Category Archives: Indian

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 🙂

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 😉

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 🙂

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!!!! 

It all began with Dhanya’s curry recipe…and ended up with my own creation…

I loved the look of Dhanya’s recipe as soon as I read it, her amazing photos helped of course! They showed a wonderful looking chickpea and mustard leaves curry, full of colour and flavour…and when I read the recipe, I knew I would make it.

As you will see from the recipe, it is packed full of ingredients, lots and lots of wonderful spices, absolutely my kind of thing – some people are wary of Indian recipes and their often long list of ingredients, whereas for me, it warms my heart; I know that those spices have been carefully put together to create greatness and it makes me want to know the outcome ASAP!! There’s a reason Dhanya’s blog is called The Spice Adventuress 🙂 

A key to the dish is the ‘East Indian Bottle Masala’ which is a spice mix that you make to start the process. That is what these two photos so far represent, the making of the masala mix as I collected the ingredients in a pan, then toasted them before grinding them all to a powder. 

When toasting the spices, I have found that the key is to keep the heat under the pan low and watch it like a hawk. After a while you start to get an amazing aroma as the spices heat and you need to keep the spices moving so that none of them burn, but so that all of them toast. Once you feel that they done, turn off the heat and continue to move the spices around the pan as there will still be residual heat coming from it and you don’t want to undo all your work so far. Then leave them all to cool before going in into your powder. 

I followed Dhanya’s recipe to make the dish, replacing the mustard leaves with kale; I couldn’t source the mustard leaves and some research suggested kale was a good alternative. The outcome was very very tasty, I loved it and happily ate it three days running! 

But of course , I didn’t leave it there..

The recipe for the masala spice mix makes a large jar of it so I wanted to use it again and as often as possible, so this week I threw together this sweet potato and spinach curry for my lunch…

I have to tell you, it was so good! This is what I did..

I heated a tablespoon of coconut oil in a pan and added 2 red onions, roughly chopped and cooked them for 5 minutes until nice and soft; I then added 2 heaped tablespoons of my homemade curry paste (puréed ginger, garlic & green chillies with ground cumin, coriander, turmeric and chilli) and cooked it for a few more minutes, adding a splash of water to stop the paste from catching. 

I then threw in 2 heaped teaspoons of the East Indian Bottle masala spice mix and 1 tablespoon tomato puree, and cooked for a minute or so, before adding 1 medium sweet potato, which I had already cut into into cubes & steamed. I mixed everything well, adding more water as needed, then added a 250g bag of baby spinach, put the lid on the pan and left it to wilt in the steam, then stirred it all together and cooked for a few more minutes. 

Some of the sweet potato was soft enough to join the sauce and really add to the richness of it. I served this with some thinned yoghurt over it all which only added to the loveliness of the overall dish. It tasted a lot better than it photographed!

With what was leftover in the pan, I then added some more yoghurt and a can of drained kala chana (brown chickpeas) to create another dish for dinner! 

Huge big yum!!!! 

I’ve been absent from Fiesta Friday for a couple of weeks so I am returning this week with my collection of dishes, as well as sharing them all with Corina’s Cook Once Eat Twice collection..I hope that the lovely FF co hosts, Kaila and Laurena, and all the readers of both collections, like them.

Have a great weekend from a beautiful sunshiny England xx

8am this morning 

My breakfast chai spice mix…

I realised recently that I don’t ever eat a meal that doesn’t have spices in it; whether it’s a full of cacophony of spices, or merely a sprinkle of roasted cumin or sumac, spices are a big part of my world. And it’s not just in my food, I start each day with turmeric capsules and a cayenne pepper capsule…I think if you cooked me I’d be pretty tasty!!! 

Let’s move on from that horrible idea…to my breakfast…

I cannot bring you a picturesque shot of my breakfast because I am far too happily eating it in the mornings to spend time pimping and preening the bowl for a perfect photo; I did consider making two lots one morning just to have one to make pretty, but who needs all that? This is a bowl for eating, not looks. 

This is my chai spiced banana porridge. And I love it!!! 

I eat this every morning, because I love it so much, it’s full of goodness, and if I even think about having something else, I already start missing my lovely porridge. I will tell you how I make it, but what I really want to share is my spice mix…

Which also isn’t pretty to look at really, but the taste and smell is beautiful! 

I was recently sent some chai spices and tea to try from my lovely friends at Spice Kitchen UK and this is what inspired my breakfast spices. I made the tea and spice infused milky drink as directed, but I was far more interested in trying the chai spices minus the tea…so I put some in my porridge. 

It worked really well except for the fact that the spice mix was created for making tea and being strained and therefore, the spices don’t need to be finely ground, consequently, I was biting into peppercorns and cardamoms which wasn’t so good, but the overall effect was fab. So I decided to make my own version..

Chai spice is made up of the spices that you would associate with Christmas: the beautiful cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and ginger take you right into December. Add in the cardamom and black pepper and it becomes the wonderful chai creation of India. For my breakfast mix, I left out the pepper and increased the proportion of cinnamon, but you could of course amend it to your tastes..

Based on ground spices I mix:

4 tbsp cinnamon

2 tbsp ginger

1 tbsp cardamom

1 tbsp cloves

1/2 tbsp nutmeg

Mix together well and store in an airtight jar. 

To make my breakfast, I soak my oats overnight in water with a huge heaped teaspoonful of the spice mix, then add mashed banana in the morning before heating it all. And then I take time to eat it and savour it and love it…and then I start looking forward to the next morning when I can eat it all again! 

The aroma on its own is enough to make you smile! 

I’m sure this spice mix would work perfectly in cakes and muffins and drinks, it makes me remember Selma’s wonderful award winning chai spiced banana bread 🙂 

I hope you’re having a great start to the week xx