Below is a breakdown of the 6 most important spices used in Indian cooking.
Black Mustard Seeds (Rai):
Black, tiny round balls commonly used in South and North Indian foods. You probably remember the loud, crackling sound they make when your mom throws them into hot oil to do 'tadka'. Tadka is a method used when seeds and spices are added to hot cooking oil causing the seeds and spices to crackle, bringing out their full flavor.
Cumin Seeds or Powder (Jeera):
These seeds are brown colored, oblong, bitter in taste with a distinctive aroma. Jeera is sprinkled in powder or whole seed form to various dishes. You might remember it being sprinkled into your chaas (yogurt shake) in whole form with salt. Jeera has Ayurvedic properties that can calm the digestive system.
Cayenne Powder (Mirchi):
This bright red powder is added to most Indian dishes for heat and the beautiful red colors. Cayenne power also has a lot of therapeutic properties and is gaining a lot of buzz in the US for its uses in cleansing and detoxifying regimes such as the Master Cleanse.
Turmeric Powder (Haldi):
A deep yellow colored powder that is gaining a lot of buzz in the US for being one of the world's healthiest foods. It is used to make curry and it is also what gives yellow mustard the bright yellow color! I used it in my face masks. Just add some yogurt, lemon and haldi, and smear it all over your face. Stains your clothes so be careful...
Coriander Powder (Dhania):
This powder is ground, roasted coriander seeds (super easy to make at home). This powder is used in most Indian cooking for flavor. Coriander powder is also used in various spice mixes such as Garam Masala and Sambar powder.
I never realized how much cinnamon is used in savory Indian food. It is usually added to the beginning of a recipe during the 'tadka'. Cinnamon sticks are mixed into the hot oil, making a flavorful oil to cook the food in.
Stay tuned for recipes using these important spices!