Category Archives: Curry

What does ‘spicy’ mean to you…?

This weekend I spent Saturday at the BBC Good Food Show manning the stand of my lovely friend Sanjay (Sanjay and I bottom right, above) and his even lovelier business Spice Kitchen UK, along with Sanjay himself and his lovely Mum, aka Mamma Spice…

Above: Sanjay and his Mum, and examples of their beautiful spice tins covered with beautiful wraps made from saris, handmade by Mamma Spice.

What a great way to spend a day, surrounded by such beautiful products, supporting lovely people and talking about spices. It made me realise just how much I know about spices, and food history, and ways to use spices, and the various spice mixes, it was a revelation to myself if no one else!

It also made me realise that the people I was talking to seemed to fall into 3 groups:

Those who love spices, and are comfortable and confident using them, and loved finding spices available of such great quality;

Those who are venturing into the world of spice and would like to learn how to use spices more in their cooking*;

And those who totally disregard spices and tell you that ‘they don’t like spicy food’.

And it’s this word ‘spicy’ that made me want to write this post.

When I talked more to this group of people, if they stopped long enough to chat, what I discovered is that most of them viewed ‘spicy’ food as hot, as in chilli hot. They’re experience has often only been hot curry and they haven’t been impressed and have therefore written off ‘spicy’ food as a result.

To me, food cooked with spices is full of flavour and aroma and warmth and layers. The decision to add chilli remains with the cook, although using spices is not a prerequisite for including chilli. I often use collections of slices in dishes where no chilli is included.

One lady told me specifically, and quite disdainfully, that she didn’t like spicy food and didn’t use spices, but her son did and she bought him a spice tin as a gift. Before she walked away, I couldn’t help myself and asked her if she makes Christmas cake; she answered that she does. So I asked if she puts spices in it; and she answered that she does, listing cinnamon, nutmeg, etc. And so, I said….you DO cook with spices ๐Ÿ™‚

So, what does spicy food mean to you? Is it a description that has become synonymous with chilli hot food? Is a better description for food full of flavour developed from spices, but not chilli, ‘spiced’ food? What do you think?

*By the way, to those people who want to know more about cooking with spices, I highly suggest that you take time to read recipes and see how cooks and chefs put spices together. I would cook exactly to recipes for a while whilst building your confidence, then start ditching the measuring spoon and going with your gut. And remember that there is no right or wrong here, just degrees of flavour.

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A very useful masala curry paste…

I’ve made this curry paste several times recently, it adds great flavour to any dish, plus it’s packed full of goodness and immunity boosting ingredients for this time of year.

I’ve used it to make masala sauces, added it to soups, and vegetable curries…

I’ve baked eggs into the sauce…

And I’ve made chicken curries for my boys with it.

I highly recommend making a huge amount of it and use it lavishly!

I have used lots of spices from the lovely Spice Kitchen UK and you’ll find the full recipe on their blog…I hope you like it!

Spices: where to begin…with whole spices…

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. 

My suggestion..

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!! 

I hope this has been useful, I will continue into the world of spices again next time…until then, let’s join Quinn and Monika and everyone else at this week’s Fiesta Friday

Spices: where to begin..

This post is the result of 3 different friends of mine saying individually to me recently how they’d like to cook with spices, but wouldn’t know where to start…so I thought I’d try and provide some ideas from my experiences.

I use spices daily, but I was not brought up with a knowledge of spices; I have taught myself over the last few years, through trial and error, and from reading lots and lots of recipes. Reading recipes shows how spices can be used individually or how to use selections of spices together, and in what quatities, I find it very educational. 

I fully believe that spices are your friend. 

Spices are health enhancing, food enhancing, gifts from nature. 

Spices can take a meal from bland to tasty, from being just okay, to being truly amazing. 

If…you like the full on flavour you get from food you eat out and you’d like to recreate it at home, spices are your answer.

If…you’re making changes to your eating habits, and you have any concerns about healthy food being bland, spices are your answer. 

If…you’d like to enhance your eating habits by adding health boosting and immunity strengthening properties, spices are your answer.

BUT….if the thought of cooking with spices makes you nervous and you don’t know where to start, I am here to help; consider this a starting guide to cooking with spices….

It’s too easy to get carried away when buying spices, so for my purpose, I am basing this post on a typical Indian housewife’s ‘masala dubba’, or spice tin, using the photos from my lovely friends at Spice Kitchen UK (I am not being paid or sponsored or strong armed to do so, I just like the company and their products) as I think this provides a good beginners introduction to spices. The quality of the spices is wonderful, and the quantities are small enough not to be overwhelming, whilst being large enough for lots of cooking.  And to save you from buying large quantities of spices you might never use! 

This collection includes ground coriander, ground turmeric, ground chilli powder, cumin seeds, garam masala spice mix and mustard seeds, as well as a few whole spices: cardamom pods, cloves, cinnamon sticks and curry leaves. 

I am not suggesting that cooking Indian food is your only option with spices, or even with this selection, it’s just a case of starting somewhere!

Let’s start with the ground spices and cumin seeds…


Ground coriander:
don’t confuse this with fresh leaf coriander; even if you hate fresh coriander, you won’t therefore dislike ground coriander. Ground coriander has a light citrus flavour, providing a lovely flavour to, rather than overpowering, a dish.

Ground turmeric: turmeric is a root, its very distinctly coloured, and will turn anything and everything yellow if you’re not careful. It’s packed full of goodness, and is a real health booster. It’s flavour on its own it’s not particularly nice, but once cooked into a dish, it’s good. And adds a golden tint to everything. If you can add 1/2-1 teaspoon to as many meals as possible, it will only do you good ๐Ÿ˜‰

Ground chilli powder: chilli powder adds the heat to your dish. You need to experiment with chilli powder/s to gain an understanding of what level of heat you  like. Build it up gently, don’t go all maverick and pile it in in the first instance.

Cumin seeds: this is one of my favourite spices; the flavour is difficult to describe, they bring a warmth to cooking, although they’re bitter if you tried to eat them raw. They add a lovely flavour to roasted vegetables, or to an oil (cook them gently though, burnt cumin seeeds aren’t nice), they’re even better lightly roasted. You can leave them whole, or grind them yourself and use them as a powder.

Garam masala: this is an Indian spice mix, used widely in Indian cooking. ‘Masala’ means ‘mix’ so whenever you see masala against an Indian spice name, you known it’s a ready prepared spice mix. Garam masala typically includes black peppercorns, mace, cinnamon, cloves, brown cardamom, nutmeg, and green cardamom, adding a warmth rather than heat to a dish.

If you want to test the flavours of each spice and gain an idea of how it can flavour foods, try adding half a teaspoon (maybe just a quarter of the chilli powder) of one each at a time to some of your typical meals/dishes: try them in your soup, in your baked beans, in scrambled eggs, something that you’ll be able to detect a change of flavour in. 

Then, try making or using a standard tomato sauce, or maybe just a small saucepan of passata, and add a teaspoon of the coriander, cumin seeds and garam masala, and half a teaspoon of the turmeric and chilli powder, cook it briefly and allow the flavours to infuse, and you’ll already be creating a curry flavour. The aroma will be amazing! And if you leave it to eat the next day, the flavours will have developed further – I highly recommend doing this.

Rest assured, that you can’t really get it wrong with spices, the flavours just chop and change, the key is to play; just give it a go on a small portion of something and build from there. 

Hopefully this will show you how easy it is to add spices to your cooking and take out some of the fear factor.

In my next post I’ll talk about the whole spices in this tin, then I’ll move onto some different spices, then making spice mixes, and on and on with more ideas…in the meantime, I hope this has been helpful, have fun experimenting..and Happy New Year!

(PS If you’d like more inspiration, check out Sanjay and his lovely Mum with the Hairy Bikers in their new series ‘Home Comforts’ on 3rd January at 3.45pm, the episode is called ‘Spice it up’ – I’ll be watching!) 

I’m taking my spice tips to the last Fiesta Friday of the year, co hosted this week by the lovely Jhuls and Ginger

Spiced spinach and chickpeas…

I had a bag of baby spinach and I had every intention of making spiced spinach flatbreads, but as I chopped the spinach with a variety of spices, I thought I’d use it differently and create a spinach and chickpea dish using the East Indian Bottle Masala spice mix I made up previously from a recipe by The Spice Adventuress

I chopped the washed spinach in a food processor with some garlic, a good couple of tablespoons of the spice mix and a couple of long red chillies, plus some rapeseed oil..

It smelled amazing!!!

At the same time I chopped a couple of medium red onions..

Ready to cook over a medium heat in rapeseed oil until they softened and started to caremalise. Once they were cooked, I added the spinach mixture and cooked it through..

Then added the chickpeas..

It tasted so good! 

I ate it with some slightly watered down plain yoghurt..

As always, I had leftovers, and it tasted even better the next day ๐Ÿ™‚

When Fiesta Friday opens later I shall be taking this along and joining co hosts Antonia and Sandyha and everyone else sharing their dishes. I hope you’ve had a great week, Autumn is in full flow in my part of England and I love it!!!! 

Red pepper, mushroom and spinach curry…

 Let me tempt you into a bowl full of colour and health and flavour…I know that this is nothing new for me, that is my aim for every dish I make, but this one does look particularly vibrant doesn’t it? Don’t you feel healthier just looking at it?   

I was inspired to make this after ready Poppy’s recipe for her mushroom and tofu curry in a red pepper sauce – I liked the sound of the of the sauce and the process that she used to make it, so I made my version. I’m not a tofu fan, so I increased the mushrooms, added the spinach at the end, and left out the sweetener. I also used red peppers that I had roasted myself rather than from a jar.

The outcome from a very tasty dish, one which I highly recommend that you try yourself ๐Ÿ˜€ please do check out Poppy’s blog for more details.  

Spring is definitely in the air here, it is a beautiful spring day here in the middle of the U.K., everything is green and gorgeous, the sun is shining and birds are singing. Bob is loving it, there’s nothing more he loves than just sitting outside in the sun surveying his world..

 

My homemade curry paste and aubergine bhaji..

Today I’d like to share my recent concoction with you, a lovely spiced aubergine dish that I threw together recently; packed full of fresh vegetables and spices, it’s full of goodness as well as flavour..
I’ve recently been filling jars with my own ginger paste and garlic paste by blending up fresh peeled and chopped ginger and the same with bulbs and bulbs of garlic, so that I’ve got it readily to hand. I’ve also created a jar of ginger-garlic-chilli paste by mixing them up with a few fresh small green chillies – again, so useful to have ready to go! And whilst I’ve been at it, I put together a ‘curry paste’ full of basic flavours ready to add to any Indian dish, including this aubergine bhaji. 

Ingredients 

Curry paste:

Garlic – 3 bulbs, all cloves peeled 

Ginger – a good hand sized piece of fresh garlic, peeled 

Green chillies – 3 small, stalk removed (add more for your taste) 

Turmeric – 1 tsp

Ground cumin – 2 tsp

Ground coriander – 2tsp 

Blend it all together and store in a well sealed jar in the fridge. This can form a good base or starting point for any curry. 

 Aubergine bhaji: 

2 tbsp oil of your choice, I used coconut oil

1 tbsp yellow mustard seeds 

2 medium red onions, peeled and roughly chopped

2 medium aubergines, cut into chunks

2 medium tomatoes, roughly chopped 

2 tbsp curry paste (above)

2 tbsp tomato puree

1/2 tsp amchoor powder (dried mango powder) 

Method

Heat the coconut oil in a large pan over a medium heat and add the mustard seeds

As the seeds start to sizzle and before they start popping everything, add the chopped onions; cook for 10-15 minutes until nicely browned; it’s worth the time and effort to get the onions really tasty 

Add 2 tablespoons of curry paste and cook for a few minutes to cook off the rawness; you may need to add a splash of water to loosen the mixture from the base of the pan 

Add the tomato puree and stir through, then add the aubergine chunks and the tomatoes and cook it all until everything is soft and cooked through; you may need to add some water if it seems too dry

Towards the end add the amchoor powder for a slight shot of sourness, you can use lemon juice as an alternative 

Enjoy! 

NOTE: you can add more spice or heat to this dish based on your taste 

I ate this over several days, some with quinoa, some with added toasted pumpkin seeds for a crunch, some on its own. For me it’s a main course dish, but for you it might be a good side dish? 

And now you also have some curry paste ready to hand in your fridge ๐Ÿ™‚

  I’m bringing my aubergine bhaji to this week’s Fiesta Friday, co hosted this week by the lovely Josette and Lily

I’m also sharing the dish with everyone at Throwback Thursday with Alli, Quinn, Meaghan, Mollie and Carlee,  and Cook Once Eat Twice with Corina – this is a perfect dish to cook a huge pot of and eat over several days. It just gets better! 

All of the spices are from Spice Kitchen UK, all of the fresh produce is from my local market, and all of the inspiration is from lots of YOU ๐Ÿ™‚ thank you xx