How to cook with Indian spices
Cooking with Indian spices may seem like a tricky feat, but you'll become a master Indian-food chef in no time flat with these easy tips.
Step 1: Know your spices
Indian cuisine is brought to life with a variety of spices. Some are mild, while others are intense. Knowing which spices are generally used with specific dishes can help you tackle Indian cooking with confidence.
- Vegetables: Mild spices are best so they don't overwhelm the flavor of the veggies. The more subtle spices include cumin, fennel, mustard seed, coriander powder and tumeric.
- Main courses: Strong spices in small amounts work in main course dishes. Garam masala is one of the primary spices that carries a lot of strength.
- For fragrance: Indian cuisine often features fresh herbs to add tantalizing aromas to the food. These include mint, coconut and fresh green chilies. While these aren't spices, their role in Indian dishes is crucial.
Step 2: Discover their flavors
Assuming you're cooking for yourself and your family, understand that one size doesn't fit all when it comes to cooking with spices. Smell and taste the spices to get an idea of the flavor they'll impart before adding them to your cooking. If you're not sure if you like a particular flavor, start off with a very small amount and add more to taste while preparing the meal.
Step 3: Cooking with ground or whole spices
New York City food blogger Sekita Ekrek of KikaEats.com says, "Indian food is so fragrant because cooks use fresh spices bought whole, not pre-ground." To truly amp up the flavor of your dishes, purchase seeds whole, then dry-roast them in a pan for a few minutes until the fragrance is released. After you allow them to cool, you can grind them to use in your recipes. Not only will this create a more tantalizing flavor, but you'll also be able to precisely monitor the amount of spice you're grinding and adding. This can be especially helpful when you're using the stronger masala spices for the first time. Indian Foods Co. suggests using a single whole garam masala for four servings of a dish when you first start cooking Indian cuisine.
If you're in a hurry and need to use ground spices, try adding them to the cooking oil first to help release flavor. "Create a little well in the middle of the pot, and pour the spices into the well for a few seconds so they have direct contact with the pot's heat before being mixed into the dish," suggests Indian cooking instructor Nithya Das.
Step 4: Taste and see
After your initial spicing, do a taste test. Das says, "Spices, depending on their origin, can vary widely in taste." So, sample your dish after it's complete and add more spice, if needed.
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