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The essential spices in Indian Cooking

The essential spices for everyday Indian cooking

by Shyamali Sinha

There are some essential spices for everyday Indian cooking.  In my opinion, spices are not only an easy way to take any dish to the next level but also the secret of bringing the other ingredients to life! Forget about the marinade for boring chicken pieces to convert to chicken tikka or kabab, even forget about the veg or non-veg curry. Can we imagine a simple Dhal recipe without spices? Of course, occasionally for a comfort meal, boiled masoor dhal topped with chopped onion, green chilli, salt and drizzle of raw mustard oil served on cooked hot rice is something that we Bengali devoured. Still, we all want variety on our everyday meals? Aren’t we?

Every Indian kitchen is different and so the usage of spices are also very different in every region of India. Stocking your pantry with versatile spices will give you the ability to cook whatever flavour you are craving! 

Tadka and Phoron- the ultimate way to use the whole spices in Indian cooking

In Indian cooking, whole spices used primarily for Tadka. Tadka is a cooking technique of adding flavour to a dish. We use hot fat, either oil or ghee for Tadka. When the whole spices added to the hot fat, it absorbs the flavour from the whole spices. Phoron is a Bengali name for Tadka. But there is a fundamental difference between Phoron and Tadka. While we cook Dhal or Dal, after boiling the lentils most of the Indian regional cooking they pour Tadka on the top of the Dahl/ Dal. But, in Bengali cuisine, we pour the cooked Dahl/ Dal on the Tadka or Phoron. Both taste are different yet delicious. When you try both cooking techniques, you will feel the difference.

The essential Spices for everyday Indian Cooking
The essential Spices for everyday Indian Cooking

Ground Spices are not only for curry

Along with onion, garlic, ginger, we often use ground spices to make gravy! If you take a look at Bengali vegetarian dishes, you will see for the everyday curry we mostly use ground spices, such as cumin, coriander, turmeric for the curry base. But no vegetarian Bengali gravy based dish such as Dalna, Rasa, is complete without the sprinkle of Garam Masala -r Guro. While we are obsessed about our Bhaja Moshla for Chutney topping to the seasoning of Ghugni. Bhuna Jeera Powder( roasted cumin powder) is a typical affair in many parts of the country.  Podi or a blend of spice powder is a common condiment in every South Indian Kitchen.

Usage of Spices can be the identity of every Indian regional cooking!

 I wonder how our Indian kitchen would have been smell without the flavour of spices?

No matter rural or urban, how would a Bengali kitchen function without Panch Phoron(the combination of whole five spices used in Bengali cooking) or  Sorse Bata ( mustard paste) or Jire Ada Bata ( Cumin and Ginger paste)? 

Can a north Indian kitchen smells the same way if there is no Hing, Jeera, Dried Red chilli or garlic Tadka in thToor dal

Would you like your Sambar without Mustard seeds, dry red chilli and curry leaves? How about Kanda Poha without Mustard seeds, Curry leavesTadka? 

All these are a few popular food examples of the relationship between spices and Indian food, but the list is countless.

Stock up the essential spices 

A few days back, I wrote a post about the non-perishable survival foods in Indian Kitchen and spices was one of them. Of course, there are tons of spices out there, and it’s good to know which one you absolutely need for your everyday cooking and which one is good to have. If I have to choose twelve spices for basic Bengali cooking, then my list goes like this-

  1. Cumin seed 
  2. Coriander seed
  3. Mustard seed
  4. Onion seed
  5. Fenugreek seed
  6. Fennel seed
  7. Turmeric
  8. Dried red chilli
  9. Green cardamoms
  10. Cloves
  11. Cinnamon
  12. Bay leaves
The essential Spices for everyday Indian Cooking
The essential Spices for everyday Indian Cooking

If I have all these spices in my pantry, I can put together a nourishing meal in no time. If you are someone who‘s just starting to cook and if you know you will be cooking a specific type of cuisine it’s good to buy the basic spices, and as you cook up more, you can slowly build up your spice collections.

Though the spices I mentioned above featured in tons of cuisine around the world. If you have cumin and red chilli in your stock along with Indian cuisine you can make recipes from Mexican, Greek, Middle Eastern and Portuguese these are a few names from world cuisines that you can try recipes at home.

The Spice box or Masala Dabba in Indian Cooking

Food creates memories and spices to enhance the flavour of Indian kitchens, right? And if I am not wrong, every Indian kitchen has Spice Boxes or Masala Dabbas! Masala Dabba is a quintessential part of Indian Kitchen. Though I have a spice rack, I don’t have a spice box, and I prefer to keep my spices in glass bottles. I never thought that a spice box could be the identity of someone’s kitchen! If you have read my post, Social media feed on our plate, then you will understand how great food enthusiasts influence my kitchen. Even I am not much vocal or active on social media, ( I think, I should) but I actively follow some food bloggers, food writers, food historians and love to watch their work. There are so many things one can learn about Indian cuisine and food culture from them. 

Rushina Munshaw Ghildyal is one of them, and I love her Instagram live session Spice chronicle with RMG. In this session, virtually she will take you and walk through the different state of India, and you will peek into their spice box and their kitchen. You will surprise to see that even if you don’t get a chase for eating out for another couple of months, still you can make tons of simple yet delicious dishes at home in no time! I consider her live session as a virtual food walk. I wonder when the virtual food walk is so interesting, the real cultural food walk that her sister Himanshi conduct here in Melbourne, how great it would be!

The Spice Experience Gift Box

If you are someone who recently entered the world of home cooking and wants to explore the global cuisine in your kitchen through spices, then let me introduce you with Foodie Trails’ The Spice Experience Gift Box.

Spice Box by Foodie Trails
Spice Box by Foodie Trails

Rushina and Himanshi came up with this great idea and brought an excellent spice box, a collection of fifteen spices from the world cuisines. This box is a collection of 15 spices which you can use to make recipes from different cuisines. They curated an exclusive Recipe book along with online cooking videos, which one can access along with the Spice Box. Also, it is a thoughtful gift idea under $100 for someone who loves to cook. 

Spice Box by Foodie Trails

I hope this post inspired you to build your essential spice collections to stir up fuss-free, delicious meals daily or if you already have a spice collection in your pantry, then you are going to use some spices that you haven’t use for a long time! When you do please tag us on Instagram, your meal can inspire us to make something delicious!

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