I have never known what to do with spices. My meals have always been rather bland, and I’ve liked them that way. I can manage a bit of garlic, some seasoning salt or Adobo, or maybe even some oregano, but that’s about the extent of my spice knowledge. While this suits the kids and I just fine, I know that Scott has found himself wishing for a bit more taste on many occasions, which, unfortunately, causes him to make liberal use of the salt shaker.
Now that we are in India, spices are everywhere. They burn my mouth, make my eyes water, and leave me gasping for breath, desperately trying to quench the fire. I have even had it happen that my mouth has been so inflamed that I couldn’t tell that the next thing I tried to eat was exceedingly hot, temperature wise, and ended up burning my tongue and not realizing it until later. They give me stomach aches and cause the kids to go into hysterics. (Think Tom Hanks in the dinner party scene in the movie “Big”). I can’t figure out how on earth people eat this stuff, but I have this theory. I feel that by the time an Indian child reaches 3rd grade or so, their taste buds have been so burnt out that they can’t really taste anything at all. Then, as they age, the foods get spicier and spicier just so that people know they are actually eating something. Just my theory, I could be wrong.
In any case, spices are a part of life here, and to avoid them when dining is to drastically limit your restaurant choices.
So, with the idea that we were going to gradually force ourselves to adjust to spicy foods, I consulted some Indian cookbooks and headed off to the store to stock up on whatever it is that they use. Here is what I found:
Left to right from top:
Garam Masala –which literally means hot (Garam) spice (Masala) is not an spice in itself. It is a spice blend used throughout India and the rest of the Indian Subcontinent.
This special blend of spice is used in a small quantity at the end of cooking or fried in the beginning of cooking to add a subtle flavor to the cooked dish.
Asafoetida –Arcrid and bitter in taste and emits a strong disagreeable pungent odour due to the presence of sulphur compounds therein.
Yeah, that sounds great! Let’s try something arcrid and bitter and stinky in our food!
Turmeric – “Turmeric is similar to ginger. Unlike ginger, Turmeric is boiled, dried and used in the powder form. Turmeric gives an intense yellowish color , a sort of woody flavor, and scent to food. Almost all Indian vegetable and meat dishes use turmeric either as separate spice or in the spice mixture.
The use of turmeric dates back nearly 4000 years to the ancient Vedic culture of India. Since then, it has been used as important spice, beauty product and in religious ceremonies”
Coriander – The ground coriander or cilantro powder is obtained from the Coriander seed of the coriander plant. It’s leaves are also used widely in many culinary culture.
Idli-Spice Mix – A pre-made mixture that I found that consists of Bengalgram Dhal, Redgram Dhal, Coriander Powder, Salt, Garlic, Refined Rice Bran Oil, Powders of Chilli, Cumin, Black Pepper and Turmeric.
I figured that I could just toss a bit into anything I make to give it a little spiciness.
Now, there are plenty more out there…I have only scratched the surface, but these are the ones that I kept seeing in the recipe books.
And, yes, Asafoetida is everything that was described, and more. It smells and looks distinctly like poison, and has a very strange, indescribable flavor that confuses the heck out of your taste buds and leaves you wondering what on earth you just ate.
My first meal with the Indian Spices, a cauliflower and potato curry, went surprisingly well. The kids really liked it and ate it all up. I had an ample supply of curd (plain yogurt that seems to be the only thing that can lessen the spiciness for us) on hand in case they found it too spicy, but I need not have worried. I had cut down the portions of the spices so much that you could scarcely even taste them. There was a hint of them, including the asafoetida, but not enough to even sting a little.
I will attempt to use more and more of them, and will gather up some others as I come across them. I doubt that I will ever be able to eat and enjoy the really REALLY spicy stuff, but perhaps I can at least find a little enjoyment out of some of these new foods.
Or maybe I’ll just succeed in burning out my taste buds too and it won’t matter anymore.