A whistle stop tour of my spice box

Monday, October 9th, 2017

It is National Curry week and I think it’s time I did a blog about the spices I use.  My spicing and style of cooking is self-taught with lots of tips for healthier and happier meals.  If you follow my style, you will learn very quickly how to adapt recipes with your favourite ingredients and any allergies are catered for.

I am not an expert chef or nutritionist, just a very keen home cook but if you need advice, please message me and I will try my best to help.


I have a natural instinct as to which spice work with which dish and I don’t re-invent recipes that work and only change recipes if I can make them speedier, healthier or easier for you.  They need to guarantee results, would you agree?

Let’s start with turmeric, an essential curry creator:


Turmeric is a herbaceous plant that is part of the ginger family. It has a warm pepper like flavour and mustard like aroma, native to South East Asia. It is thought to have anti-inflammatory and antibacterial properties and rich in antioxidants. A small pinch of Turmeric can add lots of flavour to curry dishes and turns them a natural golden colour. Turmeric is also used as a dye.

Turmeric can make all the difference in the texture of a curry, a tiny extra bit of turmeric can turn your curry into an extraordinary dish. Turmeric offers a golden colour and don’t forget those beautiful healing properties.

Have I ever told you about the hot chapati, turmeric and sore ankle story?  One not to be shared in my blog, but I kid you not, I am actually laughing my head off as I type this.  I’ll talk about it in one of my live demos.

It is used in the cleansing ceremonies for brides and grooms before they marry, a mix of turmeric, mustard oil, rose water, milk, yoghurt depending on family traditions is mixed and applied to the bride or groom.  You’ll often find me wandering around the house with my DIY face pack, its bright yellow, thanks to this superfood.   I am often told how young looking I am and it could well be turmeric in my diet, my face pack and not to forget all the fresh fruit and veg I eat.

I prefer to cook turmeric in dishes  (rather than using it raw).  You can find it in three of my personal blends, Curry Masala, Cardamom Kick and Tandoori Masala.

Liam Curry

Mustard Seeds

Mustard seeds are the small round seeds from the mustard plants, they can be black (pungent), white (milder) or brown. They are rich in minerals, vitamins, essential oils and antioxidants, used extensively in Asia. Thought to have medicinal properties including treating muscle pain, rheumatism, and arthritic pain. They provide a nutty flavour when gently roasted under a low flame and are often added to Indian spice pickles.

I love mustard seeds, stir-fried in potato dishes and finished with lemon juice.  I love the fresh leaves when made into the Punjabi home-style saag, those beautiful greens, simply cooked and so healthy, here’s the recipe /recipe/saag-punjabi-greens/


Mustard seeds can be an allergen so I tend to avoid it in my cooking and therefore not found in any of my six spice blends.


Chilli Powder

Chilli Powder is made from dried chilli peppers, it provided pungency and a depth of flavour. It is thought that Chilli has anti-inflammatory properties. It can be added to curry to create spiciness.  I use this spice with caution, a little goes along way.

It is lovely on raitas and fresh tamarind dips, just a tiny amount adds lovely red flecks through a yoghurt dish and tastes lovely.

It is included in my curry masala and tandoori masala, again very sparingly.


Coriander Seeds

All parts of coriander are edible but the leaves and the seeds are the parts that are mostly used in cooking. It is high in Vitamins A, C and K. coriander seeds are a spice found in garam masala and Indian Curries. The fresh leaves can be used in chutneys and salads or as a garnish to Indian dishes.

Coriander seeds are a spice found in garam masala and Indian Curries. The fresh leaves can be used in chutneys and salads or as a garnish to Indian dishes.

The greatest way to use whole coriander seeds are in pakoras, it adds crunch and flavour, so, so yummy!

Coriander seeds are an essential spice in garam masala. As garam masala is a natural Punjabi blend, it forms a base for all my spice blends, EXCEPT Chaat masala so there’s plenty of coriander seeds in my blends and clearly visible in my chef crush.  Dried coriander seeds can be found in my curry masala and cardamom kick.


Cumin seeds

Cumin is a flowering plant native to the East Mediterranean and South Asia. It is used as seeds or ground to make powder. It is thought to aid digestion. It adds a smoky flavour to dishes.  Start with cumin seeds before frying onions, not necessary with Curry Masala, I have roasted these in my blends, especially, for my fabulous clients – nothing is too much trouble.

Onions frying in pan

Cumin is found in all my spice blends, an essential spice and my favourite.  If I could only choose one spice, this would be it without any doubt.

A very long time ago, I saw my sister-in-law, Neetu roast cumin seeds and grind them and add them to raita, it brought a bowl of yoghurt to life like nothing I had seen before.  Cumin seeds are so easy to grind; roast until you can smell those beautiful seeds and grind in a pestle and mortar.  Roast and grind fresh for each dish in small batches.  Please don’t buy ground cumin, I shouldn’t even say it so politely, I should start a campaign to ban the selling of ground cumin.


Cardamom Pods

These little spice pods are native to India. They are pungent with a very aromatic taste. They come in three varieties: green (aromatic) white (bleached)  and black (smoky)  and can be used for both sweet and savoury dishes or to flavour rice.

I like green cardamom pods in chai (tea), it’s the dominant spice in my cardamom kick, delicious in puddings and you’ll recognise it if you have ever tasted my carrot fudge or gajjar ka halva, I use it in ice cream, too, you’ll find it in my garam masala, too.

Smoky black cardamom pods are very expensive, can be found in garam masala, use sparingly, a little goes a long way.  They offer smoky flavours, used in savoury dishes, rice and meaty curry sauces.


Ginger Is a rhizome root that grows underground and can be used in three forms – fresh, whole and dried. It adds heat to dishes. It is thought to aid digestion. It is used in drinks as well as sweet and savoury dishes. Fresh ginger is one of the main spices used for making pulse and lentil curries.

I like to peel and grate using a fine grater, occasionally I will use a thicker grater.  Careful not to burn, remember my top tip of using water to cool the pan down, to create sauce and stop the spices from burning.  If making a fresh ginger/garlic paste, use slightly more garlic and pop into the freezer, ready for when you are making curries.




Cloves are the aromatic flower buds of a tree that is native to Indonesia. The essential oil from cloves is use medicinally as a painkiller and is also thought to aid digestion. This spice is usually used whole to add flavour to many sweet and savoury dishes.  Use sparingly in everyday cooking, can be found in my garam masala and if making vindaloo, then an extra couple of these, are perfect.



Fenugreek (Methi) This herb is native to Southern Europe and Asia it has white flowers and brown seeds. It is rich in vitamins and minerals and has many medicinal properties. It is thought to aid digestion, lower cholesterol, and is even used by nursing mothers to increase milk supply. It is used in dal and curry. Fenugreek seeds are used as a spice that adds bitterness to a dish. Bitterness can be reduced if the seeds are roasted. The seeds can be used in pickles. The dried leaves are used for flavouring meat, fish and vegetable dishes, the leaves are in my curry masala.


Black Pepper

I cannot do the spice justice in this blog, it deserves a blog of its’ own.  By far the most universal of spices and I use it in all my spice blends and so many everyday dishes.

Buy whole and grind as you along, the pepper grinders are great.  My best friend, Lorena, has these great little pepper grinders stuck to her fridge.

Please, can we agree to postpone this one?


The inner bark of a tree, how would you ever discover this? Most definitely not just for apple pie, it’s so good in hot drinks, hot chocolate, chai (tea), great for colds with whiskey and lemon.  The Punjabis are more familiar with dalchini, a tougher texture.

It’s an essential in my garam masala so you’ll find it in the quiet corner.  It’s one of those spices that has so many healing properties with digestion, so under-rated but an important one.

Paneer Korma


Many Indian mums call this tomato powder but it’s actually a ground pepper spice.  In my opinion, it offers colour and a natural thickener to the Indian kitchen, it creates a beautiful sauce.  We all know by now that I consider the sauce of a curry as important as all the dishes.  If my curries aren’t bright enough, this is my go-to spice, with an addition of vitamin A.


Chilli Flakes

My second favourite spice, chilli flakes don’t necessarily add heat (they can if you use lots) but I love the flavour and gorgeous flecks of colour.  It’s used in most of my savoury dishes, whether Indian or not, sometimes called crushed chilli.  It adds natural flavour, without having to use nasties, try it on cheese on toast, pasta dishes, cauliflower cheese, omelettes, the list is endless, it’s a great all-rounder.


Fennel Seeds

I use these whole, they have their own distinct aniseed flavour, and if using, I allow the flavour to shine in that dish, I prefer to use the whole seeds.  Lovely in Indian tea, great for digestion (it’s given to children) simply boiled and strained.  Perfect for my spicy potatoes, finished with a squeeze of lemon and lots of fresh coriander.



Ajwain Seeds

Don’t underestimate the power of these little bullets, part of the thyme family, distinctive little shots of spice.  My favourite spice in bhajes, lovely in tea (chai). The seeds are bitter and pungent, smell like thyme, great for digestion.  Try adding a pinch to boiling water, strain and drink when cooler.   I am careful with this spice as it has its’ own place.  It can be found in my chaat masala, a finishing spice.


Back to National Curry Week

I will be writing about my spice blends and how they fit into the world of curry.

As always, please send any questions in and don’t forget to like and share my posts to your friends and family.



Have a great Week!


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About Lajina

Lajina Leal, Lajina Masala

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.

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