Thursday, 7 May 2015

Indian Cookery and Basic Spices

Day 7 of the Ultra Blog Challenge

In my spare time I teach  Indian food Cookery to adults either in a class or one to one in their home. A lot of time in my classes is spent discussing various styles of cooking and how to make a tasty curries, Onion bhajissomosas.  etc. (Details of my cookery classes and step by step recipes can be found in my blog.)  A fair bit of time is also spent on discussing spices, herbs and Indian ingredients and utensils.   To be fair to the students, they usually  manage to buy the right spices from the local supermarkets but they always have lots of questions about them.

The most commonly used spices in my kitchen are the ones I keep in my Spice Box which I call my masala dhaba or masalyu.  I buy these freshly milled spices from the Indian stores as they can be bought cheaper and in bulk.  All spices are checked and poured into airtight bottles and kept in a cool place.  

Every week, I clean my Spice Box and take out the old spices, refill with fresh spices and then top up with last weeks spices so that they get used  first.  The spices in my spice box are used for flavouring and tempering curries, dalls and soups etc.  However when making pakoras, pickles or other savouries,   I may need different spices which are not in my usual Spice Box.  

Don't let the long list of ingredients in a Curry recipe put you off cooking. The  following are the basic 6 spices I would advice you to get if you have just started Indian Cookery.   Most of these are easily available in Supermarkets:

1.  Salt:   Although salt is often referred to as seasoning - it's one of those ingredients which has been used for centuries to preserve and flavour food.  My advice would be to add just enough salt to season your dish but also try and balance it with some flavours and spices.  In some foods adding salt helps to speed up the cooking too.

2.  Chili Powder:  Chili powder is made from dried red chilies and can be hot or mild depending on the chilies used.  Always experiment and see how hot a dish you like and add the chili powder accordingly.  If you are worried about the hotness, you can use pepper or cayenne pepper as a substitute.  Remember it's better to add less then more.  And a curry doesn't have to be hot to be a tasty curry.

3. Turmeric Powder: Turmeric is  rhizomatous herbaceous perennial plant of the ginger family, Zingiberaceae.  Fresh turmeric can pickled and eaten just like ginger pickle or it can be grated and added to curries to add flavour. Generally we use the powdered version which gives the yellow colour to the curry. Turmeric has been used for centuries in India as a spices as well as  medicinal purposes.  Again if you have a good quality turmeric, you only need to add half a teaspoon to your curry. (watch out for my future Posts on the medicinal uses of turmeric).

4. Dhana jeeru (coriander/cumin powder):  This is a powered mixture of coriander and cumin seeds.  It has a milder taste and smell to garam masala.  It's aroma is also a lot milder and pleasant when added to a curry.  I use this for my everyday curry and only add garam masala to get the restaurant style flavour and scent when I am entertaining.

The following two spices/ingredients are mostly used for tempering a curry:

Cumin/Jeera:  This is mustard and cumin both in their raw state.   Both are  used for tempering a curry.   When making a curry, it's added to a couple of teaspoons of hot oil, to release it's flavours before adding it the curry.

Over the weeks, I will give information on more spices and share a couple of easy recipes with you.

These are some of the adults who came to my Cookery Class and you can see the kind of spices they manage to buy from the supermarkets.

Do any of you have a favourite spice?


  1. I love cooking with spices. They add so much flavor to dishes that keep a person coming back for more.

  2. The photographs of your spices look wonderful--so colorful. I'm sure you'll find many people interested in reading about Indian cookery, including me.

  3. Thanks for an interesting post. How neat that you teach cooking! I'm not that familiar with Indian food and spices, but I know I can't handle anything too spicey or hot. I like garlic, but not too much; also thyme, parsley, and paprika.


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