If you are not used to cooking Indian food or cooking with spices, it can be overwhelming experience. Lot of my friends have told me that they would like to cook Indian food but are not sure of how to cook with the various spices. So I thought it might be a good idea to have a article on basics of cooking with spices. Once you get used to cooking with these basic spices, you can move on to lots of other spices that Indian food has.
When I first started cooking with spices, I had no idea how to cook with them. The spices would either get burnt or remain undercooked thus affecting the taste of the dish. What I want to do in this section is try to simplify the process of cooking with the various spices and hopefully make it less intimidating.
Usually, every Indian kitchen has a masala dabba (spice container) that makes it very handy to have. I encourage you to buy one. You can find it in any Indian grocery store or you can get one from Amazon – Stainless Steel Masala Dabba Regular (Traditional Indian Spice Box). You can add the basic spices listed below to the individual containers.
Also, there are lots of places where you can buy spices from – either online or from Indian grocery stores. I used to buy spices from Indian grocery stores but I am finding that they do not have the aroma that I would like in them because either they are not stored properly or are old. Also, I was looking for organically grown spices. I finally found a company online that sells organic spices and works with organic farmers from different countries. The company is called Frontier Natural Products Co-op. I have started buying my spices from them. You can also buy their spices either from the Amazon store or from any organic food grocer like Whole Foods. Coriander powder is the only spice I recommend you either get from an Indian store or by following the link. The reason is the coriander powder that is used in Indian cooking is different from the ones sold by non-Indian store. Or at least that has been my experience. The food came out tasting completely different when I used a non-Indian coriander powder.
Anyway, here are the most basic spices that you will need to cook Indian food. You can make a lot of Indian recipes with these basic spices.
Set of Basic Spices
A lot of Indian dishes can be made with 5-6 basic spices listed below. Each of the spices cook differently and need varying amount of heat. I have tried to explain below how to cook them. Once you cook a few recipes using the following spices, you will get the hang of it. Not every recipe requires all the spices. They can be used on their own or a combination of a few. I have divided the spices into different sections to help you out. I will start off with the basic spices you will need to have to have in your pantry.
- Brown Mustard Seeds
- Cumin Seeds
- Coriander Powder
- Red Chili Powder
- Turmeric Powder
Brown Mustard Seeds
If using brown Mustard seeds, make sure to cook it first before using other spices. Heat the oil on medium-high heat until it is just about to smoke and then add the Mustard seeds. Make sure to have a lid or screen handy since as soon as it starts to cook, it will start popping. Lower the heat to medium as soon as it starts popping. You know the seeds are done once the popping subsides.
The next step is to add Cumin seeds (if using). The Cumin seeds do not require high heat. So turn the heat to medium and add the Cumin seeds. You will know they are cooked as soon as they turn light brown approximately 10 seconds or so. Make sure not to burn them. If the oil is too hot, move the pan away from the heat for a few seconds.
The same steps can be followed for coriander powder. It does not require high heat either. So cook on medium heat. Once you add Coriander powder, make sure to stir it. It will cook in 10 seconds or so after which it will start to smoke.
Red Chilli Powder
At this point, you can add onions, green chilis, garlic etc. Once they reach the required consistency, red chili powder can be added. Cook for another 10-20 seconds. Then add the vegetables and Turmeric powder.
Turmeric powder is the last ingredient that needs to be added. It does not require much heat and hence added along with the vegetables. It gives an excellent color to the food and has nutritional and healing properties.