Tamarind – is the sticky, dried, brown pod of the evergreen tree. It has a sour taste and very tart, citric flavour. The pulp must be soaked before usage. In India, tamarind is mostly combined with meat or legumes (lentils, chick peas or beans). It adds a distinctive cooling quality to curries, chutneys.
Turmeric – comes from the root of Curcuma longa, a leafy plant related to ginger. It has a bright yellow colour and a pungent, warm, earthy aroma and taste. It becomes bitter if too much used. It is mildly antiseptic. Turmeric is an essential spice in Indian food, giving a rich, appetizing colour. It is used in curries, fish dishes and with beans because of its digestive properties. Research show that turmeric inhibits blood clotting, reduces liver toxins, and helps the liver metabolize fats and so aids weight loss.
Saffron – this spice is made from orange coloured dried stigmas of the especially cultivated crocus (75 stamens are needed to make 100 g (4 oz) of the spice.) It is the most expensive spice of all. It has a distinctively pungent, honey-like flavour and aroma. It is available as whole threads or powdered. When ground they form a russet powder. The filaments can be lightly roasted, crumbled in a little hot water and left to infuse to bring out their full strength. Saffron is used to colour rice dishes, sweets, puddings, sauces and soups to bright yellow.
Nutmeg & Mace – is the seed of the evergreen tree. Mace is the fleshy lattice, covering of the nutmeg (hard nut), which is golden brown in colour. Nutmeg has more robust flavour than mace, but they are otherwise very similar. They have a nutty, warm and slightly sweet flavour. Nutmeg is used to add sweet and savoury flavours to dishes such as pies, custards, puddings, cakes, soufflés, vegetables, egg dishes, lamb, and fish, and beverages. Like nutmeg, mace is a sweet and flavourful spice, which can be substituted for nutmeg or cinnamon to complement a variety of foods. Mace is also used in sauces for fish and pickle chutneys.
Garam Masala – meaning “hot spices” – is a mixture of ground spices (recipes vary) (cloves, cardamom, cumin, peppercorns and cinnamon, bay leaves). It is far better to grind your own spices than to buy the mixture ready-ground. The blend of spices in the garam masala varies according to the dish to which it’s added so a spice blend for a fish dish is different to the spice mix for lamb. Depending on the ingredients of your dish, you can enhance the garam masala by adding other spices like ginger and turmeric (which would suit chicken or fish). Cloves and fennel seeds might be added to a mix for dark meats like lamb or beef.
Curry Leaves – are small grey-greenish leaves (a bit like bay), relative of the orange. They can be used fresh or dried. Their aroma is released by its heat and moisture. They are sometimes fried in the oil the food is cooked in, and then discarded. They are mainly used as an aromatic and flavouring for most curries and soups. When starting a curry or soup dish, put the curry leaves into the oil to fry until crisp.
Chillies – it is the hottest flavour on earth. As a general rule, dark green chillies tend to be hotter than red chillies. Small, pointed chillies are usually hotter than larger, more rounded varieties. Whole chillies can be seeded to make them a little less hot. Chillies and chilli powder should be used with extreme care. The hot vindaloo curries are made from the hottest chillies.
Dhania – this fresh herb is a fragrant mix of parsley and citrus. The leaves are rather like those of flat-leaved parsley, but darker. The leaves have a very distinctive bitter-sweet taste. Dhania it is usually added toward the end of cooking to preserve the fresh aroma. Also it is frequently used as a garnish. The seed of the cilantro is known as coriander.