When I was growing up, one of my best friends lived two doors down from me. Whenever she came over, my parents always tried to get her to eat Indian food but she usually refused because she found it too spicy. My parents are big feeders and so to overcome the fact that they couldn’t feed her Indian food, they would instead make her macaroni and cheese and other non-spicy treats. Fast forward several years, and now this friend of mine has grown to love Indian food. When we happen to be in town at the same time she willingly eats and actually enjoys the Indian food at my house. Lately, she’s even begun to crave Indian food! She complains, however, that the Indian food where she lives is sub par and doesn’t taste like the food at my parents’ house and thus asked me to do a post on building an Indian pantry. Thus, to help her eat delicious Indian food, I decided to do a four part series on building an Indian pantry. The first part will focus on dry spices; the second on a spice blend near to my heart, garam masala; the third will focus on fresh/wet spices; and the fourth will focus on Indian cooking techniques.
A quick caveat before I begin: the spices, ingredients, and recipes that I write about are ingredients that my parents and I use. India is a huge and diverse culinary country. My parents grew up 1 mile apart in the same city, yet the food in their houses is worlds apart. Extrapolate that to the entire country and you have an amazing diversity of flavors and ingredients. Consider this a small introduction to the delicious complexity of Indian food!
|From top row, L to R: Turmeric, Cumin, Red Chili Powder, Dry Whole Chili, Coriander, Mustard Seeds, Garam Masala, Fenugreek Seeds|
These are the spices that I use most frequently when making Indian food. They are spices that you will find yourself using over and over again. Adding these spices or a combination of them definitely add an Indian flavor to dishes. Using any combination of these workhorse ingredients will add an Indian taste to a variety of vegetables and meats. If all you get are these spices, you will be able to make many dishes to satisfy your Indian food cravings! Most of these dishes are either fried in oil prior to adding the other ingredients or sprinkled on top of the dish as the other ingredients cook.
Turmeric (haldi): Turmericcomes from a tropical rhizome that is dried and then ground. It has an earthy, rich flavor. It can be bitter if too much is added. It adds a distinctive yellow color to Indian dishes and to most commercially available yellow mustards. It is thought to have antioxidant as well as antiseptic properties. This spice is sprinkled on the dish during the cooking process.
Cumin (jeera): Cumin is most often associated with Mexican cooking especially in the Western hemisphere, however, it is also commonly used in Indian cuisine. When fried whole in oil, it adds a sweet smoky flavor to dishes, when used in powdered form sprinkled on top of the dish while cooking they add the more familiar savory-smoky that people associate with cumin.
Red Chili Powder (lal mirchi): Kashmiri red chili powder is our preferred variety of chili, and packs a punch in terms of heat. It’s spicier than cayenne, so beware if you substitute this for cayenne. It also adds a pretty red color to the dishes. This spice is usually sprinkled on top of the dish once most ingredients are added.
Dry Whole Chili (mirchi): Whole red chilis are usually toasted in oil to infuse the oil with their spicy flavor. They have a different flavor profile than dried Mexican chilies available at many grocery stores. Those chilies tend to have sweet or even raisiny undertones whereas these have more vegetal and spicy flavors.
Coriander (dhania): Coriander seeds are the dried fruit of the cilantro plant. It has a nutty, spicy, citrusy taste. It can be used both whole and ground. It does not add much heat, but does add a lot of flavor.
Mustard Seeds (rai): Mustard seeds range in color from yellow to black, with black being the most common variety used in Indian cuisine. Most Indian recipes begin with “popping” these seeds in hot oil to infuse the oil with the mustard flavor. If you’re not a huge fan of yellow mustard, don’t worry! These seeds add a complex toasty aroma to their dishes, and not the vinegary pungency of yellow mustard.
Garam Masala: Garam masala is one of the few premixed spice blends that Indians regularly use in their cooking. It is made from a variety of ingredients. The commercially available ones are very different from the homemade garam masala I use in my house. Stay tuned for an upcoming post to further explore this spice blend!
Fenugreek Seeds (methi dana): Fenugreek seeds add an amazingly rich bitter-sweet flavor to dishes. Just a pinch of these seeds fried in oil is enough to flavor a large pot. At times they are served as a condiment after being lightly fried in oil.
|From top row, L to R: cinnamon, cloves, black cardamom, bay leaves, black pepper, ground dried ginger, green cardamom, asafetida|
|From top row, L to R: Dried Curry Leaves, Ajwain, Dried Fenugreek Leaves, Saffron|
Coriander Spiced Potatoes ~ Bataka nu Shak
|Prep:||Cook:||Yield: serves 4 as a side||Total:|
A wonderful pantry staple, simple potatoes elegantly spiced with coriander, red chili, mustard and turmeric. They are spicy and sweet and very delicious.
- Peel and cut the potatoes into 3/4 inch cubes. Soak them in cold water for 10-15 minutes. Drain the potatoes very well.
- In a nonstick or well seasoned wok or a large nonstick saucepan heat your oil over high heat. If you cannot use a nonstick pan be sure to use more oil as these potatoes can stick to the pan. Heat the oil until it shimmers and when you pass your hand over the pot you feel a significant amount of heat coming from the pan. Add the mustard seeds, and quickly cover the pan leaving the lid slightly ajar. The mustard seeds should pop immediately.
- When the mustard seeds stop popping and there is a toasty aroma coming from the pot, carefully add the potatoes standing at some distance from the pot if possible. Be careful, as any excess water left in the potatoes can cause the oil to splash.
- Lower the heat to medium-high. Stir the potatoes to coat with the mustard infused oil. Allow them to sit for a few seconds and stir again. Repeat this process until the potatoes get a bit crispy on the outside and have softened on the inside. When the potatoes seem to be mostly cooked, add the chili powder, turmeric, and salt. Stir well to coat the potatoes with the spices.
- Once the potatoes are cooked, add the sugar. Raise the heat to high and quickly stir to potatoes to caramelize the sugar. The potatoes will appear to become a bit mushy during this process and will seem to leak a bit of moisture. Don't worry. This is normal. Add the coriander to the potatoes after you have coated them with sugar and stir to coat the potatoes once again. Remove from the heat. Garnish with some finely chopped cilantro if desired. Enjoy!