Thursday, October 20th, 2016
The Indian kitchen has its’ own complicated art of spicing, it relies on spices to work together, the texture and sequence of cooking is important and there’s always something new to learn. In modern times, with us juggling family life and both parents with work commitments, it is easier to open a jar or get a take out, the world of convenience food has taken over, but learn a few tricks and you can cook some tasty dishes in a flash.
When starting my own business, I knew careful thought would be required for the spicing, My essential Indian spice box contains, both Curry Masala, Garam Masala, Salt, Chilli flakes, Cumin, Fennel, Green Cardamom Pods, Ajwain. I buy the spices, individually, preferably whole and then clean, prepare and roast them to suit the dish. Occasionally, I introduce other spices into my cooking so here’s my explanation as to why I do this.
The curry masala was an idea I had, inspired by many Indian mums, including mine who, to save time made a base up, fried onions, spices, chilli, ginger, garlic, then changed the flavours and dishes, the curries never ever tasted the same the secret is simple, cook raw ingredients in that sauce, the only exception being pulses or beans.
Let’s face it, curry is addictive, many of us have curry cravings, it’s that spicy buzz that drives us to curry houses. So, I have invented a base spice to create all those delicious curries. The adjusting flavours will be salt and chilli.
Once I bought a ready made version, which just confirmed that unless you either make it yourself or pinch your mums, there’s no point with bothering, use freshly ground and roasted cumin and a sprinkle of black pepper, instead as a last resort.
The one I sell, is my own home blend, it’s made in the same batch that I keep for myself, no scrimping on ingredients or bulking up with an inferior quality, it’s simply, my home blend.
Try marinating 500g of chicken, a squeeze of lemon juice and 1 tsp of garam masala and baking it, it’s perfect for wraps.
Chilli flakes so many forms, my go to stand by are flakes, I can use them in pastas, noodles, so many dishes as well as the Indian kitchen, I would be lost without the chilli flake.
The Seeds which I consider form part of my essential spice box and here’s what you can do with them
Cumin seeds, dry roast and grind using a pestle and mortar, add into raitas, dips, a great alternative when garam masala is not available, a little dry roast of these bring many dishes to life, I dry roast these for the masalas.
Fennel seeds, these are my favourite seeds when stir frying those yummy spicy baby potatoes, especially with a little squeeze of lemon. Fennel seeds are really good when making chai (tea), settling tummy upsets, even for babies. A super food in their own right.
I have my own favourite tea spices for chai, my home tea making has become quite special, having experimented with plant based milks and my favourite chai spices would be ajwain (carom, from the thyme family), cardamom pods, , sometimes a selection, at times all, I always prefer Indian tea sweet so I keep my chai drinking to special occasions, its also made in a pan on the hob which can be a pain to wash.
Last, but not least, I do still use salt, about a fraction of what I used to, just a sprinkle over dishes, it’s essential to human health and forms an important seasoning and we are a family of home cooks, who eat very little processed foods and know that a dish can come to life with just a pinch of salt.
When writing recipes, I try to keep it simple so you can enjoy making your favourite dishes with your own foodie journeys, just have a go!
Lajina Leal, Founder, Lajina Masala
Lajina had a Corporate Career as an Accountant for many years and whilst discussing an impending redundancy in an Indian restaurant with her friends, they persuaded her to set up an Indian Cooking School.
The fun started in October 2013 and the business has grown from strength to strength.