Earlier this week our colleague Namratta, whose family hails from the fifth-largest Indian state of Gujarat, brought in some traditional Diwali treats for us to enjoy. Yum!
Since today kicks off the five-day holiday of Diwali, to honour Rotorua’s South Asian residents and citizen, “Nam” shares how Indian dishes get their amazing and distinctive flavour, and her top five spices to keep on hand for delicious meals.
“Spices are a true representation of Indian culture through the vibrant colours, and aromatic, warm flavours. The spices listed below have unique characteristics, and all work together to create a flavourful, memorable dish. Most of these spices can be used whole or ground up; you can purchase the powder versions or grind them yourself at home.”
Let’s just say your masala dabba (spice storage container) won’t be complete without this diverse yet traditional spice. This spice may be familiar to you as it is guaranteed that will be on the ingredients list of your favourite Indian dish. Garam masala is a combination of blended spices which include cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks, cardamom pods, coriander seeds, bay leaves and black peppercorns. However, the blend may vary by region and families may make their own mix, which is dependent on personal taste. The word ‘garam’ means hot/warm and ‘masala’ is a mix of spices.
If you wanted to know India’s answer to everything, it would be turmeric! This spice will stand out in your masala dabba as it is the brightest and most vibrant. Your dish just won’t be complete without a dash of turmeric. Not only does this spice add an earthy flavour for when you’re cooking but it is also used to enhance the colours of your dish, and for endless health benefits. Including turmeric in your diet can be highly beneficial as it has anti-inflammatory properties. It can be an ingredient used in your smoothie, teas, and as natural skincare to brighten up the skin.
Red chili powder (Lal mirch)
This spice is just as you would imagine it to be. This spice is made up of crushed and ground dried red chillies. Just like turmeric, this spice is a vibrant colour which is also a natural food colouring that will spice up any dish. As you can imagine, this spice provides a rich colour and heat rather than flavour. So, the amount of red chili added is determined by how spicy you want your dish to be as this spice is used to increase the heat.
Jeera, known as cumin, is an essential spice that you’ll find in every Indian kitchen. We all know that this is a very flavourful and aromatic spice. This spice holds a special place when it comes to cooking as it has various purposes. Cumin seeds are generally the first spice picked out of the masala dabba as it is used for tempering in hot oil. Not only can you use cumin seeds in cooking but they can also be ground into a powder. This unique spice has a warm aroma and robust flavour which has the effect of improving the taste of any dish. Cumin can also improve digestion, weight loss, be a source of energy and treat iron deficiency.
Coriander cumin powder (Dhaniya jeera powder)
Dhaniya jeera powder is a combination of coriander seeds (dhaniya) and cumin (jeera), making it a very flavourful blend. Other spices can also be added to this mix. The dry-roasted coriander and cumin seeds are ground to into a powder. This is a staple spice to have in the kitchen as it plays a versatile role. Like the other spices, this aromatic blend can be used to cook and sprinkle over various other foods like salads and yoghurt. This spice has pain-relieving properties and can improve the digestive system.
Here are Nam's recommended Rotorua places to dine and to spice up your pantry:
1118 Tutanekai Street, Eat Streat
1229 Tutanekai Street
3/4 Pererika Street
1122 Eruera Street
All your Indian essentials can be found here
1155 Amohau Street