Spice Week: Indian Spices

Due to my illness, I took the week off to recover and try to eat something other than dry pasta.  I’ve been partially successful.

I did want to get back on track with my calendar so I’m using this week to talk about spices.  And why I am so excited about spices?

That’s right you guessed it…because in exactly one month the Spice Girls kick off the world reunion tour!!!  No, really. 

On a personal bummer note: the closest they’re coming to me is Chicago… 😦

Anyway, for this installment of Spice Week, I thought I’d start with Indian spices.  Indian food is a style of cuisine that relies on a large variety of different spices to create its unique flavor profile.  In making even the most basic Indian dish, you are going to need turmeric, ground coriander, cumin seeds (or ground cumin), garam masala, salt, and pepper.  Plus garlic, ginger, and onions which do a heck of a lot for the flavor a dish.

However, if you can get that mix down, you’ve got the leg up on just about any Indian dish.  Except butter chicken.  Do not even get me started on butter chicken.

I came upon this mixture as the cornerstone of Indian cooking during a recent Indian cooking class I took with my wife for her birthday.  That combination of spices (turmeric, coriander, cumin seeds, garlic, ginger, salt, pepper, and onions) formed the basis for every dish we made.

To test the mixture out in a dish of your own, try making my potato cholay:

  • 4 tablespoons of olive oil
  • 8 small red potatoes cut into 1/4 inch “coins”
  • Salt
  • 1/4 cup of water or broth
  • 1 medium onion, diced
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon (two inches) grated garlic
  • 1 tablespoon of turmeric
  • 1 tablespoon of garam masala
  • 1 tablespoon of cumin seeds
  • 1 tablespoon of ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon of pepper
  • 1 tomato, diced (or 1 14.5 oz can of diced tomatoes drained)
  1. Preheat a skillet over medium heat and add two tablespoons of olive oil.  When the oil is hot, add the potatoes and a pinch of salt.  Toss the potatoes to coat them in the oil.
  2. Cook the potatoes covered until soft.  Add a tablespoon or two of the water or broth if the pan gets dry.  This will take 10-15 minutes.
  3. Add the onions, another pinch of salt, ginger, and garlic and saute until the onions soften, 5-7 minutes.
  4. Add the spices and the tomatoes and cook until the tomatoes become warm and give off a little liquid.

Viola!  Potato Cholay.  For me, learning this basic spice mixture was receiving the keys to the kingdom.  I now fear no Indian food because I have an idea of the basic spices that give this cuisine its unique flavor.

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