Monday, November 30, 2009
The Spices Of India
Shalimar Spices and The Dosa Factory in Central Square, Cambridge.
We continue our Tastes Of India series today after our brief trip away for the Thanksgiving holiday. Today we are going to delve into the spices used in Indian cuisine and their holistic value. Our tour guide is Ranveer Brar, Corporate Chef of One World Cuisine, who hosts a weekly spice tour at Shalimar Spices and Foods in Central Square, Cambridge. Our exclusive private tour was the same as that offered to the public each week on Saturdays at 11:00 am. The tour costs $20 and includes a lunch at Dosa Factory, where you can select and sample dishes using the spices you have just examined and learned about.
Ayurveda is a centuries old practice (3700 years actually) of using foods holistically, to heal and strengthen the body. Spices are revered in the ayurvedic tradition because of the therapeutic value they bring to a meal. There are almost no dishes in ayurvedic cooking that are not embellished with the aroma, flavor and healing properties of spices.
Combining spices to offer the benefits of synergy and balance is an integral part of this ayurvedic, holistic cooking. Spices are a quick way to incorporate the six ayurvedic tastes: sweet, sour, salty, pungent, bitter and astringent.
Basmati is the rice of choice in Indian Cuisine.
Let's briefly explore the basics of Ayurvedic Cooking. It incorporates the five elements: air, fire, water, earth and ether (space). It holds that there are three Doshas: Vata, Pitta and Kapha. These correlate to three body types. The Pitta would be the slender, high metabolism body type with the dominant element of fire. (This would be me for all those readers who wonder how I eat so much and stay so thin). For balance the Pitta would eat foods with the element of water. The Vata would be the stocky type and would eat foods with a fire element for balance. The last is the Kapha, or muscular body type.
Tea is a very popular drink in India but before the British Colonization it was virtually unknown in the subcontinent.
The tour, which provides informative handouts, explores many of the most commonly used spices such as turmeric, cumin, fenugreek, coriander and fennel. Any foodie would love to just wander around this store for hours looking at all the exotic ingredients.
Rich, clarified butter. Think of the fun one could have experimenting with this!
Colorful candy spices.
It is suggested, of course, that freshly ground spices be used. Mostly in seed form, the optimal flavor is achieved by first toasting the seeds on a shallow pan in a 325 Degree Farenheit oven for just a few moments. Purists will then grind the seeds with a mortar and pestle. Most people will use an electric grinder. A coffee grinder is ideal but you'll want to keep one just for spices!
Chickpeas are often ground and used as a thickening agent in soups and sauces.
Fresh herbs and ingredients.
Some of the spice mixes suggested are (all are in ratios):
For lamb: Cinnamon 1 part, Black Cardamom 1 part, Coriander Seeds 2 parts, Cumin 2 parts and Dry Red Chiles to taste.
For chicken: Mace 1 part, Fenugreek Leaves 12 parts, Coriander Seeds 3 parts, Cumin 2parts and dry red chiles to taste.
Keeping in mind how busy people are these days there are a variety of pre-made spice mixes available as well as sauces and gravies.
Fenugreek seed, a common spice used in Indian Cuisine.
The firm cottage cheese used in many Indian recipes.
This cheese is not the curds of cottage cheese most are used to but looks and feels much more like a firm tofu.
Delicious Dosa with dipping sauces at Dosa Factory in Cambridge.
The Dosa, again, is a rice flour crepe that can be filled with many ingredients. This is a Masala Dosa filled with potato, curry leaf and spiced onions.
Side dishes at Dosa Factory.
The side dishes are Samosa, potato filled fried pastry and the Paneer Pakora, which features the cottage cheese pictured above.
In our next installment we will be exploring the tandoor oven more closely, bake some naan bread and prepare tandoori chicken. In the meantime, you'll want to put Shalimar Spices on your foodie compass.
Shalimar India Food and Spices
571 Massachusetts Ave Cambridge, MA 02139