes. Mustard is used in salad dressings and in mayonnaise. It is also added to cheese sauce, and sauces for cabbage and cauliflower. The seeds can also be sprouted in a glass jar, in a similar way to beansprouts. The delicate sprouts can be used in salads and sandwiches.

Great Indian Spices – Chilli Powder, Coriander, Cumin

SPICES

Chilli powder – prepared from the different variety of mild to hot chillies, different types and brands vary in their degree of heat. Check the ingredients before buying, as some chilli powders may contain flavourings such as garlic, onion, cumin and oregano. For best results buy RAMDEV pure chilli powder prepared by seeding, drying and grinding the finest of chillies. If the dish requires other herbs and spices, you can add them individually to taste. Chilli powder is used in almost all parts of the world. Central and south America, West and East Africa, the whole of the Asian continent and most parts of the Middle East use chilli powder in a significant proportion of meat, vegetable and rice dishes. Even in those countries where chillies are less apparent, they still have a walk-on role, in the pasta sauces of Italy, for instance, and in pickles, chutneys and relishes.

Coriander – just as fresh coriander (cilantro) is one of the most important herbs of Indian cuisine, so are the seeds of the coriander plant also up there with the other great Indian spices. The seeds look like tiny, pale, creamy-brown peppercorns. When they are dry-fried, the seeds have a heady, slightly burnt orange aroma which is very appealing. The ground seeds give a pleasing, mild and sweet taste that is not overwhelming. Every Indian household uses huge quantities of ground coriander in curry powders, garam masala, and a variety of other spice mixes. Coriander seeds are frequently combined with cumin seeds, the two spices being dry-fried together before being ground (dhania-jeera powder). This combination is common in Middle Eastern dishes too, and coriander seeds also feature as flavouring in many South-east Asian recipes. Whole coriander seeds may be added to chicken and pork casseroles and they are one of the ingredients in basic pickling spice. Whole or ground seeds may be used in chutneys.

Cumin – native to eastern Mediterranean countries and upper Egypt, cumin is now grown almost anywhere where the climate is dry and warm. The spice comes from the seed of this plant, which grows to about 30cm/1 foot high and has flowers that range in colour from mauve or rose-pink to white. Black cumin has a smaller seed, and is occasionally confused with nigella. White cumin is the most available variety. Black cumin seeds have a slightly sweeter aroma and a more delicate flavour than the white ones. Cumin has a strong, spicy, sweet aroma with a warm, slightly bitter and pungent taste. These last two qualities are particularly noticeable in the ground spice, although this is counter-balanced when it is used with ground coriander. Dry-frying before grinding brings out a toasted, nutty flavour, making the spice less harsh. Cumin, with its distinct and strong flavour, is a hugely popular spice in India, the Middle-East, North Africa, Mexico and practically any country where highly spiced food is enjoyed. It is used in almost all Indian curry mixtures and in garam masala. The spice is added to soups and stews, Moroccan lamb dishes and Mexican meat dishes.

Garam Masala – Blended Masala, Pavbhaji Masala, Chana Masala, Chaat Masala

GARAM MASALA…

A blend of ground spices more common in Indian cuisines is called the garam masala. It may be used alone or along with the other seasonings. In English, garam means hot and masala means mixture. Garam masala is pungent and it actually refers to intensity of the spices rather than capsaicin content. The composition of the garam masala differs from region to region. The components may be toasted and ground together. It is available as a commercially prepared ground mixture. Garam masala is the heart of many Indian kitchens as it is the easily available, all in one masala, especially while cooking subzi….the Indian vegetable, lentils and pulses. The common ingredients may include coriander seeds, cumin seeds, peppercorns, black cumin seeds, dry ginger, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, crushed bay leaves, nutmeg and mace. The combination results in a wonderfully aromatic blend. The proportions may vary according to the different regions and household to household. Garam masala is usually added at the end of cooking or may even be added to a dish after serving and it normally peps up the dish. Store the Garam Masala in an air-tight container. As long as the container is tightly closed after each use, it should last for a long time.

Spices have been in use as our food since centuries, and now become an essential part of our lives. Spices are also known to have natural anti-helminthic function. The cinnamon is used in the garam masala is known to be anti-microbial as well as anti-inflammatory ingredient. It promotes brain functionality and helps in controlling blood sugar. Cumin is good for digestion and has properties to fight against cancer and also is rich in iron. And the use of garam masala is not limited to just vegetable and daals, it can be added to all curries to enhance their taste and can be added to chicken and meat for the same purpose. It can also be sprinkled over rice dishes and added to fresh fruit salads. Black pepper, one of the ingredients in garam masala is a natural metabolism booster and contains a compound that breaks down fat cells. It improves skin complexion and fights against skin cancers. Black Pepper is high in Vitamin K and manganese, which assists the body in metabolizing fats and carbs. Cardamom in the masala relieves gas, heart burn, and soothes upset stomachs and is anti-bacterial, anti-fungal, and anti-carcinogenic and also is a natural breathe freshener. Cloves are great at relieving tooth aches and improve metabolism while removing toxins from the blood stream. Cloves are also said to improve cardiovascular health by preventing the formation of blood clots while regulating blood sugar levels. Garam masala is the most important blended masala and vital to north Indian food preparations, added just before serving the dish to enhance its flavour. In short, it is usually used for finishing the dishes throughout northern India. Garam masala is the most aromatic and fragrant of all Indian spice blends and can be added to appetizers and soups to yogurt salad and main courses.

Some other popular blended masalas/spices include …

Pavbhaji masala……Pav refers to the bun and bhaji is a combination of semi-mashed vegetables. From its modest origins in the laaris of Mumbai, it has become one of the most sought after delicacies everywhere… in hotels or wedding parties and many more such functions. Pav bhaji is easy and simple to cook and thus very popular with everyone. Children who otherwise are choosy with vegetables also enjoy the pavbhaji with relish!

Chana masala…..chana/chole is a popular Punjabi dish which is favourite everywhere. Chole/chana can be made spicy or mild, and it tastes especially superb when eaten with a kind of an Indian bread, called bhatura. You can also relish it with bread, parathas, and even rice.

Chaat masala…….the chaat masala is normally a blend of dried mango powder, coriander, dried ginger, salt, black pepper, asafoetida, cumin, black salt, and chilli powder. it is usually sprinkled on fruits, vegetables and other chaat dishes. It is tangy and delicious.

How to Store Spices?

Very few cooks store the spices correctly. Dried spices are usually displayed in glass jars on the kitchen shelf or in wall racks, and fresh spices such as ginger or lemon-grass, are often kept on a kitchen shelf or in a vegetable rack, sometimes in a sunny spot or under bright lights.

Storing fresh spices…unless you are going to use the fresh spices the day they are bought, they should be chilled rather than stored at room temperature. Lemon grass, kaffir lime leaves and curry leaves are best wrapped in a piece of kitchen paper and stored in the salad compartment of the fridge up to 2 weeks. Fresh galangal, ginger and chillies will keep for up to 3 weeks in a sealed container, lined with kitchen paper in the fridge. If you would like them to keep longer, fresh spices can be pounded to a paste, then put in small sealed containers and frozen for up to six months.

Storing dried spices…both ground and whole dried spices should be stored in air tight containers in a cool, dark cupboard or drawer as light, heat and moisture lessen their quality.

Storing other spices….bottles or tubes of spices pastes or purees, such as ginger and garlic puree, will keep unopened until the best before date. However, once opened, they should be stored in the fridge and used within the time specified.

A small, clear Perspex can be used to grind both cinnamon and cassia bark. Traditional wooden Japanese ginger graters make the work of grating light and are easy to clean. A stainless steel grater works equally well.  Use the finest grating surface and work over a flat plate to catch the juices. Opaque jars made of either china or metal don’t need to be stored in a dark place, but they are still better kept in a cool cupboard out of the heat of the kitchen. The stainless steel spice container is ideal for storing dried spices. The individual pots are sealed when the inner lid is closed. A second lid ensures that no light or moisture gets into the tin. Small jars with air-tight seals or screw tops are perfectly good containers for storing dried spices, providing they are kept in a cool, dark cupboard and not in a rack on the wall, or on a kitchen shelf.

Spice baskets make useful and interesting gifts. Choose small baskets and line them with pretty, patterned fabric, tissue paper or a banana leaf. Fill with a collection of spices. If you like, pick a theme for each basket, for example, pack spices for Thai cooking, seasoning mixtures for Indian cooking, or spice mixtures to mull warming drinks or just take a mixture you like and pack them in cute bundles.

The spicy flavour of CHAT MASALA may seem a little strange at first, but it can become quite addictive!

Coriander has a warm spicy flavour, which goes particularly well with lemons.

Herbs and spices have been prized since the earliest times, and today we still depend on them to enliven our daily meals and bring fragrance to our lives.

Asofoetida Powder – A Digestive Spice that Reduces Gas & Cholesterol in Body

ASAFOETIDA…

Early records mention that Alexander the Great carried this ‘stink finger’ west in 4 BC. Used as flavouring in the kitchens of ancient Rome, this pungent, resinous gum is used widely in Indian vegetarian cooking. Ferula asafoetida, a perennial of the carrot family, grows wild to 3.6 metres/ 12 feet high in huge natural forests. The plant is indigenous to Iran, Afghanistan and in the north of India. There is a smaller species called ferula narthex. The whole plant exudes the characteristic strong smell, described by some as a stink. The milky resin comes from both the thick stems and the root, and it dries into asafoetida.

In its raw state, the resin or the powder has an unpleasant smell. This completely disappears when the spice is added to a variety of vegetables, fish, pulse, and pickle ingredients. Used mostly in Indian vegetarian cooking, in which the strong onion-garlic smell enhances many dishes especially those of the Brahmin and Jain castes where onions and garlic are prohibited. Also used in curries, and pickles from India. The lump of resin would only be acceptable to keen Indian cooks who use a very small pieces at a time. For most of us, the powdered version is easier to handle. Buy asafoetida in small quantities. The powdered resin is usually mixed with flour to provide bulk.

Asafoetida is a useful antidote for flatulence and hence its popularity with Indian vegetarian cooks, who make generous use of pulses. There are claims for it being used to cure bronchitis and even hysteria. Asafoetida is useful as a digestive spice that has the additional benefit of lowering cholesterol and reducing gas. Asafoetida warms and corrects excess vata and kapha. The strong, sulphur like smell gives rise to the common name devils dung. Like most smelly herbs it nurtures the earth element and enhances stamina. Asafoetida consists of various natural elements: two thirds of it is carbohydrates, about 16% is water, and 7 % are minerals like iron, calcium, phosphorus, sulphur compounds and others. This herb is also a good source of fibre, proteins and vitamins. 100 g of Asafoetida powder has 297 calories. Since the early ages it’s known for its great sedative, spasmodic, expectorant, antibacterial, anti-fungal and carminative, stimulant and other valuable medicinal properties.

AMCHUR/ MANGO POWDER…

The mango tree is a member of the cashew and pistachio family, native to India, where the mango is known as the ‘King of Fruits’. The name amchur comes from aam, the Hindu word for mango, and chur meaning powder. The unripe mangoes are sliced, sun-dried and ground to a powder. Amchur powder has a sweet and sour flavour, with just a hint of resin. In the high temperatures of the Indian continent, mango powder keeps far better than fresh tamarind or lemons, other typical souring agents. It is used primarily in vegetarian dishes, where it is usually added towards the end of the cooking so that its astringent, yet slightly sweet-sour flavour is still detectable when the food is served. Mango powder is added to soups, marinades, curries and chutneys.

Spices Used to Prepare Hot Drinks or Cold Drinks – Indian Masala Chai with Ramdev Tea Masala

SPICED DRINKS….

Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, ginger and nutmeg flavours all have affinity with hot or cold drinks, alcoholic or otherwise. In India tea is sometimes flavoured with cardamoms, cinnamon and cloves. In India, tea is served with sweetmeat or savoury snacks. Masala chai or masala tea is a delicious drink to round off an Indian meal. Traditionally it will be served with milk and plenty of sugar, but many people find it refreshing when served black. Masala chai is offered to guests as a welcoming drink.

The mixture is ground and stored in an airtight until required. Cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, ginger, and pepper are common ingredients of the chai masala. Indian Masala Chai peps you up immediately and also is a bonus to good health. There is nothing more invigorating than a cup of super Indian masala chai. Ramdev tea masala is a perfect blend of spices that are used to make authentic Indian Masala Chai. The spices used to prepare the chai masala aid digestion and are effective in curing cold, flu and body aches. They are warming and help cure indigestion. The spices contain antibacterial and antioxidant properties. The chai masala is a mixture of various Indian spices like cardamom, cinnamon, clove, ginger and pepper etc. The Chai/ Tea masala is added to the hot boiling tea when it is being prepared. The taste is grandly addictive and also has medicinal qualities. Masala chai is cherished all not only because of its medicinal advantages but also for its extravagant aroma and taste. The spices that give chai its taste also impart health benefits that can keep us in the cold of winter, help us to relax after a stressful day, and balance the energies of body, mind and spirit. The tea masala when added to the tea helps to clear the mind and calm the spirit. It aids to the digestion.

Tea could be regarded a perfect remedy to the stress fetched about by daily trauma in current life. The modest cuppa, has its origin in the ayurvedic healing tradition if India. People drink tea for its benefits to health and socially. A warm, sweet and spicy cup of chai, can charge you for the day. The best thing is you can control the flavour and sweetness by adjusting the spices and sugar. Chai/tea masalas the perfect blend of freshly ground spices  like cloves, cinnamon, nutmeg, ginger, cardamom and , added to a boiling pot of loose leaf tea and milk to make a delicious, satisfying and healthy beverage. Adding tea masala in your tea gives it a refreshing and invigorating twist. It is characterized by its unique spicy aroma which is rejuvenating. Tea Masala is rich in natural antioxidants and it improves overall health. It converts a simple cup of tea into a special one. Tea Masala makes the tea energizing and relishing. It is a perfect combination of aroma of cardamom, freshness of cinnamon, warmth of ginger and much more. Add tea masala to your tea to get a warm and inviting fragrance, zesty flavour without being too hot or spicy and invigorating, aromatic finish and definite health benefits.

Types of Masalas – Garam Masala, Chat Masala, African & Barbeque Spice Mixtures

MASALAS…

Masalas are a blend of spices which can be a dry mixture or a paste. The flavours can be mild and fragrant or more highly spiced. This depends largely on the cook and the dish in which the masala is to be used. Sometimes the spices are dry-fried before grinding, which greatly enhances the flavour.

Garam masala – means hot or warm or hot spices. This is more used in north India. Unlike other spice mixtures, garam masala is often sprinkled over a finished dish to enhance the flavours, adding a gentle aroma of roasted spices, just before serving. It may also be used in the early stages of cooking to flavour a dish.

Chat masala -.chat is an Indian salad snack. It might consist of banana, papaya, guavas, chickoo, apples etc. chat masala is a spicy or rather a tart mixture used to flavour the salad, which can also be served as a refreshing first course before the main meal. The whole spices and salt are ground without dry-frying or roasting and then thoroughly mixed with the other ingredients.

Green masala paste – this mild masala paste, rich jewel-green in colour, is tangy with fresh mint and coriander leaves. It makes a wonderful addition to prawn, poultry and vegetable dishes or as addition to a simple dal.

Madrasi masala – this blend of dry and wet spices is typical of seasonings from South India. The dry spices are roasted and ground before adding garlic, finely grated ginger and vinegar to make a paste, which is then cooked in oil to develop the flavours before being stored in an airtight jar.

African spice mixture – highly spiced food is eaten with relish throughout the African continent. The spices were brought by the Arab traders and merchants over the centuries. Many of the cooks are women, and recipes are passed through the generations by families meeting and preparing food together for feasts, festivals and weddings so that the traditional recipes are kept alive. Of all he recipes, harissa is the best known and is quite simple to make at home. This chilli based condiment with a definite kick is widely used in Moroccan, Tunisian and Algerian cooking. It is used neat as a side dish in which to dip pieces of grilled and barbequed meat and also stirred into soups and stews or added to the sauce for couscous. Harissa is sometimes to a puree of skinned and seeded fresh tomatoes and offered as a dip for kebabs or snacks. When added to natural yoghurt, harissa is an excellent marinade for pork and chicken. Harissa is prepared using red chillies, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cloves, salt and olive oil.

Barbeque spice mixtures – barbequing is perhaps the most primitive yet delicious method of cooking whereby pieces of meat, poultry, fish or vegetables are rendered even more delicious with the addition of an aromatic blend of spices and herbs. These are rubbed into the food before cooking or converted into a marinade. Dry spice mixtures will keep for several months in a cool, dark place.

How to Prepare Spices?

PREPARING SPICES….

Spices are the dried seeds (cumin, coriander, cardamom, mustard), buds, (cloves), fruit or flower parts, (peppercorns, allspice), bark and roots (cassia, cinnamon and ginger), or leaves of plants. Spices are prepared in many ways, depending on the form of the spice and the dish in which it is being used………the point though is always the same: to release the optimum amount of flavour and aroma.

Dry-frying – This process, sometimes called dry roasting, and often used in Indian cookery, increases of such spices as cumin, coriander, fennel, mustard and poppy seeds. Heat a small heavy-based pan over medium heat for about a minute, put in the whole spices and cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring and shaking the pan frequently to prevent the spices from burning, or until the spices start to give off a warm, rich aroma.

Frying in oil – whole spices are sometimes fried in oil, either at the beginning of a recipe, before other ingredients are added, or simply to flavour the oil.

Grinding – Spices are frequently crushed or ground to release their flavour and aroma. Only a few, notably mace, dried ginger and turmeric, cinnamon and cassia, are hard to grind at home and usually bought in powdered form. For the best flavour, grind spices as you need them.  For small, easily ground spices, such as cumin, fennel, ajwain, and caraway seeds and cloves, use china or a marble pestle and mortar. Grind only a small amount at a time—-don’t put more than a tablespoon or two in the bowl at a time, and grind in a circular motion. Coriander seeds and allspice and some harder spices such as fenugreek, can be ground successfully in a peppermill. Special nutmeg grinders, similar to peppermills, are also available and work fairly well. An easier and quicker method of grinding harder spices is to use an electric coffee grinder. Do not overfill the bowl and grind in short bursts. Traditional Indian and Oriental mortars have pitted or ridged bowls and are used for making wet spice mixtures and pastes. Wet spice mixtures can also be made in a food processor. Use the metal blade, add the ingredients and puree to a rough or smooth paste as required. Both ground and whole spices should be stored in airtight containers in a cool, dark cupboard or drawer as light, heat and moisture lessen their quality.

Today we associate spices mainly with cooking, but at one time spices played a much larger role in the home…their fragrance was used to scent the air, and it was thought that they had antiseptic qualities and could both prevent disease and ward off insects. Spice bags were carried around or hung from a belt, and fragrant bowls and boxes of pot pourri were used to scent the air.

Baghar/Tadka…

A baghar or tadka is a mixture of spices and flavourings fried in hot ghee, mustard oil or any other edible oil to release their flavours. They are then quickly poured over or stirred into Indian dishes of dal, vegetables, yoghurt, salads or pulses and vegetable combinations.