What is the first thing you think of when you hear the words “Indian cuisine”? Is your answer spice? If so, you have the correct response. Indian cuisine is known for its use of a wide array of spices that give the food the tantalizing and distinctive aromas that we all love. A small subset of spices is used in most of the dishes in some combination and varying amounts. These combinations are the secret to excellent Indian cuisine.
Over the years I have seen many lists in which people have ranked their favorite spices. I thought it would be a good idea to pull together my list of the spices I use most often in Indian cooking. As you build your Indian spice rack, start with the first 5 items on this list and add more spices as your recipes call for them. Armed with this list, you should be able to prepare almost any Indian recipe you wish.
List of Top 10 Spices
1. Turmeric – From a root that looks like ginger’s smaller cousin, turmeric is dried and ground giving dishes a yellow color and a unique peppery flavor. Don’t add too much or your dish will be bitter and very yellow.
2. Red chile powder – Made from dried red chiles, this red powder adds a fiery taste to every dish. This is the reason many Indian dishes are hot.
3. Saffron – This spice comes from a species of the crocus plant. It brings a unique, subtle flavor along with a yellow color to dishes.
4. Cumin – Cumin has a warm, aromatic flavor and is used in a wide array of Indian dishes. Used whole, ground, fried in oil or roasted. I find that I use cumin in almost every dish but don’t add too much as it is powerful.
5. Coriander – As seeds or ground, coriander is one the most frequently used spices in Indian cooking. These tiny, light brown seeds of the cilantro plant have a light spicy flavor with a hint of citrus.
6. Mustard seeds – Small reddish-brown seeds have a pungent flavor and are usually added to chutneys, pickles and other dishes. Frequently they are fried in hot oil until they pop to bring out their flavor.
7. Cloves – These dried flower buds give a warm, aromatic flavor to food. Used whole or ground
8. Cinnamon – Shavings of bark from the cinnamon tree. This fragrant spice is used in many sweet as well as savory dishes.
9. Cardamom – Small aromatic pods that contain many small black seeds. They are available in black or green; however, the green ones are more popular. This is one of my favorite spices that I add to rice and sweet dishes for a special taste.
10. Fennel seeds – Small seeds like cumin seeds that are commonly used in pickles.
These spices are used whole or ground, and raw, roasted, fried in oil to bring out special characteristics of the spices to create a dish that makes a statement on your table. By mixing different spices together, different masalas, or spice blends, are created that you can use. For example, I make batches of the ever-popular Garam Masala that I use to season vegetables and save time. Once I like a spice blend, I write down the recipe so I can make it in the future to save time.
Try experimenting with these spices in your cooking and you will never have to eat a boring meal again.
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