You should see the state of our pantry right now, it’s full, it’s bright, it’s brimming with worldly goods, it smells great and it’s a mess. We have way too many spices/sauces/dried goods/noodles/occasional stale bags of potato chips (what a waste!)/lost and then found half eaten candy bars (I knew I put it somewhere in here!)/ and more noodles oozing out of the cabinets. But thanks to Lydia at The Perfect Pantry, we’re cleaning out the pantry for our future submission to her weekly edition of Other People’s Pantry. During this cleansing ritual, we conveniently gathered together what we call our “Super C” team of spices for this edition of “Sharing The Love” – Cloves, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Coriander, Cumin, Caraway, Cayenne and Chili powder/flakes/whole. Without these “C” power spices, we’d be lost without our home-made Chai, Curry Powder and Garam Masala -essentially, no more “Spicing”.
“Spicing is an art you can learn, and eventually you can tailor your curries to your own taste and not rely on a ready mixed formula”, instructs Charmaine Solomon from “The Complete Asian Cookbook”. Applying the simple art of spicing to create your own Chai teas, Curries and Garam Masala is as easy as blending your personal choice of spices to your personal taste. In India, curries and garam masala are essentially different spice mixtures of as many as 3-20 individual spices ground and/or combined together in different proportions and combinations. The term “curry” is a British export term for collectively describing and commercially packaging the quintessential flavors that duplicate the basic common combination of these spices. Most of the Western world views the typical tumeric blended yellow/golden colored commercial “curry powder as a single spice”, writes James Peterson, in his book Sauces. “In India, it would be unthinkable to resort to a commercial curry powder for cooking instead of working with the individual flavors”. In reality, there are as many different “curry” spice blends as there are kitchens in the East. Each household, region and country have their own special spice blend. So ya see? Lets blame the “curry” name on the British!
Start Naked, Then “Grind It Baby, Grind it”!
We love being able to blend our “Super C” spices with other fragrant spices to create original, homemade chai teas, curries and garam masala mixtures to our own personal taste. The flavors you can achieve from freshly grinding these seeds far exceeds any store bought mixture. Cooking with ready-made, commercial curry powder or garam masala works good too, but adding a roasted cardamom pod, clove or cumin seed here or there makes your dish extra special. Be a scientist and experiment! It’s so simple! Start small with a few individual spices, add it to your packets of chai/curry/masala mixture or go for the whole sha-bang do it all from scratch!
Here’s three basic methods for working with “curries”
“Cheater, Cheater Pumpkin Eater” Method: Buy the ready-made “curry” spice blends. Virtually every brand will be different so no two will be exactly the same. Find one you like & use it for your dishes. Many times these will contain fillers like rice flour and they won’t have the same depth of flavor & aroma of a fresh spice blend. But these ready-made spices can do nicely when you are short on time or lack the individual ingredients. We cheat often too.
“Dolled-up, Semi-Cheater” Method: Take your store bought ready-made spice blend and doctor it up with additional spices. If you want more warmth and sweetness, add some cloves, cardamom or cinnamon. Need a little more spice in your life?-add some additional cayenne or chili flakes. Some other aromatics like cumin, fennel seed, and anise stars all add their own distinct touch. Customize to your heart’s content, but if you are going to use this method, you might as well go the the next level: see next bullet.
Hard-Core, Old-School, or “I Want My Cuisine to Be The Best” Method:
Buy the individual spices in their whole forms, slightly toast them to bring out the aromas, then grind them. Use a blender, grinder, mortar/pestle or even a rolling pin can help you achieve your desired grind. You can use them in a “rough & tumble”form or or sift them for a finer texture. There can be a bit of a cheat in this method, too. You can buy your spices already ground, but they won’t have the same punch as grinding your own spices. However, it still is the second best way to do your spicing. Either way, using the individual spices to create your own blends opens a whole new world to understanding flavors and will make you a better cook. We’ll do this when we stop pulling punches and want to go for the “wow” factor.
Start “Spicing” your chai and curries – find out which individual spice makes your world rock and your dishes sing.
Finding Your Path To Spice Enlightenment :
So here they are, all the “Super C” spices and a collection of others that will help you get started to your new path of Chai/Curry/Garam Masala enlightenment!
Find your favorite recipe, tell us what you need & GET STARTED !
- If you are in need of any one/two/three/four/five/six of these spices, comment here on what you need & we’ll send it to you (after our follow-up email for address confirmation)
- But if you’re totally in the dark, live in B.F.E, forage for your food, never seen an Asian, Pacific Islander or Indian before, and have absolutely NO ACCESS to any of these, we’ll send you a care package of everything to help save your bland, flavorless and pathetic soul.
- SPICE UPDATE to the list: Sweet Tamarind Paste, Asfoetida & Amchur Powder
Here are some of our food recipe finds for various spice mixture recipes:
Our Chai Recipe
Yield: Serves 2
Total Time: 20 Minutes
Experiment with whichever black tea you like to drink. Some people will even use a green jasmine tea for a lighter chai. Try using omitting some spices or use additional spices like fennel seed. We’ve even seen bay leaves used. Play with the quantities to your liking. As chaitearecipes.com says, “You’ll find as many Chai Tea recipes as there are kitchens in the East.”
- 1 3-inch cinnamon stick
- 10 cloves
- 10 green cardamom pods
- 5 black peppercorns
- 2 Anise Stars
- 1 1-inch piece of ginger
- 3-4 black tea bags or @ 2 tsp loose black tea
- 2 Tablespoons sugar
- 2 cups Water
- 1 cup Half & Half (or milk of your choice)
- Begin heating water in a pot on high. Smack cinnamon stick, cloves, and cardamom pod with the flat side of a knife to break them up a bit. In a dry saut√© pan, toast cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods, peppercorns, and anise stars to bring out their aromas (be careful not to burn them). Cut the ginger piece in half, then toast it on a open flame (gas cooktop flames work great. Skip the toasting if it’s a pain) Smack the ginger with the flat side of a knife to break it up a bit.
- Add the cinnamon, cloves, cardamom pods (make sure you get all the little center seeds, that’s the real flavor), peppercorns, anise stars, ginger, and tea to the water. Boil on high for 12 minutes, stirring regularly. Add the half & half and sugar (add more or less sugar to your taste, 2 Tablespoons is what we like.) Continue to cook for about 3 minutes more. What the pot because the half & half will foam & boil over quickly.
- Strain & enjoy. Should make about 2 cups worth of chai.