For thousands of years, spices have been traditionally used in Indian cooking for three reasons:
1. Their flavor.
2. Their ability to preserve food.
3. Their medicinal properties.
The climate in India has made it ideal for growing a wide variety of spices, and you can see this reflected in the national cuisine. Every region has their flavor combinations, and spice blends are more of an art than a science.
For example, a common spice blend in India is Garam Masala. On a very basic level, it’s a blend containing warming spices, such as cinnamon, clove, cumin, and black pepper. However, every family makes garam masala differently, with different ratios, and adding additional spices, such as cardamom, coriander, mace, ginger, and more.
No matter how it’s made, there is no wrong way. The right spice blend is whatever tastes the best to you! Our family has been using the same Garam Masala recipe for generations, and we think it’s pretty great. If you want to try it, you can get it here: DIY Garam Masala.
Spices are best stored whole until use and then ground fresh. Whole spices will keep upwards of a year in a sealed container away from heat and light. Ground spices keep 2-3 months before they start losing their aroma and potency.
You can coax a deeper flavor out of spices by blooming or dry roasting. Both are very quick processes. Blooming involves heating ghee until it is hot, and then adding whole spices, allowing them to pop for about a minute before moving on in the recipe. The hot oil penetrates the outer part of the wholes spices and brings out the flavor.
When dry roasting, make sure a hot skillet is completely free of oil or moisture, and then add your spices and toast until aromatic—about a minute or two.
Indian Essential Spices
Every Indian spice cabinet needs to have at least the following:
- Cumin Seeds
- Coriander Seeds (and powder)
- Mustard Seeds
- Black Peppercorn
- Hing (asafoetida)
- Green Cardamom