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For many people, Indian food is a gastronomic delight that's
mostly consumed at restaurants and carries an aura of mystery. In actuality,
many dishes use the same spices and aren't all that difficult to make. Just make
sure you have these ten spices on hand, and you'll be ready to impress your
friends with an exotic meal at a moment's notice.
Garlic: An herb known for it's strong
scent and flavor, in Indian food, it's widely used in curries, daals, rice, meat
dishes and even sometimes to flavor unleavened bread (naan). Bonus – garlic
also helps prevent and treat a wide range of diseases and conditions.
Ginger: A critical spice for
Indian cooking that often goes hand-in-hand with garlic (in fact, many Indian
grocery stores sell garlic/ginger already combined paste in jars). Like garlic, ginger
also has a wide range of medicinal properties and can be used in fresh or
powdered form. In addition to flavoring food, ginger is also widely used in
drinks such as masala chai.
Red Chili Powder: Make
sure you have a glass of water or two on hand if you dare to use this spice
liberally. Red chili powder can give dishes a pleasant zing – or, when used in
excess, make them completely unpalatable. Tip: start by using sparingly and add
more to taste.
color of this deep yellow spice is not only appealing to look at, it also seems
to help with anything that's ailing you. Tumeric is known to treat afflictions like arthritis, heartburn, headaches, colds, diarrhea,
and liver problems...just to name a few.
Coriander Powder: The
seed of the cilantro plant is coriander. Although cilantro and
coriander come from the same plant, their flavors are so different they can't
be substituted for each other (the powder tastes like a blend of lemon, sage,
Cumin Seeds (or Powder): Cumin
seeds have a distinctive bitter flavor and a strong, warm aroma due to their oil
content. Cumin "seeds" are actually the small dried fruit of an
annual plant in the parsley family. Don't confuse cumin seeds with the similar
looking caraway seeds!
Mustard Seeds: There
are plenty of uses for this versatile spice beyond sandwich accompaniments!
Mustard seeds are a rich source of oil and protein. In Indian cooking, they are
added to hot oil until they "pop" and emit their full flavor.
Whole Spices (Black Peppercorns, Cloves,
Bay Leaves, Cinnamon Sticks, Cardamom Pods): This
one is misleading because it's a variety of "whole" spices (whole black
peppercorns, cloves, cinnamon sticks etc.) that are often used together. Garam
masala is the blended ground version of these whole spices – see No. 10 below.
Garam Masala: A blend of the whole spices listed in
No. 9 above, that have been ground up. A typical Indian version of garam masala contains peppercorns, cloves,
cinnamon, nutmeg, mace, cardamom pods, bay leaf and caraway.