BEST INDIAN MASALA FOR SPECIFIC DISHES (E.G. BIRYANI, TIKKA, ETC.)
Whenever we discuss Indian cuisine, the headliners are usually the various spices used liberally in multiple ways in most traditional recipes. The real magic happens when a subtle shift in a cooking technique makes the same flavoring taste entirely different. Why even the order in which they are used, changes the flavor of Indian food.
Curious to know why? Hop on as we profile some most commonly used spices in India.
Garam Masala means hot spice in Hindi. It is an Indian cupboard staple integral to many traditional recipes. This incredibly flavorful, fragrant brown powder boasts a mix of common spices like cinnamon, pepper, coriander, cumin, and nutmeg, all of which lend that exotic flavor and depth to Indian dishes. Although the North-Indian version is the most commonly used one, recipes for garam masala vary by state and region, and most Indian families use their unique blend. Add a couple of teaspoons to any simmering Indian sauce for a warming spice infusion.
While not technically a spice, garlic adds a uniquely bold flavor to many Indian dishes. Garlic is used extensively in Indian cuisine, even if it is not classified technically as a spice. You’ll find it crushed up in chewy naan bread, infused with sauces and meat, or diced and added into dips to add a strong and punchy flavor. If you want a milder dose, garlic should be added at the start of a dish when you’re frying your onions, as it tends to mellow and sweeten the longer you cook it.
Red Chili Powder
Red Chili Powder is a strong spice. It is made from the seeds of red chilies, which is its hottest part. So, this bright red powder is exceptionally strong and is used only in small quantities. Although red chilies originated in the Americas, the Portuguese introduced them to India, and from then on, has become an integral part of Indian cooking. Several South Indian curries often use whole red chili in their recipes.
Cayenne pepper adds heat to your dishes. A little cayenne pepper certainly goes a long way – just a pinch of this spice can infuse heat into an entire pot of curry. This super-spicy ingredient, originally from the Cayenne region in French Guyana, is made by grinding the skins of hot chili peppers into a powder. In Indian dishes, cayenne pepper is often used as a substitute for Indian red chili and provides heat rather than flavor. Cayenne pepper also has medicinal benefits, including aiding digestion and stimulating the circulatory system.
Another spice from the ginger family is turmeric, and it’s also amongst the most commonly used spices in India. Turmeric is extracted from the roots of the Curcuma longa, a leafy plant native to India, and was used as a dye and in Siddha medicine for thousands of years. Turmeric has a warm aroma and taste and an earthy consistency. Today, it’s mainly used for its color and flavor and in various health tonics for its anti-inflammatory benefits.
Coriander is a member of the parsley family. Its seeds are oval and ridged and turn from bright green to beige when ripe. Coriander seeds are often used as an alternative to salt. This spice tastes tangy and sweet, with a slightly citrusy flavor, and is amongst the oldest used spices in the world. Coriander is widely grown in the Indian states of Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.
Cardamom is cultivated along the Malabar coast of India. It belongs to the ginger family of spices. Cardamom is regarded as the third most expensive spice in the world, primarily because it’s harvested by hand and requires a lot of manual work. While green cardamom has a mild and light eucalyptus tone, black cardamom is smoky, spicy, and generally used only for its seeds. People usually use cardamom to enhance the flavor of tea and puddings.
Cumin comes from the parsley family and adds a strong aroma as well as a smoky note to most Indian curries and vegetables. Cumin seeds are generally the first of many spices added while cooking Indian dishes. Fried in its dry form and roasted before use, cumin is also dry roasted and converted to powder before it’s added to recipes such as buttermilk and various puddings. Since the flavor of cumin can become overpowering, and it burns easily too, it’s better to use it sparingly.
Asafetida enhances the savory flavor of Indian dishes. Asafetida is extracted from a resin taken from plants within the parsley family. It’s usually added to hot oil before all other ingredients. Asafetida is valued for its truffle-like flavor and roasted garlic aroma and is commonly used as a condiment and flavoring agent in Indian food. Its most famous use is as the main ingredient in the south Indian sambar curry.
Cinnamon is used in both sweet as well as savory dishes. Cinnamon is primarily grown along the Western Ghats of the south Indian states of Kerala and Tamil Nadu. It’s widely used in the world-famous Hyderabad biryani (basmati rice and lamb) and is a sweet-tasting spice with a woody, warm aroma. These exact properties also make it a great ingredient for cakes and desserts. Apart from adding flavor to food, cinnamon also has various health benefits; it’s thought to lower blood pressure.
Although mustard seeds didn’t originate in India, it’s an extremely popular spice here. In Indian cooking, brown mustard seeds are more commonly used, as compared to the black variety. You can fry these seeds whole to flavor oil, which is then used to cook raw food or just as a garnish. While mustard seeds are native to Rome, the earliest reference to their use is in stories of Gautam Buddha, where he uses these seeds to save a boy’s life.
Saffron is extracted from the stigma of crocus flowers. It is from the north Indian state of Kashmir. Saffron is generally called the most expensive spice in the world – even more valuable than gold! Saffron’s most incredible and striking feature is its pungent, honey-like aroma, which often softens after being soaked in water or milk.
Frequently asked questions