Besides black pepper and hing, ginger and bay are spices I probably use the most in daily cooking. They constitute a base for many pulse, lentil and vegetable preparations.
I used to avoid bay leaves. They reminded me of the meat dishes I was served in childhood. A couple of years ago I attended a cooking class by a wonderful Bengali cook. Her expertise in spicing impressed me. Indian bay leaves found their rightful place in my kitchen vocabulary. They are here to stay!
Ginger belongs to the plant family of turmeric and cardamom. It is a rhizome (rootstalk) with a yellowish hue. The strong flavour is caused by volatile oils that have antibacterial propensities. It is stimulating the production of saliva. A small pinch of fresh ginger is recommended before meal to enforce the digestive process. Ginger is used for medical and culinary purposes throughout the world.
Young roots are succulent and fleshy with a mild taste. The juice from the mature ones is potent. Dry ginger powder has a slightly different flavour. I can’t think of any other use for it right now than baking cakes and cookies, or boiling tea with lemon and honey. I prefer fresh ginger.
Fresh ginger is scraped or peeled before usage. There are two ways to temper ginger. The first one is to squeeze out the juice of finely grated root and place it in hot ghee or oil before adding other spices. The juice is preserved and mixed with a cooked, ready dish. It gives a subtle alternate aroma. Ginger juice is said to add lust when boiled. Those who wish to remain on a simple or less agitated side of life, benefit from this method. Also, moist ginger tends to stick to the bottom of a pan. Pressing out the juice prevents it.
The second method is to sauté other spices first. Grated ginger is added when they have popped and browned.
INDIAN BAY (Tejpata)
European bay leaves refer to the aromatic greens of bay laurel (Laurus nobilis, Lauraceae). Indian bay leaves, tejpata or tamalapattra, are of different genus than the Mediterranean. They are bigger in size, olive green in colour, and impart a pleasant cassia- or cinnamon-like taste. The English translation would include Malabar cinnamon and Rose sandalwood.
Malabathrum is mentioned in the 1st century Greek texts as one of the major exports of Malabar area which is the present day Kerala coast. The leaves were used to prepare fragrant oil, oleum malabathri, and were valuable in ancient Greece and Rome.
Tejpata works wonders when sautéed together with ginger. It adds sweetness and richness to dishes.