Spices and herbs
Spices are at the heart of Indian cuisine. Few Indian dishes can be made without at least a couple of spices. Fortunately, it is very easy to learn how to use the basic ones to make a quick side dish that is likely to perk up a meal. After learning the basics, one could move on to more complex dishes. Here is a list of spices and a line or two about how I have used them in the recipes in this website. The names of spices are linked to information websites.
Cardamom Cinnamon Cloves
Cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves are ingredients of a spice mixture called garam masala. There are several versions of this mixture. You can buy it in Indian grocery stores. I make my own from the three spices. See below for a recipe.
Turmeric This is commonly sold in the powdered form. It’s available in most grocery stores.
Chili (or chilli) I use whole dried chili peppers and chili flakes in recipes.
Cumin I use whole seeds and ground cumin. I grind cumin seeds in a spice grinder after roasting them for three to four minutes on a griddle on the stove top.
Black mustard I use whole seeds in some recipes.
Coriander I use ground coriander seeds. Coriander seeds are really hard to grind in a spice grinder. So, I buy ground coriander.
Cilantro The leaves of the coriander plant are called cilantro. Some people don’t like the smell of this herb. So, wherever possible, I have listed this herb as optional.
Curry leaves Despite their name, these leaves are not a part of curry powders. The leaves are used to flavor vegetarian dishes such as daals, sambars, rasams, and chutneys. The leaves are available in some Indian grocery stores. I buy them fresh and wash and dry them. See next page.
I use fresh ginger root and garlic in recipes. In some recipes, I use a coarse paste made of the two. Since I use it quite a lot, I prepare the paste in bulk and freeze it. See below for a recipe.
Besides these, I use paprika, black pepper, sesame seeds, thyme, bay leaves, dill, parsley, etc.
Ginger and garlic paste
Use equal quantities of ginger and garlic. Peel and wash ginger root. Peel garlic. Chop the two roughly and grind them with a pinch of salt in a pestle and mortar. If you have a spice grinder for wet ingredients, you could use it for grinding.
The resulting mixture must be a bit coarse. On a plate, divide the mixture into 1 tablespoon “blobs” as shown. Cover the plate with plastic wrap and freeze for a few hours. Remove from the freezer, wrap the blobs in plastic, and put them in a freezer bag. Store in the freezer. Thaw completely before use. The mixture will remain fresh for about a month or two.
Use equal amounts of cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves. Roast the three spices for three to four minutes on a griddle on the stove top. Cool. Grind coarsely in an electric spice grinder. Bottle the mixture and store it in the fridge.
Some herbs can be dried and stored in the refrigerator or in a cool place. This is a useful way of storing herbs that you don't use frequently or cannot find in most grocery stores. Here's a simple way to wash, dry, and store curry leaves and thyme.
Wash the leaves thoroughly. Dry the washed leaves by placing them in a tray or a colander on the counter or in a sunny place. It takes about four to five days for the leaves to dry completely. Bottle the dried leaves. Store the bottle in a cool, dry place or in the refrigerator.
Same procedure as above. The leaves must be washed before being dried. After drying, separate the leaves from the stems and store them in a bottle.
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