Live life with a little spice
A couple years ago I was really into Indian cuisine. Realizing I simply can’t stop at eating and must learn how to cook the food for myself, I went out and bought a book of Indian recipes along with a good assortment of spices. I even got a recipe for authentic masala chai (or as it is called in North America: chai tea…funny enough the word “chai” actually means tea) from a local family-run Indian take-out place. As soon as I tried their chai I walked back over to the young man at the counter and asked for the recipe. He quickly disappeared into the kitchen and to my surprise emerged with his grandmother, who with a sweet grin handed me a list of ingredients for her masala chai…”here, for you” she said in her broken English. My day was made! Time went by and for whatever reason (I honestly have no recollection as to why) I only made a few dishes from the book and left the spices in my cupboard untouched after that.
Several nights ago I was rummaging around my kitchen looking for something and stumbled upon the spices. Feeling rather guilty for having forgotten about such a bountiful collection, I began researching for information on these spices and looking through my cookbook. I found myself once again engrossed in Indian cooking – even more so than before. That same night (by complete chance) while searching for a movie to view I came across a movie centered around Indian cuisine. Needless to say my enthusiasm and interest was reignited double-fold after viewing it.
There is something truly captivating and inspiring about the warm, aromatic spices and combinations of flavors you can create with them. The fragrance of spices as they hit the hot ghee (clarified butter) encompasses the kitchen and makes it very hard to be patient for the eating!
With my new-found excitement I requested that a certain someone (my sweetheart) come with me to an Indian marketplace sometime in the coming days. And him being the gentleman that he is, agreed to do so. I have promised that for his patience and participation I will be making him an Indian dinner that night. We both agreed that such an exchange would be fair and also delicious hehe.
I have spent quite some time exploring different sources on which spices are the “essentials” for cooking Indian cuisine. I found that there are different opinions on what one should always have available (from what I saw it depends on expertise), but there seems to be a common agreement on certain spices. I will give you a list of spices which I decided would be my essentials for my cooking endeavors.
My Spice Pantry:
- Green cardamom (whole, not ground)
- Cinnamon sticks
- Fennel seeds
- Star anise
- Ground ginger
- Kaffir lime leaves
- Garam masala
- Mustard seeds (black)
- Ajwain (Carom) seeds
- Black peppercorn
- Bay leaves (dry)
- Fenugreek leaves (dry)
- Curry leaves (dry)
And some other ingredients:
- Tamarind paste
- Caraway seeds
- Coconut oil
- Coconut milk
- Dried chili peppers
- Ghee (clarified butter)
Since I believe food and beverages are for sharing I will share with you the masala chai recipe that I was given.
A few cardamom pods (slightly cracked open, do not add too many they are very fragrant)
Milk (they wrote down 2%, but I use whole milk)
Darjeeling tea (bags or loose leaf)
Sugar to taste
How to make it:
Bring 2:1 ratio of water (2) and milk (1) to a simmer, you can play around with the ratios and see what works best for you. Add your tea. Next, lightly crack all the spices (except star anise) but do not crush them into tiny bits! Add your spices. Let the spices infuse for 15 minutes, keeping a simmer going and stirring continuously. After the 15 minute mark you can add sugar to taste, give your chai a good stir and remove from heat. Strain into cups and serve right away.
*if you want to add some more warm flavor to your chai, you can toss in a cinnamon stick with your spices.
*I use fennel seeds in my chai because that is how it was made at the place I got my recipe from and also because it is a milder, gentler licorice flavor. However, if you feel like you want a little oomph in your masala chai, try going with star anise instead of the fennel. The star anise has a deeper, sweeter licorice flavor to it.