Before posting recipes, I would like to introduce some of the spices that are crucial to my kitchen craft. I’m used to mixing spices and extracting flavours, and forget they may not be common in European or Western cuisine. Is there such a thing as a Western kitchen? It is a fusion of various traditions. I guess I’m a child of that porridge!
Having given cooking-courses for several years, I’ve noticed people either love or hate coriander. If there was a perfume made of it, I would be the first one to use. I love the fragrance, weather fresh (cilantro), dry-roasted or tempered in ghee. It is domestic, earthly, warm, nutty and vaguely citrus-like. The taste is mild and supportive, unless used in a larger quantity. South Indian rasam is an example of coriander taking a distinctive leading role in spicing.
In India, coriander is called dhania. The seeds are fruits of an annual herb. They have a golden or light brown colour. Sometimes you can get them so fresh that there is still a greenish hue. They have a crunchy texture and are easily ground into powder. Ground coriander loses flavour quickly in storage. Commercially packaged powder is worthless.
Cumin or jeera is a wonderful, versatile spice. I’m not alone with the opinion. Cumin is the second most popular spice in the world after black pepper. In India, jeera is common regardless the region. It has a unique, rather unrefined, resin-like, aroma. Pan roasted jeera tastes different from sautéed. Due to its medicinal properties, it is used as an ingredient in many home remedies and ayurvedic preparations. It is a digestive aid.
Cumin is the dried seed of the herb (Cuminum cyminum) that is a member of the parsley family. The seeds resemble, and are sometimes confused with, darker caraway (Carum carvi). Indian jeera has an oblong shape, a yellow-brown colour and is longitudinally ridged. In Bengal kalonji (nigella sativa) is called kalo jeera (black cumin) but it is a spice from a different plant family and has nothing to do with jeera.
Turmeric is of an ancient origin, a native of South East Asia. It is used in religious rituals and cooking, and, being unsynthetic and cheap, as a dye for holy robes. It is, in fact, one of the cheapest spices. Although, as a dye, it is used similarly to saffron (kesari), the culinary uses of the two are not to be confused. Saffron cannot be replaced by turmeric in food recipes. They have different aromatic qualities.
Fresh turmeric is a dark orange root with a brownish skin. It is dynamite! If you have an important meeting ahead of you, don’t handle it with bare hands, unless you want to give an impression you’ve been chain-smoking non-stop for the past 25 years. In an instant it dyes whatever it comes in contact with, no questions asked. Until this day, I haven’t found a soap that would remove the stains. They will wear out naturally. Sunlight is a powerful remover. Therefore, always store turmeric out of sunlight (like the rest of your spices).
Fresh turmeric has a lovely taste. It is milder and softer than the dry powder. Too much powdered turmeric can ruin the dish. It gives out a stale and bitter taste if overdone. Always use turmeric in moderation. Even a small amount gives a dish a bright yellow hue.