Tuesday, 28 October 2014

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Lesser-Known Spices In Indian Cuisine

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Open up someone’s spice cupboard and you never know what you might find. In the kitchen of a seasoned cook it will probably be packed full of jars, boxes and packets of herbs and spices. In the kitchen of someone who relies more on takeaways than home-cooked meals, then salt, pepper and some chilli flakes might be the extent of what is on offer. Regardless of how well-stocked your larder may be there will always be a few spices that you are far less familiar with than others. Here are a few of the lesser-known spices used in Indian cuisine that you don’t see every day:

Ajowan: Native to southern India, ajowan is related to cumin and caraway but is very different in taste. In Indian recipes ajowan is also called lovage, ajwain or carom. Ajowan seeds are often found in Indian households as they are thought to help relieve indigestion and flatulence (the spice is also often cooked with beans and pulses for the same reason). When ground to a powder,ajowan can taste hot and bitter, but when cooked it produces a subdued flavour similar to thyme.

Spices In Indian Cuisine

Amchoor (mango powder): Mangoes are native to India.They are referred to as the ‘king of fruit’ and are the national fruit of the country. As well as being used to make chutneys and pickles, mango is also used to make amchoor. Unripe, tart mangoes are sliced, sun-dried and ground to a powder to make the spice. It is most commonly used in north Indian vegetarian cooking and gives a tangy sour taste to dishes.

Asafoetida: In its powdered form, asafoetida has a strong, rather unpleasant smell. The taste is bitter and pretty unpalatable when eaten alone. Fried in hot oil, however, the foulness vanishes and the spice tastes more like onions. The spice is harvested from the ferula plant and the entire plant gives off asafoetida’s ‘distinctive’ smell.

Fagara (Sichuan pepper): This spice is not related to (and should not be confused with) black pepper. Fagarahas been used in cooking and medicine in India for centuries. Fagara is produced from the dried berries of the prickly ash tree and is commonly used in cooking in the states of Maharashtra, Karnataka, and Goa. The berries have a woody, spicy aroma and taste quite bitter.

Mace: You will probably have heard of nutmeg, but perhaps not mace. This is the lacy coat (called the aril) that covers the seed. Mace is mainly found in Moghul dishes in Indian cuisine. In taste, mace is a more refined version of the rich, warm aromatic flavour of nutmeg. When ground, mace tends to retain its flavour longer than other ground spices.

Zedoary: Native to India and related to turmeric, zedoary is often paired with chicken or lamb in Indian dishes. It is highly aromatic and has a musky, pungent flavour. Similar in many ways to ginger, zedoary is bitter to taste. The spice comes from the large fleshy underground root of the zedoary plantand is almost unknown in the West and is generally replaced by ginger.

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