Masalas and Other Stories

Mallika Basu - Masalas and Other Stories

Posted 23rd September 2006














Masalas or spices are at the heart of Indian cooking. There are literally hundreds but as shelf space is a precious commodity, I’ll introduce you to a few basic masalas and herbs used frequently in my recipes.

The trick with masalas is in the way they are used. There are recipes that use the same spices, but the end results taste totally different because of variations in the amount of masala used.

Here are some Indian kitchen basics

  • Turmeric – Yellow powder with a pungent taste used in moderation to colour and add sharpness to food
  • Garam masala – Cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, pepper and bay leaves used either whole or in powdered form
  • Coriander – Used liberally as a fresh herb and in powdered form. Fresh coriander keeps for weeks in the freezer
  • Cumin – Used whole in seed form or powdered
  • Chilli – Needs no introduction. Can be used in powdered form, as dried whole red chillies or fresh green bird’s eye chillies
  • Curry leaves – These delicious leaves are used in meat and vegetarian dishes to add aroma
  • Mint – I tend to prefer dry mint rather than fresh, but both add a lovely refreshing taste to dishes
  • Asafoetida – This stuff stinks of every vile thing I have ever encountered put together, but tastes a million dollars. It is used sparingly for obvious reasons

Most of these are widely available in corner shops or larger supermarkets. If not, you could always try speciality Indian supermarkets. I swear by Drummon Street in Euston, London, and Tooting, Wembley, Southall and Green Street in east London all have some stellar shops.

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