Essential spices for Indian cooking

It is impossible to imagine Indian food without its spices. They are the heart and soul of Indian cuisine. There are multiple reasons why spices are essential to Indian cooking. some of these reasons are that spices bring aroma to food while acting as a preservative. They also bring flavor and some spices have excellent medicinal properties. People often get intimidated by the variety of Indian spices available in the market-  both in coarse and ground form. But dear reader, do not fret, we have got your back. We have curated this article for you listing the most essential Indian spices and how to use them.

Making use of Indian spices

The majority of Indian spices are dry roasted before being used in a sweet or savory dish. This is done to release their essential oils before roasting them and grinding them to create different spice mixes. A lot of Indian households have a mortar and pestle and turn them into powder form. But we recommend using a strong blender to get the finest paste since some spices like cinnamon are tough to grind.

Storing the Indian spices

If you visit any Indian households – you will find what we generally called a “Masala Box”. This is a round box, sometimes square which has different little containers to store all your spices. We are sure you can find one in your next-door Indian store. One of the biggest advantages to use a masala box would be that all your essential spices would be stored in one place.  Another way to store your spices would be to get small containers from your local grocery mart and label them with the spice that you store in them for the perfect clarity.

Now, that the basics are sorted, let us dive into the essential spice that you need for cooking the best Indian delicacies.

1. Turmeric

Indian Spices

Ever wonder what brings the beautiful color to most Indian curries? Yes, you are getting it right! Its turmeric. This is perhaps the most essential spice used in Indian food. It brings an earthy flavor which also balances the flavor. Turmeric has immense medicinal properties and beautiful yellow color. You don’t need to use a lot of turmeric for it does the magic, generally, just a teaspoon of turmeric is enough. Turmeric is anti-inflammatory in nature.

2. Red chili

Red chillis are often found in both powdered and dried forms in all Indian households. There are different types of red chilies used in India like Kashmiri red chiles, byadgi, Guntur, and many more. The spiciness of Indian cuisine comes basically from red chilies. Dried red chilies are also used while making curry paste and spice powders.

3. Black pepper

Black pepper is used in both ground and coarse forms. It is one of the most important elements of “Garam Masala”. There’s also a variety of black and white pepper available having different taste palates.

4. Coriander

Coriander is used in fresh, whole, and ground. Fresh coriander enhances the flavor of all dishes. It is often added towards the end of any dish as a garnish. Fresh coriander is also used in the preparation of green chutney( a dip) often had a complimentary dish with Indian food.

The other kind is the coriander seeds used in the whole form used in making various non-vegetarian dishes. Lastly, coriander seeds are grounded to make a fine powder which is then used as the red chili powder or turmeric. Powdered coriander is also used in the preparation of garam masala and sambhar masala.

5. Clove

Clove has an anise note which is often recognized in Indian preparations. It has a very strong flavor and that is due to the presence of a lot of essential oils. They can be used coarse or blended into a spice mix. They are also used in the preparation of Indian tea. However, you need to be careful with the quantity of clove that you are using. Since it may overpower other flavors.

6. Cumin

Cumin adds a much-needed smoky flavor to various Indian dishes. Cumin is often used in the whole form and is the first spice to be added to Indian curries right after you heat the oil in the pan. Some things to keep in mind while using cumin are, firstly, do not confuse it with fennel seeds or anise. Secondly, cumin burns very quickly. Therefore it should be roasted on a low flame.

7. Garam Masala

Garam masala is perhaps the most popular Indian spice. It is a combination of dried spices including pepper, cinnamon, nutmeg, bay leaves, coriander seeds, red chili, etc. Garam masala is used in various varieties in India. Different regions have their way of making it. It is used in famous Indian curries such as chana masala, etc. The correct way to use garam masala is to add a spoonful or two in while frying your onions. It is also used as a garnishing sometimes.

8. Sambhar Masala

Sambhar is a type of lentil soup or dal consumed almost every day in various Indian households especially in southern India.  Sambhar masala is the epitome of all the spices used in the south of India. Some of the main components of sambhar masala are cumin. Red chilies, coriander seeds. Desiccated coconut powder, curry leaves, turmeric, etc. The usage of sambhar is also done like garam masala. Usually at the beginning of the dish with fried onions.

9. Chicken Masala

If you are a true fan of Indian cuisine you must know that Indians make delicious chicken curries. And the secret behind this delicacy is chicken masala. Chicken masala is on the tones of garam masala, only spicier.

10. Coconut Powder

Coconut powder is very essential to the flavors of South- Indian food. The typical dish “idli sambhar and chutney” often has coconut chutney as one of the main components. It is also used in the preparation of various Indian sweets. 

Indian recipes are finger-licking- good! And As we mentioned above, if you are a beginner to the world of Indian cuisine these are the most important spices you need in your kitchen.

Happy cooking!

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