My friend Dolphia, Deeba and me were talking about spices and how we love to shoot spices. There is something so sensual about spices. Dol suggested we do a post on spices, why one? Let's do a series on spices... 3 spices a month - covering about 36 spices for the year. So The Indian masala dubba was born - this is our project for 2016.
Recipes will be optional, so some posts will have recipes, others maybe not. The spices are not picked in any particular order.
This month we bring you...
The first image has an interesting story. It was a dark cloudy kind of day, so I placed the nigella on the floor, by the patio door, for more light and was taking pictures. On the dinning table, just next to the door, I had kept the other spices. Behind me was a large pot of money-plant. I was about to knock over the plant, to save it I held on to a flimsy shelf on the dinning table (was planing to use it as a prop) the shelf collapsed on the spice jars....lucky none of the glass jars broke...instead I had a beautiful mess. I was so mad with myself and looked up to see ...such a pretty sight. Straightened out the spoons a bit...and there you go !
Since I am a spice geek - I have done a short book on spices on Steller. Check it out
Those jars of spices in your pantry are not only packed with flavour and medicinal properties, they are a chapter from culinary history. Spices are easily available today but history has seen that it was once valued as much as currency and controlled the economy of nations. Archeologists discovered spices in Egyptian tombs as early as 3000 BC. One can see a reference to spices in Epic of Gilgamaesh, the Bhagavad Gita, and the Old Testament. Spices were believed to have mystical powers and healing properties, and many continue to believe so even today. It is therefore no surprise that nutmeg was once worth more than gold. In many parts of the world, even today, saffron is as good as gold and is one of the most expensive culinary ingredients.
The word salary is derived from the Latin word 'salt'. In Ancient Rome a soldier's salary consisted, in part, of salt. A soldier's salary was deducted if he "was not worth his salt". We can guess the origins of that phrase. Back in the 6th century, Moorish merchants traded an ounce of salt for an ounce of gold.
So next time you are using salt in your curry, think of the journey salt has taken over the centuries to be at your table.
There is an endless list of exotic spices starting from common coriander to star annice, maze, black cardamom, caraway seed, fenugreek seeds, nigella, asafoetida, fennel, pomegranate seed and of course, the most exotic of all, saffron.
Remove the spice from our curries and you have removed the soul.
Nagella Sativa - Kalonji
Like all the other spices, Nigella is an ancient spice and has been used since centuries. It looks like a sesame seed (the black one) but it should not be mistaken to sesame. It's tiny but packed with fragrance and flavor. Nigella comes from the latin word Nigellus - meaning black
It has a wonderful nutty aroma, a small amount goes a long way like any other spice. It is almost always used on naans and flat breads. Particularly used a lot in Indian and middle-eastern cuisine. It is also called black-Caraway. They are also used in Bengali spice mix panch-phoron : mustard, cumin, fennel and fenugreek.
It pairs well with coriander seeds, cumin, fenugreek and red chillies. Roast them in ghee and add it as a tadka to daal.
Make a paratha (flat bread) with onion and ground nigella.....yum !
It is said to have digestive properties. It's available at any Indian or Middle-Eastern store.
Fenugreek or Methi
Fenugreek has been cultivated for centuries for it's healing virtues. It was even an ingradient in the 'holy smoke' which was a part of the Egyptian embalming ritual. One of the old fashioned Arabic greeting is, " May you tread in peace the soil where fenugreek grows"
It is quite a hard spice and thickens broths and curries. It has a mild bitter taste and hence little is more. Fenugreek leaves are used as a herb and vegetable.
My favorite use of fenugreek is preparing dosa - click here for recipe. It is also used in rasam powder, rasam is a lentil soup - that is served with white plain rice and ghee. Click here for recipe.
It is said to regulate blood glucose. Great fiber content and used to treat indigestion. I love to use it as a hair pack. It has a soapy texture when ground into a paste.
Ajowan Caraway or Ajwain
This is one of my favorite spices. It has a very strong flavor like thyme, but a little peppery. When chewed on it's own it can numb the tongue. It is also called bishop's weed or Carom. It is used a lot in Gujarati cuisine, Egyptian cuisine, African Cuisine.
It pairs well with other milder spices and goes with chick peas and potatoes. Ajwain water is used for digestion treatment.
Do not confuse it with caraway or cumin. It's the same family but very different in flavor.