For thousands of years, people have been adding spices to food. Once considered an exotic and mysterious luxury, good quality spices are now readily available.
Spices commonly used in Indian cooking include coriander seed, turmeric, cinnamon, cumin, fenugreek, ginger, pepper, chilli, cloves, cardamom and saffron.
Any combination of these will add a distinct Indian flavour to your everyday cooking.
In the simple fish curry recipe below, I have used turmeric, cumin, coriander and chilli. Add some fresh curry leaves, if you can find them. Any leftover leaves can easily be frozen.
For the samosas, mustard and cumin seeds, chilli, garlic, ginger and curry powder combine for a tasty snack.
Add more of these spices to turn tomato chutney into a spicy kasoundi.
When buying spices, it is better to buy small quantities from specialty shops with high turnover. The spices are more likely to be fresh and have better flavour.
Keep whole spices in airtight containers in a cool dry place for up to 4 years, and 2-3 years for ground spices. (Super-organised cooks can label the bottom of the jars with a purchase date).
Toasting whole spices intensifies their flavour. Place in a heavy based frying pan over medium heat until they crackle and become aromatic, shaking the pan to prevent burning. Toasted spices need to be used straight away as they lose their flavour quickly.
Don’t be daunted by complicated recipes, just add a little spice to your cooking with these three simple recipes.
Simple fish curry
Curries don’t need to be complicated. This recipe is inspired by Atul Kotchhar’s “Fish Indian Style” cookbook. I was lucky to see him at The Melbourne Food and Wine Festival earlier this year.
4 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tsp cumin seeds
2 onions, thinly sliced
6 fresh curry leaves, optional
1 tsp turmeric
1 tsp ground coriander
½ (half) tsp chilli powder
4 tomatoes, finely chopped
1 ½ (one and a half) cups water
1 kg blue eye fillet, cut into 3cm large pieces
2 tbsp chopped fresh coriander leaves
lemon wedges to serve
Heat 2 tbsp oil over high heat, add cumin seeds and cook until they pop. Reduce heat to medium, add onion and cook for 5 minutes until onions are softened and slightly caramelised.
Add the rest of the spices and cook for 1 minute, then add tomatoes and cook for a few minutes until they soften and start to break up.
Add water and stir to combine. Continue cooking to allow the sauce to thicken.
Heat remaining oil in a separate pan and cook fish for 2 minutes each side, then add to the curry sauce.
Cook over low heat until the fish is just cooked through.
Sprinkle over coriander leaves and serve with lemon wedges.
2 tsp ghee
½ (half) tsp mustard seeds
½ (half) tsp cumin seeds
½ (half) small onion, peeled and finely diced
1 birdseye chilli, finely chopped
1 clove garlic, peeled and finely chopped
2 cm piece of ginger, peeled and finely chopped
½ (half) cup frozen baby peas
1 potato, peeled and finely diced
200g cauliflower (approx ¼), broken into small florets
½ (half) carrot, peeled and finely diced
2 tsp curry powder
½ (half) cup water
½ (half) tbs lemon juice
1 tsp salt
1 x 250g pack frozen spring roll pastry, thawed
Heat ghee in pan and gently fry mustard and cumin seeds.
Add onion and fry until softened. Add chilli, garlic and ginger and cook for a few minutes. Add vegetables and stir well to incorporate. Add curry powder and water and lemon juice. Season with salt.
Cook over low heat until vegetables are cooked.
Remove from heat.
Cut spring roll pastry sheets equally into three lengths. Use a double sheet for each samosa.
Place 2 teaspoons of mixture at the end of one sheet. Fold over the double layer to make a triangle shape. Continue folding over the triangle until you have used up the length of pastry. Seal with a little water.
Repeat until all filling and pastry has been used up.
Heat a deep fryer to 180C.
Fry the samosas in batches until golden brown. Drain.
Makes approx. 30 small samosas.
This kasoundi recipe has been at countless primary school fairs. I have made it more times than I can remember. It’s super easy to make. A heavy duty food processor will mince the garlic and ginger, or simply buy it ready minced in jars.
Make sure to use a heavy based pot, so the kasoundi doesn’t stick to the bottom.
250ml olive oil
90g black mustard seeds
30g turmeric powder
90g ground cumin
40g chilli powder
125g minced garlic
250g minced ginger
6 fresh green chillies, seeds removed and finely chopped
2 kg ripe tomatoes, chopped, skin on
500ml malt vinegar
250g brown sugar
Heat oil in large heavy based stockpot over medium heat, then add mustard, turmeric, cumin and chilli powder. Stir and cook for 3-4 minutes, being careful not to let the spices burn. Add minced garlic, ginger, green chilli and cook for a further 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, salt, vinegar and sugar, reduce heat to low and simmer for 60-90 minutes, stirring once in a while until the sauce thickens and the oil comes to the top.
Remove from heat and pour into sterilised jars.
Store in a cool, dry pantry for up to 12 months. Once open, refrigerate.
makes approx 3litres (12 x 250ml jars).
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