Mixing up spices – Indian style

11/25/2015 Lokesh kumar 0 Comments

If there is one element we associate with Indian cuisine above all other, surely it is the delicious abundance of colourful spices that give the dishes their distinctive flavour? It is surprising just how much a dash of cumin, a sprinkle of coriander and a smattering of turmeric can transform even the plainest of dishes into a recipe infused with all the allure of the exotic east.

In India, it is commonly believed that in order to master the art of Indian cuisine, you must first master that art of mixing up spices and become a masalchi, or ‘spice blender.

Fans of Indian food will most probably have heard of the term masala, a word that is used to describe the specially blended spice mix used to add flavour to a dish. Contrary to popular belief, there is no specific recipe for masala. Instead, there are hundreds of versions that vary depending on state and regional preference. Many families will even have their own special versions of masala with tweaks that have been perfected by their mothers and grandmothers, passed down through the generations. As a result, no two family masala recipes are likely to be exactly the same.

Although historically masalas were created just before cooking, todays home-cook can rest easy that they can avoid this time-consuming process by preparing masalas in advance – they store well in an airtight container for us to three or four months.
Lets take a look at some of our favourites:

1.       Garam masala
             The big mama of spice blends, this mix was developed in the northern reaches ofIndia but has made its way around the globe to be found in the aisles of our local supermarkets here in the UK. Commonly featuring ingredients such as cinnamon sticks, cloves, bay leaves, black pepper, cumin, coriander and cardamom, garam masala is an aromatic blend that works particularly well with onion-based gravies, meat recipes and flavoursome rice dishes such as pulaos and biryanis.
2. Sambar seasoning
                The powder used to season South Indian soups, stews and dals, sambar is packed with heat in the shape of dried red chillies. Coriander, cumin, mustard seeds, fenugreek and asafoetida are also key elements to a sambar mix whilst occasionally toor dal or channa dal is added for a thicker consistency.
3. Panch phoron
                This Bengali spice mix is often sprinkled into hot oil or ghee to flavour dishes and contains a blend of cumin, fenrugreek, fennel and mustard. Just like the sambar blend above, panch phoron is a spicy one!
4. Madras curry powder
                An aromatic blend with hot, red chillies as we as coriander, mustard seeds, black peppercorns, ginger, turmeric and a smattering of curry leaves. It is a blend you might be familiar with from your local curry house menu where the popular lamb or chicken madras can be found, here in the UK.
5. Chaat masala
                The savoury street food snacks of India are famous the world over for their irresistible  flavours. This is due to chaat masala, a mix that is utilise for fast food throughout the sub-continent and contains a sweet and sour blend of ingredients including dried mango powder, cumin, black peppercorn and ajowan seeds.

Indian cuisine simply wouldn’t be the same without its expertly mixed spices. Book a table at one of London’s best Indian fine dining restaurants and see for yourself.