Indian spices are the keystone of most Indian recipes. Used reasonably in the right balance, spices can turn an ordinary meal into a delicious one and add variety of flavors on your taste.
Most Indian spices are not spicy. An over spiced or bitter outcome to a recipe using spices shows one of 2 things: that there is an unbalanced spice mix or too much red chili (which is actually spicy in taste) in the dish.
The three types of spices are. Fresh spices (think ginger, garlic, green chili, bay leaf, curry leaves), whole dried spices (cumin seeds, coriander seeds, mustard seeds, red chili, nutmeg, cardamom) and of course, the most popular form is the roasted and ground version (chili powder, cumin powder, turmeric, fenugreek powder.)
The most commonly used ground Indian spices are. Cumin powder, chili powder, turmeric, coriander powder and garam masala. If you keep just these five spices in your pantry, you will be ready for any Indian food cravings that strike. The bulk section of grocery stores is a good place to try out a new spice for the first time.
Maintain a Informal mathematical ratio for blending Indian spices. An example of ratio looks like this- 1:2:1:1:1/2 of red chili powder: cumin powder: turmeric: coriander powder: garam masala. Most Indian food cooks have created their own ratio for each dish over the years knowing that some dishes demand more of one spice over the other.
Always cook spices and let them blend in together first before you add the acid element (tomatoes, vinegar, lemon, curd) of the dish. Acid slows the cooking of the spices and you could land up with a raw spice flavor in your meal.
Glass bottles, please. Exposure to moisture, air and heat reduces the shelf life of ground spices. Once opened, they are best stored in glass bottles in the pantry. Plastic gets discolored by absorbing the spice’s color and flavor.
Let your nose guide you. Ground spices can technically be kept for 1-3 years and whole ones last even longer. It all depends on how well you store them and how many times they have been exposed. If you can smell the spice while roasting in the pan, it works. Spice blends like Garam Masala have a shorter lifespan.
The Spice Box or ‘Masala Dabba’
A Indian Kitchen is incomplete without a typical ‘Masala Dabba’. Generally a circular stainless steel box with six to eight small bowl inserts, it is filled with small quantities of the most commonly used spices in Indian homes (the five listed above plus a few whole spices like cumin seeds etc.)
I have seen my grand mother and mother to hold the ‘Masala Dabba’ in her hands like an artist’s palette, filled with amazing colors. They put a little bit of this spice or that till the perfect blend of aromas was acquired. And the final experiment was always admirable.