Following on from my last post about where to begin cooking with spices, using the same collection of spices from the masala dubba (spice tin) from Spice Kitchen UK that I based that post on, this time I’ll refer to the ‘whole spices’ in the collection..
If you are just venturing into the world of using spices, I would, personally, suggest that you start with some good quality ground spices first; these are spices that have already been ground for you. Whole spices may seem even more daunting than the ground versions, and may be something to come onto later..that’s what I did!
In this tin, we have brown mustard seeds, cardamom pods, cloves and cinnamon sticks. Used whole, these are often utilised in India cooking to flavour the oil and add extra layers of flavour to any number of savoury dishes; the cardamom, cloves and cinnamon are also used widely in baking worldwide, and it may be that usage that you are more acquainted with; any whiff of cloves and cinnamon take me straight to Christmas time! And cardamom is often used in cakes and biscuits and buns.
I am focussing on their savoury uses for boosting the health and flavour of meals.
Whole spices are used sparingly, a little goes a long way.
Brown mustard seeds: the tiny seeds in the bottom right of the above picture, are actually dark yellow in colour, and have a pungent acrid flavour on their own; they are used to make Dijon mustard, however, that does not mean that your dish will therefore taste of mustard. They are typically heated carefully in oil until they start to sizzle at the start of cooking, before having more ingredients then added to them; if you leave them for too long in the hot oil, they will start to pop and fly round your kitchen…I have learnt this the hard way…!
Alternatively you can throw a few uncooked seeds over a salad.
Cardamom pods: if you’ve ever eaten a curry and suddenly bitten into a strange little green pod, that’s a cardamom pod; again, they add to the flavour of a dish, but aren’t particularly nice to eat themselves. Cardamon is very strong and aromatic. It has a spicy, herbal, citrusy character and goes very well with cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice, clove, and other aromatic spices. Also with citrus such as preserved lemons, lemon or orange zest, etc, hence being used in sweet baking.
One or two may be added to the oil along with the mustard seeds. Always remember to count how many you put in, in case you prefer to fish them out before serving.
Alternatively, you can crack open the pods and remove the inner little black seed and grind to a powder and add the powder to a dish later on in the cook.
Cloves: the little brown sticks with ‘buds’ on the end, are the unopened pink flower buds of the evergreen clove tree, synonymous with so much at Yuletide, that give a warm, sweet, aromatic flavour to ginger bread and pumpkin spice. In savoury dishes they provide the same flavour in a new way.
Again, they can add flavour to your oil, or you could grind them and use the ground spice later in a dish, but be warned, a little goes a long way! Start carefully and build it up.
Cinnamon sticks: come from the inner bark of Cinnamomum verum or cassia and again work well is savoury and sweet dishes, providing a lovely warm flavour and aroma. Cinnamon can also be a great way of adding sweetness for food in place of sugar.
To use the actual sticks, again use sparingly and try adding them to the pan at the start of your cooking and heat for a little while until you start to smell the aroma, before adding your next ingredients.
Or again, try grinding them to add to your dish.
All of these spices can be used in the same way, together or individually. Again, I would recommend trying them each individually in dishes that you know well to gauge their flavour, then start to play with them. It’s a great time of year for soups and stews, and adding any of these four, in whatever mix you like or on their own, can add a wonderful extra flavour and warmth to your soup.
Cooking with spices does not mean that you suddenly have to embrace Indian cooking, these spices can be used to create many flavours and cuisines, as well as Indian. It’s all about how you put the ingredients together, which is all part of the magic.
I add cardamom, cinnamon and cloves to my porridge each morning, along with turmeric, nutmeg and ginger, which brings wonderful flavour and warmth and goodness to the start of each day.
Going back to the idea in my previous post, try making a simple tomato sauce: heat some flavourless oil in a pan over a medium heat; add half a teaspoon of the mustard seeds, 2 cardamom pods, 2 cloves, and a finger length stick of cinnamon to the oil; heat them on their own for a minute, then add a tin of chopped tomatoes or a jar of passata. Cook it all together on a low heat for a few minutes and see how they whole spices add flavour to the tomatoes.
You could then chuck in some of the curry leaves from the spice tin and see what they do to the flavour too – because the only way to understand what they bring to a dish, frankly, is to try them! It’s too hard to describe the flavour!!