It is no misnomer that spices, herbs and pastes add the oomph to even the simplest of dishes; hence the soaring popularity of my earlier blog in the series of Subcontinental Spices. The reason for this rising interest in spices from South Asia, is the plethora of Indian and Pakistani restaurants opening up around the world. That is not all, the culinary minds of chefs and home cooks alike are opening up to the idea of using these spices in just about any recipe. South Asian spices are now being added to various dishes not just curries originating from this region.
With the world now shrinking to become a global village, with the social media now taking center stage, the exchange of recipes from across the world has become a norm. An amateur chef from Fiji Islands may now draw inspiration from a food blogger from in a remote area of Pakistan or vice versa. Such exchanges have increased the demand for specialty spices and herbs. Hence most large supermarkets have bowed down to the needs of their customers and stocked up on such spices from around the world. But as quoted by Chef Ferran Adia “You cannot get an influence from the cuisine of a country if you don’t understand it. You’ve got to study it.”. Hence, it is essential to understand each and every ingredient before you attempt to add it to your food.
Curry Powder and Paste
The term “curry” has been popularized by the Western nations during the nineteenth century, when the palette for Asian food in these countries started reaching fever pitch. It is assumed that the word “curry” is derived from the Tamil term “kari”, which largely translates into sauce for meat and vegetables. Since most of the spices or fresh ingredients used in South Asian food were not readily available around the world, the creation of curry powder came as a substitute.
Essentially, curry powder is a blend of about seventeen to eighteen different spices namely, Red Chilli, Coriander, Cumin, Black Pepper, Turmeric, Cinnamon, Mace, Cloves, Cardamom, Bay Leaves, Ginger, Garlic, Salt, Mango Powder. However this list is by no means exhaustive. Many people mix in their own choice of spices to create curry powder. Hence the term curry powder is a generic word meaning blend of spices. Here is how you can make your own curry powder or paste:
- Select the spices you want to use, depending on the flavors you are wanting to achieve
- Dry fry them in a pan (no oil needed) till they start to pop and crackle
- Take them off the heat and let them cool off
- Transfer the spices into a grinder and blitz till a smooth powder form. Your curry powder is now complete
- If you want to make a curry paste: Add onion, garlic, fresh ginger and fresh chilies, to the powder and blend in a food processor till smooth
- Store in airtight containers.
The aromatic and pungent flavors brought out by the use of curry powder make it a very essential spice in South Asian cooking. You can use it for any type of meat, chicken or vegetables. It is the best way to control the heat of your cooking by making your own curry powder.
Known as “dhania” in the East and Mexican and Chinese Parsley in the West, Coriander powder is famous for its use in cooking as well as herbal remedies. Compared to curry powder, coriander powder has a very mild flavor, hence it is popular in savory as well as sweet dishes. Mostly, used in cooking lentils, marinading meat or chicken for barbeques and making pancakes. It is a belief of many South Asian cooks that the mild aroma of coriander powder aids in instigating the appetite, hence it is used in most South Asian curries and gravies. Furthermore, it is also said that coriander powder helps in binding together the flavors of all other spices and herbs.
Although now commonly found in powdered form, it is advised to buy fresh coriander seeds and grind them to create your own powder. The reason given for this is that coriander powder loses its flavors very quickly. To bring out its aroma, always dry fry the coriander seeds first and them either grind them in a grinder or coarsely crush them with a mortar and pestle. You can use fresh coriander and coriander powder to make a coriander chutney to be used as a dipping sauce:
- Blend coriander, cumin seeds, lemon juice, red chillies, garlic, coriander powder, pinch of sugar and salt in a food processor. Add water in a steady stream, till you achieve the consistency you want. Some like it chunky, while some prefer it to be slightly runny.
The curative and cooling effects of coriander are also helpful in creating herbal remedies, beneficial for health. Add some coriander powder to your herbal tea and it helps with your digestive tract, relieve headaches, nausea, indigestion and stimulates your appetite. It’s pain relieving properties help alleviate muscle pain, stiffness and arthritis. Add flavor to your food and stay healthy at the same time.