Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)

Spices and Herbs, the Jewels of cooking, make the meal not only tasty but also more digestible. Most spices have medicinal properties. Turmeric for example, is a diuretic, fresh ginger, a tonic. The science of using spices to accentuate the taste of foods and maintain good health, goes back thousands of years.

Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)
Spices and Herbs (with Recipe for Garam Masala)

The heart of cooking is the seasoning- the wise use of the spices, herbs, and seasonings. Spices are roots, barks, or seeds, used whole, crushed or powdered. Herbs are fresh leaves or flowers. Seasonings include such natural ingredients as salt, citric juices, nuts, and rose-water.

The imaginative use of selected aromatic spices and herbs to bring out the dormant flavors of a dish gives cooking a unique character. It is not heavy spicing but delicate spicing that is responsible for the appetizing nuances of subtle taste and aroma. However, the extent to which a food needs spicing is not rigid; its a matter of personal taste. The magic of spicing is in the masala, the blend. The cook that knows how to blend spices and herbs can transform everyday food into an unlimited variety of succulent dishes, each with its own taste. Even the humble potato will reveal a surprising variety of flavors, brought out by the masalas with which it is cooked.

How to make Masalas

In masala making, sometimes whole spices, powdered spices, but most often a combination of both is used. Assemble the spices near the stove. Heat enough vegetable oil or Olive oil (1-2 tbsp) to keep the spices and other ingredients from sticking to the pan. Heat the oil until extremely hot but not burning. Drop the spices into the oil. They will swell, pop, brown or change in some other way. When they are browned and ready, pour them over the dish you are cooking, or put what you are cooking into the seasonings to saute or simmer. It is of importance to note that spices take different times to brown.

Here is an example of garam masala

Ingredients

  • 4 tbsp coriander seeds
  • 2 tbs black peppercorns
  • 1 tbs whole cloves
  • 2 tbs cumin seeds
  • 2 tbs cardamom seeds
  • 2 cinnamon sticks, 2 inches (5cm) long

 

Procedure

  • Dry roast each of the spices separately in a heavy cast-iron frying pan. Shake the pan until the spice turns a shade or two darker and gives off a freshly-roasted aroma.
  • Grind all the spices together after roasting to fine powder. Use an electric coffee grinder or the blender grinder.
  • Keep the ground masala into a clearly labeled glass jar with a tight lid, and keep in a cool place.
  • This garam masala can keep its taste and aroma for several months if good quality spices are used and kept in an air-tight container.

Points to consider when using spices.

  1. Before using whole spices, pick through them to remove any small stems or stones.
  2. Keep all the spices away from direct sunlight and in tightly sealed jars. Be sure to label all spices.
  3. Since many recipes call for ground spices, it is good to purchase whole spices and grind them yourself when in need. The aroma and taste of freshly ground spices is incomparable.
  4. Avoid commercially made curry/gourmet powders. They often are made with inferior spices that lend a wearisome uniformity to your cooking. Make blends of your own.
  5. Sometimes, a recipe requires a masala paste. You can make the paste by grinding together specified spices and add a few drops of water with a mortar and pestle. Then, fry the paste in ghee/vegetable/olive oil for a minute or so to bring its flavor before adding te other ingredients.
  6. Before beginning to cook, read your recipe thoroughly and gather all the spices you need beforehand. This will help you not burn the food as you go looking for a certain spice.
  7. Sometimes, a spice can be used as a substitute for another. But it can also be left out and the food will turn out just fine. Experience will also help you.
  8. Though dried herbs are often twice as pungent as fresh ones, use fresh herbs whenever possible.

Your Spice Shelf

We will examine the spices one by one and acquaintourselves with their qualities and uses.

ASAFOETIDA/ASAFETIDA (hing)

It is the dried latex (gum oleoresin) exuded from the rhizome or tap root of several species of Ferula (F. foetida and F. assa-foetida), perennial herbs growing 1 to 1.5 m (3.3 to 4.9 ft) tall. They are part of the celery family, Umbelliferae. It has a bad or pungent smell and bitter taste. It is called the Devil's dung because It is a herbal medicine, asafoetida (food of the gods).  Alexander the Great carried this spice from the West in 4 BC. It is used in small pinches for its distinctive taste and medicinal properties. It is effective in preventing flatulence that it can cure horses of indigestion. It is available as resin or fine powder. Your recipes will turn out great without it.

CARDAMOM (elaichi): scientific name, Elettaria cardamomum

Commonly-known as green or true cardamom, is a herbaceous, perennial plant in the ginger family, native to southern India. It is the most common of the species whose seeds are used as a spice called cardamom. They are used to flavor sweets, or are chewed as a breathe sweetener and digestive. They are not meant to be eaten whole. Remove from pods and pulverize them with a pestle and mortar or rolling pin before using them in cooking.

CAYENNE PEPPER (guinea spice,cow-horn pepper/aleva or bird pepper):

Cayenne pepper plants are also known as Guinea spice, cow-horn peppers, aleva or bird peppers, but are more commonly referred to as red pepper in its powdered form and used to flavor food in a variety of cuisines and medicinally. Use according to your taste.

CHILIES

The chili pepper from Nahuatl chīlli is the fruit of plants from the genus Capsicum which are members of the nightshade family.

The flat, round, white seeds on the inside give hotness to food. If you want flavor without hotness, make a slit in the pod and remove the seeds with the tip of a small knife. Wash your hands carefully with soap and warm water after handling chilies, because their volatile oil irritates the skin. Store them unwashed, wrapped in newspaper, in the refrigerator. Discard any that go bad.

The dried red chili pods are used extensively for hotness and flavor.

CINNAMON

Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner bark of several tree species. It is mainly used as an aromatic condiment and flavoring additive in a wide variety of cuisines, sweet and savory dishes, breakfast cereals, snack foods, tea, and traditional foods.

CLOVES

These are the aromatic flower buds of a tree in the family Myrtaceae, Syzygium aromaticum. They are native to the Maluku Islands (or Moluccas) in Indonesia, and are commonly used as a spice. Cloves are available throughout the year due to different harvest seasons in different countries.

Clove oil is antiseptic and strongly aromatic. They can be used as a blood purifier, a digestive aid and a local analgesic for toothaches.

CORIANDER/CILANTRO/CHINESE PARSLEY

Coriander is an annual herb in the family Apiaceae. The stems and leaves are usually called cilantro. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking. Its delicate taste is unique. Substitute coriander with parsley though the flavor is not the same. 

To store it, put its roots or cut stalks into a small vase of water, insert the vase into a plastic bag, and keep it in the refrigerator.

Coriander Seeds are round, beige and highly aromatic. They help assimilate starchy foods and root vegetables. To get the best flavor, buy whole and ground in an electric grinder.

CUMIN SEEDS

Cumin is a spice made from the dried seed of a plant known as Cuminum cyminum, which is a member of the parsley familyCumin is one of the most popular spices and is available both as whole seeds as well as in-ground form. Some of its benefits are; chewed as a digestive aid, high in iron and contain plant compounds that are antioxidants that may improve cholesterol levels, promote weight loss, and help prevent diabetes.

FENNEL/SWEET CUMIN

They look like cumin but taste like anise seed or liquorice. They are used in curries and are an effective breath sweetener.

FENUGREEK

Its squarish, brown-beige seeds essential in many vegetable curries and savories. Women can eat this after childbirth to strengthen the back, increase bodily force, and stimulate flow of breastmilk.

GINGER

This spice is extensively used in cooking. Powdered ginger can not be used in place of fresh ginger since the flavor is different. Ginger is medicinally used for colic and dyspepsia. If eaten in small quantities, it cures stomach-ache. Ginger tea is an excellent remedy for colds.

MINT LEAVES

The two most common ones are spearmint and peppermint. They lend a refreshing taste to beverages and are used to make mint chutney. Mint stimulates the digestive tract and will allay nausea and vomiting.

From the above, we can learn that apart from using spices and herbs in just cooking, they also have medicinal values that can keep our bodies healthy. Add more in the comment section below as we learn together. Thank you.