Discover Indian spices and their many uses
They say variety is the spice of life. In India, there are so many varieties of spices and so many uses for them that there is hardly a dull moment at the dining table. From India’s famous masala tea to different types of gravies and curries, spices find a use in almost every meal and drink. We present five of them this month, with some tips on how to use them.
Turmeric, native to southwest India, is an important ingredient in Indian cooking. It is usually powdered and used in tiny quantities to enhance the flavour and look of a dish. It has immunity-boosting and anti-oxidant properties.
How to use: To treat a cold, add a pinch of turmeric to a glass of warm milk and a dash of pepper powder. To this add a teaspoon of sugar.
Pepper it up
Among the world’s most traded spices, pepper was called ‘Black Gold’ in ancient times. Known as the king of spices, pepper has been a crucial part of the South Indian state, Kerala’s economy since those times. The spice trade contributed to India’s increased contact with the world. Pepper is used in many dishes native to various parts of the country. It is believed to help relieve one of cold, cough and indigestion, among other things.
How to Use: Beat together a cup of yogurt and add freshly crushed black pepper (a quarter of a teaspoon) and half a teaspoon of crushed cumin. To this add freshly chopped cilantro leaves. Enjoy pepper raita with flatbreads like roti or naan and pilaf or biriyani.
Cumin seeds resemble caraway seeds and can be used as whole seeds or in powder form. They add an earthy feel to food. They are commonly known as jeera or jeeragam in India. It is known to provide relief from stomach aches and cramps and is rich in iron content.
How to use: To a teaspoon of melted butter, add a tablespoon of cumin seeds. When the seeds crackle, remove from heat and add to a cup of white rice. To this add three cups water and pressure cook. Eat the Jeera Rice with pepper raita.
Known commonly as elaichi in India, this is an ingredient reserved for special and happy occasions. Cardamom is usually sold in pods which are green in colour. These are crushed and used to enhance the flavour in sweet as well as in savoury dishes like biriyani in India. It is also used in teas.
How to use: Boil black tea leaves with three pods of crushed cardamom with a small piece of crushed ginger. To this add a dash of milk and teaspoon of sugar. Enjoy elaichi tea.
History tells us that mustard was cultivated in India during the Indus Valley Civilisation! It is still used in India in different forms – leaves, seeds, paste and even the oil. In West Bengal, for instance, almost all cooking is done using mustard oil, while in South India no dish is complete without a generous garnish of popped mustard seeds in oil. Mustard is packed with B complex vitamins and is said to have anti-inflammatory properties, too.
How to use: Add two teaspoons oil to a wok and heat. Add a teaspoon of mustard seeds. When the seeds crackle, add curry leaves and chopped red chilli. To this add chopped cabbage (one cup). Sprinkle a few drops of water and close the wok with a pan. Enjoy this simple and tasty South Indian–style Cabbage Poriyal.