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Spices of the Subcontinent Part 1: Red Chilli Powder and Turmeric Powder

A warm, smoky aroma invites you to the dinner table, where your eyes feast on the dazzling red color of curry. It is as if an artist has splashed a crimson tinge all over the dish. The first taste;unforgettable. A warm sensation runs through your body and sets your ears, eyes and palette buzzing. That is the beauty of red chilli powder.

South Asian food is all about spices. A plethora of spice varieties are available, each with their own distinct flavor. All South Asian dishes are heavy on spices, aroma and taste.

Red Chilli Powder:

Red Chilli Powder

Red chilli powder is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It is made in two ways:

  • Pure Red Chilli Powder: One or two varieties of hot red chillis are ground together finely to form a bright red powder. This powder is the spiciest form as there are no other ingredients added to offset the hot flavor.
  • Red ‘Chile’ Powder: This is a milder form of the spice as additives such as cumin, oregano, garlic powder, paprika and salt are mixed with the ground red chillis.

Red chili powder, or lal mirchi as known in the subcontinent, is used in preparing most South Asian curries, vegetables, condiments and oils. The dazzling red color enhances the look whereas the flavor adds heat to the dish. Most pickles, chutneys and marinades are made from red chilli powder. One of the most popular chutneys, South Asians have with their food is, Red Chilli Chutney:

  • Chopped onions, garlic, ginger and coriander are blitzed in food processor till a rough paste is formed. Next lemon juice, salt, pepper and a generous dash of red chilli powder is added to give it the final touch. The dinner table is bound to heat up with this chutney.

Red Chilli Chutney-Courtesy Google Images

Lets not forget, red chilli powder is very high in Vitamin C and Provitamin A, so enjoy the spicy food and maintain your health as well. One word of caution, especially for those whose system has not yet adapted to hot food, build up your appetite for red chillis slowly, otherwise you are bound to get an upset stomach.

Turmeric Powder:

Shining bright like the sun of the summer solstice, lies the turmeric powder in my larder. Legend has it that the origins of turmeric can be traced back 3000 years ago, to the Vedic culture of India. According to history, it was known as Indian Saffron in medieval Europe, as the expensive saffron spice was beyond the means for most people.

Turmeric Powder

Turmeric or haldi as known in the subcontinent, gives a peppery taste to South Asian food but most importantly it enhance the beauty of the dish due to its deep orange color. Turmeric belongs to the family of ginger and is grown extensively in South Asia due to the tropical climate. However, South Asian are not the only ones that use turmeric in their cooking, the influence has spread far east till Thailand. Thai cuisine also includes the use of turmeric in their fare.

The turmeric plant is boiled for several hours and then subjected to severe heat in an oven, after which it is ground into a beautiful mustard colored powder. It is unknown to many people that turmeric is used to add color to mustards, canned beverages, cakes, orange juice, biscuits to name a few.

That is not all, other than enhancing the beauty of your cooking, it is also known to beautify yourself. In India, Pakistan and Bangladesh, it is a ceremonial ritual to scrub turmeric mixture on the bride to make her look radiant. You too can use it as a mask for glowing skin, acne problems and to slow down the aging process.

  • Mix turmeric powder in milk and add a dash of rose water for fragrance. Apply the paste all over your face and neck an leave it be for about 10-15 minutes. Wash it off with cold water and see the difference.

Turmeric Paste

These natural treatments have been handed down in South Asian culture for centuries. They are harmless and produce the best results. Similarly, turmeric has been used in Ayurvedic treatments as well. It is considered beneficial for gastrointestinal issues, as it is considered an anti-inflammatory agent.

Food needs to be appealing to the stomach as well as the eyes. Your eyes will always feast first. Using spices in your cooking with not only tantalize your palette, but their rich colors will awaken your sense of sight as well.


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  • herbs powder used for cooking in Thailand. But they can be mixed with the others herb to be traditional medicine and effective for remedy disease.

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