Cooking with Spices
Indian cuisine is characterized by the extensive use of numerous spices. Spices or Masala as it is called in Hindi, may be called the “heartbeat” of an Indian kitchen. By extensive use of spices I do not mean that spices are used to make the food fiery hot. The spices are used to flavor the food, making each dish distinct and wonderfully aromatic. Each spice by itself imparts a very unique flavor, but when used together with other spices, the combination and permutation of different ones magically change the individual characteristics. Spices are also used for health benefits and medicinal purposes, to prevent diseases and also to preserve food.
Masala is the most common word that will be heard in an Indian kitchen. They are found in powered or whole forms. As the name suggests, the whole spices includes cinnamon sticks, bay leaves, cardamon, fennel seeds, star anise and cloves. These are generally fried in hot oil before adding the onions or green chillies or ginger-garlic paste. A classic Indian curry is a medley of masalas followed by turmeric, chili, coriander powder and garam masala.
DOS & DON’TS OF INDIAN COOKING
- Do use extra virgin olive oil and coconut oil as they are healthy. Typically, Indians love to use sunflower/canola oil. I use vegetable oil for deep frying. Always use neutral smelling oils
- Never add raw spices to the sauces that has been served in the dinner table. It will leave the dish with uncooked flavors The best thing to do will be to heat little oil in a small cooking pan and quickly saute the chilli or coriander powder to it. Then mix them into your final sauce and then serve.Always taste before you serve
- Always buy the ingredients from ethnic Indian stores. Store them in air tight containers for longer shelf life. Some could be stored in the freezer too. I store nuts and spice powders in the freezer
- Never replace frozen ingredients in place of the fresh ones. The fresh ones always add a lovely texture and flavor to the dish. For instance, buy fresh okras, tapioca, drumsticks,beans instead of the frozen ones
- Currys taste best the next day as the masalas would have been infused well with the sauces. So plan your party well ahead of time. Also, you could prepare the dishes in excess amount and can store them in the fridge for the next day. This saves a lot of time and effort
- Don’t leave the pans unattended as the masalas can get burnt too quickly. If by any chance, the gravy is too dry or burnt, add little water to cool them
- Never replace an ingredient for another one unless you are sure about its use. The cooking time varies for lentils/legumes/veggies. So be aware of your method and cooking process.
- There are lot of vegetarian dishes in Indian cooking. When a recipe calls for the use of more vegetable, make sure you chop them all in the same size
- Indian cooking leaves the cook/kitchen/living room with intense and powerful aroma. Some like it while other don’t. So always keep your house well ventilated and spray air freshener before guests arrive