Herbs and Spices Make Beautiful Music in Indian Cuisine

September 25, 2014 - 8:10am

Carrying on where I left out on my earlier musing, I will try to further demystify East Indian Cuisine by explaining the essence of the use of herbs & spices in the cuisine.

I am kind of hoping you would have come across a common phrase at some point in your lives, “We are what we eat.“This, we can very simply say, is the philosophy behind East Indian Cuisine.

I am also hoping you would have heard the Ancient East Indian term – Ayurveda- but, no issues!! Just in case, even if you have no idea about what I am talking about, it is the ancient Indian science of medicine which basically used and still uses various natural ingredients as cures to what are considered bodily imbalances (plainly speaking the lack or excess of certain essentials in the human body) which are the root cause of any illness, thus by consuming what would correct the anomaly we would cure that particular illness.

Therefore if our food includes various herbs, spices, vegetables, in their correct proportions the medicinal effect of all of these consumed collectively, would very simply promote good health.

One can trace the recorded history- of spices to some 7,000 years back. It is a checkered history of lands discovered or destroyed, kingdoms built or brought down, wars won or lost, treaties signed or flouted, favors sought or offered, all for the lust for the magic of spices.
Even now these herbs & spices hold us under the same spell. Spices could be either bark, buds, flowers, fruits, leaves, rhizomes, roots, seeds, stigmas, styles or even the entire plant itself. East Indian Cuisine incorporates the use of various blends of spices for reasons ranging from taste, texture, aroma, color and for their medicinal and digestive properties.

So!! There you go!!! I am sure I have all of you quiet spiced up and a raring to go!!! So it’s about time we got to know our herbs & spices, and the right place to start would be to know the difference between the two.

The word “Herb” refers to a wide range of plants, perennials, vines, trees & shrubs that have some sort distinctive flavor, fragrance, color and or medicinal properties.

Speaking in culinary parlance “herb” refers to aromatic leafy part of a plant and the word “spice” refers to pungent non-leafy parts, like the flowers, seeds, roots, bark or the rhizome.

I just realized that I have been going on and on about the use of herbs and spices and how indispensable these are to the East Indian Cuisine, you must feel quiet overwhelmed because, 1. you know little about them and 2. you would assume they are hard to find or buy.
So before we go any further I will try and introduce you to some very basic spices that can be considered as essentials to create any dish and then later on get into the intricacies where the subtle use of spices lends character to the recipe of a particular dish or an entire cooking style.

I would like you to for a moment assume that you were a chemist and the simple knowledge of how the various ingredients react when they are combined together because of their individual characteristics, or just minute!!! Why in the name of heavens should we relate our cuisine to something as dry and unimaginative as chemistry?

Let us romanticize it and imagine these herbs and spices to be musical notes that are used to create our culinary melodies! That is how our creations will sing out with flavors.

To make things easier I will classify these spices under three broad categories.
1. The Basics or the Workhorses
2. The Aromatics or the Enhancers
3. The Exotics or the Specialists

1. The Basics
• Cardamom
• Cinnamon
• Coriander
• Cumin
• Dried Red Chilies
• Mustard Seeds
• Salt
• Turmeric

2. The Enhancers
• Asafetida
• Bay Leaves
• Black Pepper
• Cloves
• Fenugreek
• Fennel
• Tamarind

3. The Exotics
• Carom Seeds / Bishop’s Weed
• Dried raw pomegranate seeds
• Mace
• Nutmeg
• Saffron

As we get along I will write about each one of these individually and explain their characteristics, origins and how to use them. What might come as a surprise to you will be that each one of these are available right here in Prince Albert.
If anyone of you have any individual queries / suggestions please feel free to contact me through my email: [email protected]

Till next time………


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