Try Eating Food ‘Haath Ke Saat’ (With Hands)

In India, scooping up rice and curry with the fingers on your right hand instead of your fork or spoon isn’t any more normal than drinking beer chilled. It is a practice ingrained in children as soon as they start learning to eat on their own (which also happens at a very young age in India). It is also a practice far less messy and a lot more hygienic than that which is perceived by our utensil-loving friends. Why? Well for instance, only the top two rungs of your fingers get food on them, leaving the skins of your palms, wrists and sometimes your knuckles relatively untouched (unless of course you are new to this whole ‘eating with your hands’ experience and make a mess equivalent of a toddler left to eat spaghetti on their own). When you eat with your hands, you pay more attention to hygiene and wash your hands thoroughly with soap. That is why when you go to any restaurant in India (and other countries where eating with hands is a common practice), you will see a small wash basin with a soap. The wash basin may vary according to how remote a location you find yourself in, and may sometimes appear as a jug filled with water. It is the principle that counts though.

Eating is an all-involving sensory experience. Before the food reaches your tongue, you have already processed it using three of your senses; Sight, Smell and Sound. During preparation, you see the food before you and are able to smell its aromas and hear the sounds of it cooking. When you are about to eat, your eyes take in the dish, your nose smells it in its finality and your ears hear the sound of the food – the crack of the papad as it breaks or the sound of the kabab sizzling hot on your plate. As you eat, you engage a new sense – Taste. Your tongue and palate work together to taste the flavours. Yet one sense remains, restless and impatient for her chance to contribute to the sensory experience that is eating – Touch. With the advent of cutlery, the role of Touch has diminished during her favourite activity of eating. She watches sadly on the sidelines as all the other senses experience the delight of good food. She grudgingly holds the cold, metal utensils, her greatest obstacle to experiencing the food as profoundly as her siblings do so. It’s a bit dramatically told, but I believe senses have personalities of their own and certainly contribute to the development of our personas!

Drama aside, eating with your hands is encouraged in Ayurveda (the Hindu system of medicine which translates to the science/knowledge of life). Traditionally, every finger on your hand (and for that matter, every toe on your foot) is symbolic of earthly elements; your thumb represents fire, your index finger is symbolic of air, your middle finger indicates the heavens, your ring finger – the earth and the little finger is water of course! When you put these five fingers together, they form mudra, a hand position central in meditation, yoga and classical Indian dance forms. The mudra is what you eat with, and therefore all five fingers play a role in purifying and energising what goes into your body. So eating with your hands and fingers is in fact, a much healthier way of eating.

In the interests of presenting a well-rounded perspective on eating with your hands, there are a couple of downsides to this practice. Sometimes, your fingernails can become stained because of the spices used in Indian cuisines. This however isn’t permanent and will wear away after some days, as does the strong smells produced by the various spices. If you have an event coming up in which the aesthetics of your fingernails play an important role, you can ditch the fingers for cutlery in the days preceding the said event. Another downside is if the food is super hot, your finger might get a bit of a burning. However burning your fingers is far less worse than burning the tastebuds on your tongue and consequently, not being able to enjoy the ensuing flavours of your meal.

Make your meals more sensory and eat with your hands! According to Ayurveda, each finger is indicative of a natural element and when put together, purifies and energises your food.
Make your meals more sensory and eat with your hands! According to Ayurveda, each finger is indicative of a natural element and when put together, purifies and energises your food.

Eating with your hands is still practiced in Western cuisine with favourites like bread, tacos, fries, pizza, chocolate and burgers, to name a few, still being enjoyed by the trusty ol’ hands. Maybe that’s why they taste so damn good! If the practice is something that makes you feel uncomfortable, start doing it with Indian food and see just how much fun you can have. Then you can slowly work your way towards eating pasta, steak, and salad with your hands too! I guarantee that your food will also taste even better than it already does.

Labour of Love

Happy Valentines Day!

Hope you get spoilt and pampered. I always feel special when someone spends some time to cook me something different and tasty. Whether it’s you or someone else who needs to feel special, I have just the idea for something you can prepare to show your love☺

I’m sure you’ve all had the pleasure of tasting Baba Ganoush as a dip at some stage. In Arabic, it literally means “pampered papa”. The more I look at recipes of the world the more I find similarities. In India we have Baingan Bharta which uses the same technique to roast the eggplant. The main difference is that we serve it as a main with rotis. You can choose to use this recipe as a dip or a sandwich spread – whichever way, it’s sure to be yummy.

Firstly, put on your favourite music as roasting this eggplant will have you standing over an open flame for 10 minutes at a minimum. If you decide to double the batch then it could be longer – I am sure you don’t mind, as this is a labour of love right? This will make 2 serves as a main or 4 if served as an accompaniment to a protein dish.

What you need:

EQUIPMENT

  1. Long skewer or a pair of tongs
  2. Gas flame
  3. Airtight container

INGREDIENTS

  1. Olive /vegetable oil
  2. 1 large aubergine (eggplant)
  3. The holy trinity of Indian cooking – 1 onion, 1 fat clove of garlic, 1 tsp grated ginger
  4. 1 green chilli if you like some zing
  5. 1 heaped teaspoon Korma spice
  6. 2 chopped tomatoes
  7. ½ lemon
  8. ½ cup green peas (optional – I use it for colour and texture)

METHOD:

  1. Skewer an aubergine or simply use a pair of tongs.
  2. Set your gas flame on medium and keep turning the aubergine so it gets roasted evenly. This should take about 10 minutes. I usually set my timer on for 12 minutes so between the bopping and roasting I don’t forget to turn off the stove. You should have a blistered aubergine like in the picture below.
  3. Now place the roasted aubergine into the airtight container and pull out the skewer. Close the container and set aside – the steam will soften the skin and make it easy to peel later.
  4. Place your pan on the stove to heat up.
  5. Chop the onion and green chilli (optional)
  6. Add a generous amount of olive/vegetable oil to the pan along with the chopped onion
  7. When the onion is translucent, add 2 chopped tomatoes, the grated garlic, ginger and a teaspoon of Korma spice, cover and simmer till the tomatoes are soft.
  8. In the meantime, open the bag and peel the charred skin off the aubergine
  9. Place in a bowl and mash with a potato masher
  10. Add the mashed aubergines to the softened tomatoes along with ½ cup green peas.
  11. Mix, cover and simmer for 5 minutes
  12. Turn off the stove, season with salt to taste – about 1 teaspoon and the juice of ½ a lemon
  13. Empty into a bowl and garnish with 2 stalks of freshly chopped coriander.
  14. Baigan ka bartha is an Indian vegetarian (and vegan) dish made from roasted aubergines (eggplant) and peas and best enjoyed with roti (flatbread).
    Baigan ka bartha is an Indian vegetarian (and vegan) dish made from roasted aubergines (eggplant) and peas and best enjoyed with roti (flatbread).
    Aubergines when roasted have a delicate smoky taste. The popular dip 'baba ganoush' is also prepared by roasting aubergines.
    Aubergines when roasted have a delicate smoky taste. The popular dip ‘baba ganoush’ is also prepared by roasting aubergines.bou

    Serve with roti or pitta bread and enjoy the love and time spent on this beautiful, smoky creation.

With our best wishes for a fun day

Claudette and The No Worries Curries Team

A Sure Way to Spice Up Your Valentines Day

A typical image that comes to my mind when I think of ‘romantic cuisine’ is that scene from the Disney classic Lady and The Tramp, where the two dogs share a plate of spaghetti bolognese and unknowingly chew on the same strand until they accidentally kiss (I secretly longed for this to happen in my previous relationships but always forgot to order spaghetti when on dates. I also find spaghetti hard to share because it is one of my favourite dishes and I tend to devour it all). Another is the classic red and white checkered blanket spread across a green lawn. The blanket contains a spread of baguette, cheese and wine. French and Italian cuisines have no doubt provided us with many-a-romantic meal to share with our better halves but what other dishes can inspire romance?

As Valentine’s day approaches, I challenge you to broaden your perception of romantic cuisine by cooking none other than Indian food for your special date/partner/friend.. Here are our top five picks (in random order) for you to try out this Valentine’s Day. These are commonly available dishes in most vegetarian restaurants.

That classic scene from Lady and The Tramp. Image Source: ohmy.disney.com
That classic scene from Lady and The Tramp.
Image Source: ohmy.disney.comy
Buttery Pav Bhaji is best enjoyed as shared dish. Image Source: food.ntv.com
Buttery Pav Bhaji is best enjoyed as shared dish.
Image Source: food.ntv.com
  1. Nothing screams romantic like ‘Pani Puri’. This popular street food provides textural sensation; the crunch of the puri shell, the spicy water that floods the mouth and the pungent flavour of the raw onions. In true couple style, you can take turns feeding each other pani puri.
  2. Why not share a South Indian Vegetarian Thali with your valentine? Thalis are great because of the variety they offer; rice and roti, sambhar/dahl (lentil curries) and rasam (a spicy, watery soup with tamarind as its base), 2-3 different spiced vegetables, papad and fresh yoghurt. This is just in one serve! Get your fingers messy as they dip, dunk and scoop out all the deliciousness on offer.
  3. Nothing spells love as much as butter does and the dish Pav Bhaji is a testament to that love. ‘Pav’ means bread and ‘bhaji’ means vegetables fried in spices. What makes this dish extra delicious is the fact that the main vegetables (potato, peas, carrots, cauliflower and french beans) are first boiled in water so that they become mushy. They are then mashed and added to a mix of onions, tomatoes, capsicum and spices all sautéed with butter forming a thick, rich gravy that is dark orange in colour. Basically, knobs of butter are added in the beginning, middle and end stages of the cooking. This is gravy is scooped up with soft, buttered (of course) bread which you and your partner can devour. Licking of fingers post eating is mandatory and your valentine will be nothing short of delighted at the time spent preparing this dish (it is time-consuming). For time is love is not?
  4. Gulab Jamun and Vanilla Ice Cream is without doubt the best Indian dessert to share with your valentine. This sweet treat is made from milk solids which are deep fried and soaked in a sugary syrup spiced with whole cardamom pods. They are usually served hot with a scoop of vanilla ice-cream. The temperature contrast of hot and cold and the textural contrast of moistness and creamy awaken the palate’s senses. Of course if you are a die-hard gulab jamun fan like I am and find the thought of sharing one bowl a little restrictive, you may always order two bowls at the outset to make it crystal clear to your valentine that this is a dessert best enjoyed individually at the same time, rather than shared.
  5. Another dessert is featured in this list because what would Valentine’s Day be without a little extra sweetness? Falooda is a colourful dessert cum beverage delight that will surely please your date. It is akin to a thick-shake but filled with vermicelli, basil seeds, chunks of jelly, milk, rose syrup and of course, ice-cream all mixed together and served in a tall glass. If this mere description itself does not fill you up, then you can imagine what the real dessert will be like. That is why Falooda is the ideal dessert to share with your loved one. Ask for an extra straw and spoon (to scoop up all that sweet, sweet goodness).

No matter whom you choose to celebrate Valentine’s Day with, we hope it will be in spicy company!

By Conchita A. de Souza

 

Indian Railway Journeys – Fast Food on Sometimes Slow Trains

Major Indian railway stations are almost akin to supermarkets. The best part is that the variety comes to you in the comfort of your seat! Image source: adventuresofagoodman.com
Major Indian railway stations are almost akin to supermarkets. The best part is that the variety comes to you in the comfort of your seat!
Image source: adventuresofagoodman.com

Even before I have had sufficient time to stow away my luggage under the seat on which I will spend the next 24 hours journeying nearly 1,200kms, I am already being semi-trampled by the first vendor to walk through my carriage selling bottled water. The next comes within two minutes carrying a large silver flask and yelling out ‘chai chai’. Being India, he is stopped on several occasions in my carriage to serve hot chai (click here for our delicious chai blend). This act requires three specific manoeuvres which he executes with finesse; (1) the paper cup is removed from the stack in his left hand and brought to the tap of the heavy flask being held by his right hand; (2) He uses his left hand to turn the tap and release the chai and close the tap again; and (3) He serves the chai with his left hand and collects the money with the same and proceeds to repeat this process until his chai flask is empty. During the course of my journey, there must have passed at least 30 chai-wallahs (tea-boys). I honestly lost count by the 18th hour.

If you were impressed by the above-mentioned chai-pouring process, I am yet to describe how vendors prepare bhel puri (a sweet and spicy snack involving fresh tomatoes and onions mixed with spices, tamarind chutney and puffed rice) or peanut masala (roasted peanuts served with onions, tomatoes, masala and drizzled with lemon – you can use our chaat masala to recreate this sensation). You are left admiring how these vendors manage to jump onto moving trains, hands laden with heavy, hot foods, navigate through the mass of bodies and luggage and come out relatively unscathed, with empty boxes and pockets full of small notes.

During the course of my journey, I counted how many hot items (food and beverages) passed through my carriage and have listed them below. It should be noted that I spent 14-15 hours of my journey asleep and as a result there is a 59% chance that I missed counting some snacks during that period. I deliberately chose to omit the ‘meal options’ as a passenger must place an order to receive them (I enjoyed vegetable biryani for dinner). I also did not include the numerous packaged snacks that passed through the carriages (biscuits, juices, milk, chips, lollies etc.). Below is a list of just hot snacks and beverages.

  • Samosa – Spiced potato and peas encased in deep-fried pastry shaped like a triangle (link to the spice blend here);
  • Vada Pav – Spiced potato deep fried in chickpea flour and served with buttered bread rolls;
  • Pav Bhaji – A thick gravy made from potato, capsicum, cauliflower and spices all mashed up and served with toasted, buttered bread rolls;
  • Bhel puri – See paragraph 2 for a detailed description;
  • Idly Chutney – Steamed rice cakes served with coriander, mint and coconut chutney; and
  • Cutlet Pav – A spiced veggie patty served with sliced bread.

The variety is phenomenal. The snacks vary according to which part of India you are travelling from/to. Variety is also affected by the class you are travelling in. Lower classes like general and sleeper classes are exposed to more variety because such sections are more open and accessible to vendors (hygiene is questionable but I find closing your eyes during preparation and serving of food quite useful).

It should also be noted that train stations are excellent hubs for delicious snacks and meals at very reasonable prices. Individual platforms are usually filled with hawkers selling everything from fruit salad, to bread pakora (deep-fried slice bread stuffed with spiced potatoes) to cucumber slices sprinkled with chaat masala.

So for those of you who are fortunate enough to travel to India and especially to travel on Indian trains, do release the foodie within and try the amazing variety offered. If you happen to have more than one train journey, then you are exceptionally fortunate and can perhaps spread out what you try (warning: too much deep fried bread and potato may not go down too well with your travelling tummy).

If there is one thing you can be sure of, it is the fact that you can never starve whilst journeying with Indian Railways. I highly recommend that you begin your journey empty handed. I assure you that you will arrive at your destination with a full belly and taste buds that have experienced utmost contentment.

By Conchita A. de Souza

An Indian Banquet for Your Christmas Celebrations

An Indian Banquet for your Christmas this year.
An Indian Banquet for your Christmas this year.
Image Source: dealsextra.com.au

This Christmas why not change your traditional menu for something a little more, let’s say, Indian? The richness of certain Indian dishes perfectly encapsulate that Christmas Day feeling of a belly full of food cooked with love.

If going all-out Indian this Christmas is a bit overwhelming, you can always choose to replace your traditional Christmas menu with one or two dishes that are Indian. You are the chef, so you decide!

Entree

Samosas – These are palm-sized cases of either spiced mince or vegetables (usually potato) encased in triangular prism-ed pastry and deep fried. If you or your guests are a little health-conscious and prefer not to ‘let loose’ during feasting festive seasons, you can always pop the samosas in the oven for a healthier alternative. Click here for a link to our samosa spice blend.

Mains

Chicken Biryani – A dish fit for royalty (see our post on why Biryani is the ‘King of Festivities here), Biryani is the perfect main dish for your Christmas banquet and is equivalent to the stuffed roast turkey or grilled lamb chops. Layers of fragrant saffron rice and thick chicken gravy are heaped on and topped with onions and sultanas caramelised in ghee (click here to make your own home-made ghee). We have taken the guesswork out of making this chicken biryani with an easy spice-blend and recipe on the back. Vegetarians and vegans don’t have to miss out, you can use some of the spice to flavour your choice of vegetables and make a separate and equally mighty vegetarian biryani on the side!

Pineapple and Cucumber Salad – This recipe is so simple to make and refreshing to eat whilst also being decorative and festive as well. With cucumbers and pineapples being very much in season, you can make a few pineapple bowls to spread along the Christmas table to ensure that no one misses out. Click here for the recipe to our Pineapple and Cucumber Salad.

Beetroot Raita – Raita is a traditional accompaniment to biryani and is said to set off its hot and pungent flavours with sweeter and cooling ones. Our Beetroot Raita recipe can be made using tinned beetroot to save time and will go great with that Chicken Biryani you just served!

Dessert

Pistachio Kulfi – Christmas down under is always warm and nothing beats ice cream as the perfect cool ending to all that degustation. Except of course for Indian ice cream, better known as kulfi. If mention of that name does not make you tingle (the good, romantic kind of tingling as opposed to the kind induced by fear or violent fevers) then perhaps you haven’t tasted kulfi as yet? It is creamy and nutty – the perfect combination that will leave you entirely satiated and ready to enter the ‘induced food coma’ – an all too common predicament for many a guest. Our Pistachio Kulfi is so easy to make that you can grab the ingredients from your local grocery store.

Tea

In case your guests linger on till tea time have this Goan Christmas Cake prepared beforehand to enjoy with some home-brewed chai. Baath is made from coconut and semolina and is slightly crispy on the outside and soft on the inside.

You are guaranteed to have your guests pleasantly surprised with this Indian twist on a traditional Christmas banquet. So go on, have yourself a curry little christmas now!

By Conchita A. de Souza

Indian Breads

Next time you go to an Indian restaurant, pay heed to the bread section of the menu which probably consists of the classic naan or staple roti (generic term for Indian bread). However, limiting the plethora of Indian breads to merely ‘naan’ or ‘roti’ is akin to limiting cheese to just cheddar or gouda – there is just so much more where all that came from!

We explore here, in detail, a selection of breads, categorised according to how they are cooked:

(1) made on the tava, which is a griddle made from cast iron, steel or aluminium,

(2) made in the tandoor (an Indian oven),

(3) deep-fried and

(4) south Indian style, because these breads are made with a combination of methods 1, 2 and 3, and often consist of ground lentils that make up part of the dough. The list of breads below is certainly not exhaustive – a testament to the impressive variety India boasts in the form of bread!

Breads made on a tava

  1. Chapatti – The most basic of breads and a staple in the north of India. Chappati is made from 2 ingredients; atta (whole wheat flour) and water. It is then knead to form dough, which is flattened with a rolling pin and rolled out into a perfect circle about 1cm in thickness. The roti is then cooked on a tava on both sides, before it is cooked on the naked flame in order for it to puff and become soft like cotton.

    Roti has many avatars and includes the famous Rumali Roti (made from white flour and folded up like a handkerchief, rumal actually means handkerchief); Makki di Roti which is made from cornflour and as a result, bright yellow in colour; and Ragi Roti made from the course finger millet flour and often containing onions and coriander. Here is a simple roti recipe.

  2. Paratah – A fried flatbread that is heavier than roti due to the presence of ghee (unclarified butter) or oil. The process for making paratah is the same as that of making roti up until it has been rolled out into a flat circle. Then the back of a spoon is usually dipped in ghee/oil and spread onto the circle, which is neatly folded into a square or triangle and then rolled out again. Whilst cooking the paratah on the tava, ghee/oil is added on both sides to give it a golden finish.

    Paratahs can be stuffed with almost anything – potato, paneer, onions, radish and fresh fenugreek are some of the popular fillings that are either mixed in with the dough or stuffed into it for a delicious and satisfying meal. Here is our stuffed paratah recipe.

Breads made in the tandoor

  1. Naan – This leavened bread is surprisingly not consumed as much in the home as it is in restaurants. Naan is said to have originated in Persia where the word ‘nan’ means ‘bread’. It can be prepared with milk or yoghurt which alters the taste of the naan and contributes towards it being softer in texture. It is usually prepared in a tandoor, a cylindrical oven made of clay or metal and powered by good ol’ fire. Sometimes stuffed with cheese or potato (or heck, why not a bit of both!), naan can be eaten on its own but usually serves to soak up thicker and richer curries. Here is a recipe that you can make in a normal oven, we highly recommend a pizza stone.
  2. Kulcha – This bread is similar to naan in appearance and texture and hails from the north Indian state of Punjab. It can be stuffed with minced mutton or used to mop up a spicy chickpea curry (‘chole’).

Breads deep-fried

Did y’all just read ‘breads deep-fried’? Bread on its own is a treat but now y’all talking about deep-frying it? Yes. And we are pretty darn serious about that too.

  1. Puri – These little pockets of joy can be made from whole wheat flour (atta), refined wheat flour (maida) or coarse wheat flour (sooji). The dough is made with the same recipe as we use in chappatis. It is rolled out in a large thin sheet and then circles are cut (with any handy metal bowl turned over). These are then fried in oil or ghee. Puris are popular as breakfast or as a snack. During festivals and special occasions, puris are brought out for offering as well as for serving because they can be cooked fast and in bulk! Sometimes, a pinch of cumin seeds is added to the dough which gives the puris an extra crunch and slight charred taste. (Can’t think of a better way to describe this). Puris are served with a vegetable on the side (‘bhaji’) and go magnificently well with chickpeas (‘channa’), potato-based curries and even sweet dishes like halwa.
  2. Bathura – Larger cousin to the puri as it is 3 times its size. This bread is made from white flour that becomes crispy and flaky at the same time once fried. This bread has always reminded me of a puffer fish because when fried it puffs to the size of a puffer fish until one uses their index finger to poke and deflate it. Trick is to not burn your finger because the bread is darn hot! Bathura cannot be consumed without its counterpart Cholé (chickpeas), which is made into a spicy and tantalising gravy.
  3. Kachori – This bread is cooked in a very similar way to puri, with the added glory of it being stuffed with a spicy, crumbly and flavoursome lentil filling. Kachori is a very popular street food and served with a spicy green coriander chutney or a sweet and sour tamarind chutney.

South Indian breads

Think healthy, filling, flat breads made from the superfood – lentils! That’s right, we are such a lentil-loving nation that we make our breads with lentils too! Below are some of the more popular South Indian breads.

  1. Idli – With its resemblance to a steamed rice cake, Idlis are a staple in most south Indian homes. They are made from a batter of ground rice and fermented black lentils which are then steamed in a set of 3-4 circular muffin-like trays enclosed in a steel/aluminium case. Idli goes well with the famous sambar – a vegetable stew which gets its unique flavour from drumsticks. In restaurants and homes it is always accompanied by two chutneys; a coriander and coconut chutney and a chilli and coconut chutney.

    Those hailing from the western state of Goa have their own version of Idli which they call Sanaa. These rice cakes are heavier than Idlis because of the presence of coconut in them and are thoroughly enjoyed with sorpotel – a spicy, vinegary pork curry.

  2. Dosa – Dosas are to south Indians what Roti is to north Indians – a staple in the home. Dosa is similar to a crepe, only crispier and made from a batter of rice and black lentils. Dosa, like Idli is also accompanied with sambar and chutneys. There are different varieties of dosas to suit your personality and taste; masala dosa is dosa stuffed with a spicy mix of potato and onions, rava (semolina) dosa is even crispier with the batter containing onions and cumin seeds and neer dosa is made from rice that has been soaked in and ground with water.  Here’s a quick recipe for Dosa that uses semolina instead of rice.
  3. Appam – This bread resembles a pancake with the centre rising ever so elegantly to form a soft dome that has a sponge-like consistency. Like its south Indian counterparts, Appam is made from fermented rice batter and the ever-so-vital liquid that runs through the veins of South Indians – coconut milk.
  1. Bakri – Like all south Indian breads, this one uses rice (soaked overnight) then ground to a paste with very little water. Some fresh coconut is added along with a little salt and kneaded into dough.       The dough is divided into even sized balls, pressed by hand into small rounds ¼ inch think. These are then placed in between two banana leaves and roasted on a tava.   They are very similar to a Sri Lankan rice bread.
  1. Dibba Roti – this is an Andhra speciality made with rice and Urid Dhal and you can watch how to make this simpe but tasty bread here on YouTube

Have we forgotten to mention any of your favourite Indian breads? Comment below and let us know!

To your health.

Conchita da Souza

PS – I would love to meet you on Twitter.  If you enjoyed this post, please consider sharing it with your friends on Facebook.

Fenugreek, Green Cardamom & Cinnamon

The Spice Series: The Uses and Benefits of Different Spices in Indian Cuisine – Fenugreek, Green Cardamom & Cinnamon (Part III of III)

In the last part of our Spice Series, we introduce you to Fenugreek Seeds/Dried Fenugreek leaves as well as Green Cardamom and the classic Cinnamon – All three spices are commonly used in Indian cooking. Cardamom, Cinnamon and Nutmeg are the three musketeers of sweet dishes – add them to your baking for a beautiful spiced aroma.

  1. FENUGREEK SEED and DRIED FENUGREEK LEAVES – These are rhombic, amber coloured seeds that are bitter.

    Cooking – In India, they are used primarily in the preparation of pickles, curry powders and pastes.  Fenugreek is used in Eritrean, Turkish, Egyptian and Yemeni cuisines.

    Other uses – Fenugreek seeds are mixed with yoghurt and used as a conditioner for hair in India.  In Egypt a popular drink served in coffee shops is fenugreek tea. The seeds are boiled then the brew sweetened. Fenugreek seeds have amazing healing properties. They are known to relieve menstrual cramps (soak them overnight in water and consume a week before periods are due), pre-pone menstruation and also relieve constipation.

    Our curries that contain Fenugreek seeds and dried leaves: Biryani, Butter Chicken, Bengali Green, Creamy Kofta, Fenugreek Chicken, Lentil & Sweet Potato, Palak Paneer, Parsi Curry, Sri Lankan and Tandoori.

  2. GREEN CARDAMOM – India is the large producer of this fragrant spice.  However, not a lot is exported due to domestic demand.  The largest exporter of cardamom is Guatemala. Cardamom is the second most expensive spice in the world.

    Cooking – Cardamom has a sweet, beautiful aromatic perfume and is used in India to flavour both sweet and savoury dishes.  It is used by the Finns in a bread called pulla.   In the Middle Est it used to flavour sweet dishes, tea and coffee. 10 pods are equivalent to 1 ½ teaspoons of ground cardamom.

    Other uses – Green cardamom, in South East Asia is used to treat infections in teeth and gums.  It is also used to break up kidney and gall stones.  It is heavily relied upon by traditional medicines such as Ayurveda and Chinese.

    Our curries that contain green cardamom: 9 Jewel Korma, Butter Chicken, Bengali Green, Biryani, Buttery Dhal,  Chai, Chickpea Curry, Creamy Kofta, Goan Beef, Goan Chicken, Goan Veggie Curry, Hurry Curry, Jhalfrezi, Kerala Chicken, Korma, Lentil & Sweet Potato, Madras, Malaysian, Malwani, Palak Paneer, Parsi Curry, Punjabi Lamb, Rogan Josh, Sri Lankan, Tandoori, Thai Mussaman, Tikka Masala, Vindaloo.

    Cinnamon, Cardamom and Fenugreek Seeds
    Cinnamon, Cardamom and Fenugreek Seeds
  3. CINNAMON – This aromatic and sweet bark comes from the Cassia tree which grows 10 – 15 metres tall.  It is sometimes referred to as Chinese Cinnamon. This is one of the oldest known spices, with references to it in being sourced in the bible and in books on Chinese Botanical medicine. In Ancient Egypt, cinnamon was an important embalming agent. Cinnamon belongs to the same family of plants that produced avocado and bay leaves.

    Cooking – Cassia is used to flavour, baked goods, candies and meat.  In India it is used in many curry recipes and is also used in Pilafs and Biryanis.

    Other Uses – In ancient times, cinnamon was believed by doctors to cure snakebites, freckles, the common cold, and kidney troubles, among other ailments! It is still used in modern and Chinese medicine where it is considered one of the 50 essential herbs. Studies have shown that the mere act of smelling cinnamon

    Our curries that contain Cinnamon: 9 Jewel Korma, Butter Chicken, Bengali Green, Biryani, Buttery Dhal,  Chai, Chickpea Curry, Creamy Kofta, Goan Beef, Goan Chicken, Goan Veggie Curry, Hurry Curry, Jhalfrezi, Kerala Chicken,  Korma, Lentil & Sweet Potato, Madras, Malaysian, Malwani, Mangalorean Beef, Palak Paneer, Parsi Curry, Punjabi Lamb, Rogan Josh, Sri Lankan, Tandoori, Thai Mussaman, Tikka Masala, Veggie Stir Fry, Vindaloo

As you have read, spices contain properties essential to life itself, so try including them into your daily life. Your body will thank you for it! We hope that you have enjoyed this spice journey and do comment below if you have anything to say!

Nutmeg, Mustard Seeds & Bay Leaves

Spice Life featuring Mustard Seeds, Bay Leaf and Nutmeg ! Image Source - C.A. de Souza
Spice Life featuring Mustard Seeds, Bay Leaf and Nutmeg !
Image Source – C.A. de Souza

The Spice Series: The Uses and Benefits of Different Spices in Indian Cuisine – Nutmeg, Mustard Seeds & Bay Leaves (Part II of III)

So our journey into the world of spice continues with the exploration of Nutmeg, Mustard Seeds and Bay Leaves. We hope that our writing will strengthen your bond with spices or ignite a fiery relationship with these small, aromatic and therapeutic properties.

  1. NUTMEG – Nutmeg is not a nut, but the kernel of an apricot-like fruit.The Common or Fragrant Nutmeg, Myristica fragrans, native to the Banda Islands of Indonesia, is also grown in Penang Island in Malaysia and the Caribbean, especially in Grenada. It also grows in Kerala, a state in the south part of India. Other species of nutmeg include Papuan Nutmeg from New Guinea, and Bombay Nutmeg from India, called Jaiphal in Hindi. 

    Cooking – Nutmeg is a tasty addition to cheese sauces and is best grated fresh (see nutmeg grater). Nutmeg is a traditional ingredient in mulled cider, mulled wine, and eggnog.Other Uses  – There is some evidence to suggest that Roman priests may have burned nutmeg as a form of incense, although this is disputed. It is known to have been used as a prized and costly spice in medieval cuisine, used as flavourings, medicines, preserving agents, that were at the time highly valued in European markets.
    Our curries that contain Nutmeg: 
    Butter Chicken, Bengali Green, Biryani, Buttery Dhal,  Chai, Chickpea Curry, Creamy Kofta, Goan Chicken, Hurry Curry, Jhalfrezi, Korma, Lentil & Sweet Potato, Madras,  Malwani, Palak Paneer, Tandoori, Thai Mussaman, Tikka Masala

  2. MUSTARD SEEDS – Mustard seeds are a versatile spice that should be part of any cooking enthusiast spice rack. Mustard seeds have a spice and flavour that make them ideal for use in rubs, seasoning and pickling. You can even lightly toast them as a garnish. These will keep for a year if stored correctly in a cool, dark area.
    Cooking – The seeds are used widely in Indian, Chinese and French cooking. The black seeds give off a very pungent flavour but once fried, are more nutty in taste. The white mustard seeds (which are yellow in colour) are milder and are used to make American mustard. The brown mustard seeds (dark yellow in colour) and is used to make Dijon mustard, giving it the pungent taste we so love. When cooking mustard seeds, make sure the oil is hot so that the mustard seeds pop to release their full potential.Other Uses – Mustard seeds are as ancient as human civilisation and have been mentioned in Sanskrit texts dating back to 5,000 years ago as well as more recently, in the New Testament. The ancient Romans were said to be the first to use mustard seeds in paste form. Mustard seeds contain selenium and magnesium, nutrients known to reduce the severity of asthma and rheumatoid arthritis and help to prevent cancer.
    Our curries that contain Mustard: Baked Samosas,  Sri Lankan, Tomato Kasaundi
  3. BAY LEAF – The laurel tree that the bay leaf comes from was very important both symbolically and literally in both Greece and Rome. The laurel can be found as a central component found in many ancient mythologies that glorify the tree as a symbol of honour.
    Cooking – Use to flavor soups, stews, braises and pâtés in Mediterranean cuisine. The leaves also flavor classic French dishes such as bouillabaisse and bouillon. In India it is used in Biryani.Other Uses – Scatter in pantries to repel meal months and cockroaches.
    Our curries that contain Bay Leaf:  9 Jewel Korma, Butter Chicken, Bengali Green, Biryani, Buttery Dhal,  Korma,  Palak Paneer

Cumin, Star Anise & Clove

From the aromatic to the Ayurvedic, clove, star anise and cumin have you covered. Image Source - C.A. de Souza
From the aromatic to the Ayurvedic; clove, star anise and cumin have you covered.
Image Source – C.A. de Souza

The Spice Series: The Uses and Benefits of Different Spices in Indian Cuisine – Cumin, Star Anise & Clove (Part I of III)

Let’s talk about spice baby, and why you should be getting as much of it as you can. We have developed this three-part series firstly to educate you about the different spices out there and how they are traditionally used in Indian cuisine. Secondly, to enlighten you about how spices serve not merely as a flavour additive, but also as a positive element to improving your health and wellbeing in a myriad of ways. And lastly, if you are interested in the dishes that contain this specific spice and making it yourself, we have provided you with a list of our spice blends in which you will find the said spice!

  1. CUMIN – Cumin is the second most popular spice in the world after black pepper. It is a member of the parsley family and  resembles caraway in appearance but not in taste.
    Cooking – It is commonly used in Brazilian, Cuban, Indian, North African, Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, Mexican Pakistani, Sri Lankan, and Western Chinese cuisines.  It is also used in Dutch cheeses and in some traditional French bread.  It was heavily used in ancient Roman cuisine.Other Uses – Cumin is said to help in the treatment of the common cold when added to hot milk and consumed.  In Sri Lanka the seeds are toasted then boiled.  The resultant tea is used to soothe stomach problems.
    Our spice blends that contain cumin: 9 Jewel Korma, Baked Samosas, Butter Chicken, Bengali Green, Biryani, Buttery Dhal,  Chai, Chickpea Curry, Creamy Kofta, Goan Beef, Goan Chicken, Goan Veggie Curry, Hurry Curry, Jhalfrezi, Kerala Chicken, Kerala Fish,  Korma, Lentil & Sweet Potato, Madras, Malaysian, Malwani, Mangalorean Beef, Palak Paneer, Parsi Curry, Punjabi Lamb, Rogan Josh, Sri Lankan, Tandoori, Thai Mussaman, Tikka Masala, Veggie Stir Fry, Vindaloo
  2. STAR ANISE – Star anise, is a spice that closely resembles anise in flavour.  It is obtained from a small native evergreen tree of southwest China. The star shaped fruits are harvested just before ripening. It is widely grown for commercial use in China, India, and most other countries in Asia. Cooking – It is widely used in Chinese cuisine, in Indian cuisine where it is a major component of Garam Masala and in Malay and Indonesia cuisine.
    Other Uses – Star anise has been used in a tea as a remedy for rheumatism and the seeds are sometimes chewed after meals to aid digestion. As a warm and moving herb, star anise is used to assist in relieving cold-stagnation in Chinese traditional medicine.
    Our spice blends that contain Star Anise: Lentil & Sweet Potato, Malaysian
  3. CLOVE – Cloves are the dried buds of a tree which is native to Indonesia and India.  They are also grown in India, Madagascar, Zanzibar, Pakistan and Sri Lanka. 

    Cooking – Cloves have an extremely strong aroma and hence are used sparingly in Biryani and meat dishes in India.  They are also used in biscuits, Dutch speculas and in cheeses.Other Uses – The essential oil in cloves is used in Ayurveda and Chinese medicines.  In Chinese medicine it is said to fortify the yang. In Africa the Yorubas use cloves infused in water as a treatment for stomach upsets, vomiting and diarrhoea. It is also used in mosquito repellents.
    Our spice blends that contain Clove: 9 Jewel Korma, Baked Samosas, Butter Chicken, Bengali Green, Biryani, Buttery Dhal,  Chai, Chickpea Curry, Creamy Kofta, Goan Beef, Goan Chicken, Goan Veggie Curry, Hurry Curry, Jhalfrezi, Kerala Chicken, Kerala Fish,  Korma, Lentil & Sweet Potato, Madras, Malaysian, Malwani, Mangalorean Beef, Palak Paneer

Biryani

Biryani garnished with onions, cashews and raisins cooked in ghee.
Biryani garnished with onions, cashews and raisins cooked in ghee.
Biryani is known as the King of Festivities in Indian cuisine because of the rich ingredients and the layers of love involved in its preparation.
Biryani is known as the King of Festivities in Indian cuisine because of the rich ingredients and the layers of love involved in its preparation.

The Signs of Festivities

As a child growing up, you would be familiar with the sights, sounds, tastes and smells that certain festivals bring. Whether it be sound of popping champagne on New Years Eve or the smell of turkey roasting in the oven on Christmas Day – each celebration was a feast for our sensory organs. Heck, even the smell of grandma’s gloriously decadent butter cake baking in the oven prompted aggressive rumbles from the awakened beast that our stomachs can be. For a child growing up in an Indian household, the smell of Biryani wafting through the house was enough to get my nose on a high! I suddenly resembled my dog, sniffing the air in a most thorough manner so as to consume the delightful aromas passing by. My father prepared biryani only for special occasions like birthdays or anniversaries – partly because it can be quite time-consuming if made the traditional way, but also because he wanted to honour the dish’s celebratory purpose.

History

When examining the historical accounts pertaining to this delightful dish, one realises that it cannot be accurately traced back to a single point of origin. The Persian word ‘birian’ means ‘fried before cooking’, and hence ‘biriyani’ is said to have originated as a Persian dish. The Mughal invaders originating from Turkey, Persia and Arabia were said to have brought the ‘feast-like’ culture to India, including the acclaimed variations of biryani. Another tale tells of Mumtaz Mahal, the queen of Shah Jahan and the reason for the majestic Taj Mahal’s existence, who upon visiting the army barracks, noticed that the Mughal soldiers appeared weak and under-nourished. She advised the chef to prepare something more filling, that would meet the nutrition requirements of their protectors – and so he made biryani. With such varied accounts, it is hard to pinpoint when, where and how this celebrated dish originated. Needless to say, I certainly appreciate the respected chefs of our ancestors for coming up with this culinary creation. Mine and your tastebuds are blessed to have savoured the deliciousness that is biryani.

Layers of Joy

For those of you who may not be entirely familiar with the contents of a biryani, rest assured, I have you covered in this section. There is no one such recipe for biryani; it can be made with a variety of spices, proteins and even vegetables. One essential ingredient is rice – which forms the base of the dish. Spices are then combined with specific proteins such as seafood, chicken and mutton or with vegetables to create a flavoursome mix to add to the rice. If you want to know more about the variations and styles of biryani, and get more of a historical perspective, have a read of this article from The Better India.

My dad prepares biryani as an act of laborious love. He starts by marinating the meat with spices and yoghurt overnight. The next day he makes the plain rice, often cooked with spices like cardamon and clove to give it a most beautiful fragrance.  (Use the No Worries Curies Pilaf recipe to create a fail proof rice).  As a garnish, he fries in ghee (clarified butter, or better put, liquified and tasty gold) raisins and then onions. Then he slow-cooks the meat with more onions and spices until a thick gravy is formed. It then becomes a matter of assembling; he will line the base with rice, then meat, then rice and then meat and repeat this process until the pot is filled. Lastly, he adds the garnish of raisins and onion and ends up with a finished product like you see in the image below. Biryani is often accompanied with raita – a fresh yoghurt dish that has some subtle spices and raw tomatoes, onions and cucumber finely chopped and added to it. All in all, it may have taken my dad two days to prepare this dish, but I devoured my plate in under five minutes. Fortunately, biryani is made in large quantities, and so you can have left-overs for dinner the next night, or for lunch, hey, maybe even breakfast (no shame folks, no shame).

Call to Action

I do not apologise if this post has prompted ceaseless salivating. Indeed it has had this effect on the writer, who is now wiping the corners of her mouth before anyone passes by and wonders exactly what on earth she is doing salivating with no food in sight. However, I may have an appropriate panacea to your craving. I exhort you to either:

  1. Jump on the next immediate plane to the Indian subcontinent and go on a biryani crawl in order to experience the variations of this dish. That would mean Kashmiri biryani from the north right down to Kerala-style biryani in the south. You may want to consider taking three to four months of leave before you do this.
  2. If No. 1 isn’t feasible, then head to your nearest Indian restaurant to order biryani.
  3. If you’re feeling a little more creative than what No.2 requires you to do, or have family members and/or friends with food intolerances, why not make this magical dish yourself? No Worries Curries can help you out with their mix of naturally blended spices to make a mean Chicken Biryani (or an equally mean vegetarian variation) that will have your family, friends, guests or neighbours begging for more.

Now what was I doing before writing this? Ah, yes. Eating biryani.

Conchita de Souza