If you’ve ever shied away from cooking Indian food because of mile-long ingredient lists, I can understand, BUT it's worth trying a couple of times and then you'll see it's easier than you think. So give it a try- way worth it! I’ve made countless curries, and have whittled that list to just six key spices—cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ground turmeric, mustard seeds, cardamom and ground red chili. Each of these essential spices has its own personality:
Cumin brings a toasty-warm flavor and is believed to aid digestion and stop gas. Coriander is citrusy and adds texture to sauces; it said to relieve anxiety and insomnia and aid the digestion.
Turmeric has a slight bitterness and characteristic yellow color, Mustard seeds add a pungent flavor and a crunch to match. Cardamom pods is broadly used all over Asia and highly prized for it's wonderful flavor. Red chili provides heat.
Together, these spices create the flavor harmony and texture contrast that define traditional Indian curries. Best of all, some of them have been linked to health benefits. Researchers have suggested that turmeric could play a role in slowing down the progression of Alzheimer’s disease; it's used as an antiseptic for cuts and burns with antibacterial properties; it's been knows to cure MSRP (Macrolide-Resistant Streptococcus Pneumoniae) or staph infections; it has anti-inflammatory and digestive action and said to aid cancer, myeloma and colorectal patients and more!, while cumin has been praised not only as an iron source, but also for its potential, like mustard seeds, to prevent cancer and aid in digestion. Coriander has been used in India for its anti-inflammatory properties and studied in the United States for its possible connection to cholesterol reduction; the spice already is considered a good source of dietary fiber, iron, and magnesium. Cardamom is known to treat infections in teeth and gums, to prevent and treat throat troubles, congestion of the lungs and pulmonary system, for inflammation of eyelids and also digestive disorders. Mustard Oil from seeds has been used to control body temperature by massage during winters and soothe the soul and has been used throughout history for thousands of years. And chili has been associated with everything from pain relief, reduced congestion and stomach ulcer prevention to weight loss and increased cardiovascular health.
Here’s a crash course in using the basic spices to add flavor, texture, heat, and color to dishes, other than the ground red chili, these ingredients shouldn’t be used raw; dry-roast them first in a hot pan or sizzle in oil. I would wholeheartedly suggest you get a coffee mill and use it for your whole spices (this is the idea way to get them, keep them and only grind them as you need them - you will notice the difference at once!) The cooking process helps release their aromas and essential oils. Once you master the basics, you can get more adventurous, and try your hand at tikkas and Samosas.
Just think: exotic, wonderful flavors (and aromas!) with healthful benefits to boot, what could be more perfect? So here are some quick and easy Indian dishes you can make any day of the week that the whole family will enjoy. If you want more heat and spice, simply add more chilis, ok?
Goan-Style Pork Vindaloo.- Hot and tangy, this dish is from the heart of beautiful Goa on India's western coast.
2 dried red chilies
1 1/2 teaspoons whole cumin seed
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 teaspoon cardamom seeds
1 (3-inch) stick of cinnamon
1 teaspoon whole black mustard seed
1 teaspoon fenugreek seed (could be optional...)
1/3 cup white wine vinegar
1 1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 cup vegetable oil
2 medium onions, peeled and finely sliced
1-inch cube fresh ginger, peeled and finely minced
1 small whole head of garlic, peeled and separated
2 to 3 tablespoons water
2 1/2 pounds pork, trimmed and cut into 1-inch cubes
1 tablespoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon turmeric
1 cup water
Cooked Basmati or long grain white rice for accompaniment.
Using a spice or coffee mill, grind red chilies, cumin seeds, peppercorns, cardamom seeds, cinnamon stick, black mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. In a small bowl combine the ground spices with the vinegar, salt and brown sugar; set aside. In a large, deep frying pan (with lid for use later), heat the oil over medium heat; add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until onions turn golden brown and crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Set aside the frying pan with the remaining oil.
Using an electric blender or food processor, puree the fried onions with 2 to 3 tablespoons water. Combine the onion puree with reserved spice mixture. This mixture is the Vindaloo paste. Again, using the blender or processor, blend the ginger and garlic with 2 to 3 tablespoons water into a smooth paste.
Heat the oil in reserved frying pan over medium-high heat. Cook the cubed pork in small batches to ensure they brown nicely, placing cooked pork in a bowl until all pork is browned. Next, add the ginger-garlic paste to the frying pan and reduce the heat to medium. Cook and stir paste for a few seconds, then stir in the ground coriander and turmeric, again cooking for just few seconds. Quickly stir in the browned pork cubes and accumulated juices, the vindaloo paste and the 1 cup water. Bring mixture to a boil, reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for 1 hour or until pork is fork-tender, stirring occasionally. Serve with cooked Basmati or long grain white rice.
Hard Boiled Eggs Masala.- Tasty, easy, quick and economical....
4 hard boiled eggs, peeled and cooled
1 tsp cumin seeds
4-5 cloves of garlic, chopped fine or through a garlic press
1 onion, chopped
1 inch piece of ginger, peeled and chopped fine
1 tsp ground turmeric
1/2 tsp cayenne (less if you don't want it spicy)
1 tsp ground cumin
1/2 cup chopped cilantro (coriander) leaves
salt and pepper to taste
2-3 tbl lemon juice
2 cups chopped tomatoes
1/4-1/2 cups sugar
1-2 cups yogurt (optional)
This is really easy. Put whole spices in food mill and grind fine. You will be frying them and making a paste with water in the blender or food processor first.
To make this just hard boil some eggs (3-4) and slice them in half. Then toast some cumin seeds in oil for a second before adding the curry trinity of garlic, onions, and ginger (all minced). Saute that for a bit and then add tumeric, cayenne, cumin, coriander, salt & pepper (all ground& mixed with water to make a thick paste) and some lemon juice. Very quickly after adding the paste add the chopped tomatoes & a healthy dash of sugar and the cilantro. TASTE. Bring to simmer and cover, cooking for 10 minutes. Add the eggs cut side down in the sauce. Then spoon some of the sauce on top of the eggs and cook for a couple minutes on low heat. If you're adding yogurt, do it now and mix well. TASTE to adjust seasonings, but should be perfect. Serve with rice or bread and be happy.
Royal Chicken in Yogurt.- Another traditional Indian dish everyone can enjoy! Dishes called "Royal" were considered too expensive for regular Indian folks, way back....
1 cup yogurt
1/4 cup finely chopped fresh cilantro
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
Freshly ground black pepper
3 1/2 pounds chicken, cut into serving portions
1/4 cup vegetable oil
8 cardamom pods
6 whole cloves
2-inch stick cinnamon
3 bay leaves
2 1/2 tablespoons blanched slivered almonds
2 1/2 tablespoons golden raisins
Put the yogurt into a bowl. Beat it lightly until it is smooth and creamy. Add the cilantro, ground cumin, ground coriander, 1/2 teaspoon of the salt, the cayenne, and some black pepper. Mix and set aside. Using the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt, season the chicken pieces on both sides and sprinkle on some freshly ground black pepper.
Put the oil in a wide, preferably nonstick pan and set over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, put in the cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves. Stir once and put in some of the chicken pieces, only as many as the pan will hold easily in a single layer. Brown on both sides and remove to a large bowl. Brown all the chicken pieces this way and transfer them to the bowl.
Put the almonds and raisins into the same hot oil. Stir quickly. The almonds should turn golden and the raisins should plump up - which will happen very fast. Now put the chicken and its accumulated juices back into the pan. Add the seasoned yogurt. Stir to mix and bring to a simmer. Cover, turn the heat to low, and simmer gently for 20 minutes, stirring once or twice during this time. Remove the cover, turn the heat up a bit, and reduce the sauce until it is thick and just clings to the chicken pieces. Turn the chicken pieces over gently as you do this.
Note: The large, whole spices - cardamom pods, whole cloves, cinnamon stick, and bay leaves - are not meant to be eaten.
Gobi Aloo (Potato and Cauliflower Curry).- A wonderful vegetarian dish everyone will love!
1 cauliflower, separate the florets
2 potatoes, cut in cubes
2 onions, sliced
1/2 tsp whole cumin
1 tsp coriander
4 dried chilies
2 tbl garlic - ginger paste
1/2 tsp chili powder
salt to taste
1 tsp turmeric
2 fresh green chilies, chopped (optional if no heat is wanted)
2 tbl cilantro leaves, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup water
If you're using whole spices, fry first and then grind in food mill. If using powdered, use as is.
Heat oil in a large pan. Add the cumin, dried red chilies and stir to mix. Add the onions and stir until golden brown. Add the garlic-ginger paste, chili powder, salt, turmeric and chopped green chilies. Stir fry 2-3 minutes.
Add the potatoes and cauliflower to this mixture, stirring to coat the vegetables well with the spice mixture. Reduce the heat and add water. Cover the pan and simmer for 10-15 min to cook the vegetables. Serve when tender.
Note: Taste the sauce, adjust seasonings and if desired, squeeze a lemon on top (optional).
There you have it, great dishes with lovely Indian flavors and aromas that are quick and healthful and you can make on a weeknight. Consider the health benefits attributed to the spices used in them and don't knock it, as these are spices used for many, many years by many who have enjoyed not only the flavors imparted by the spices but have improved their health as well. I can also add that if you practice the sauces mentioned here, on their own, you can use them over rice, noodles, in casseroles or as a quick "add" when making a snack any time of the day. Vary the vegetables and meat, turn a meat based dish vegetarian, experiment with vegetables you might not have considered before and derive more health benefits from cutting down the protein content of dishes you have by increasing the veggies (you can also help your budget at the same time, lighten the load to your digestion (which aids in your body's ability to heal itself), sleep better and break out of the "cooking the same thing rut"..... Pretty great, I say! Enjoy!