I learned to cook at my Biji - my grandmother's side. It takes many years to understand the intricacies of the spices used in Indian cooking. The interlacing of the whole and ground spices requires a good deal of practice to get just right.
Spices are virtually indispensable in culinary art. Spices tease our senses with their enticing aromas, colors and their distinctive flavors, and have been the catalysts of some of the greatest adventures in human history, over which fortunes were made, nations discovered, and fates met.
The history and culture of Indian spices is probably as old as civilization itself and is an integral part of Indian Cuisine, which relies on varied use of spices, herbs, and seasonings to create unique tastes and aromas. Ginger and Curry Leaf Rasam
Biji and I ground fresh spices for our every meal at home. That is a practice that I carry with me till today. At my restaurant Junoon, we have a "spice room" where spices are ground fresh every morning. This is one my favorite places at the restaurant. Generally my day begins here (weighting, grinding, creating mixtures).
There are a few things that I always follow while buying spices. I usually rely on the smell of the spices -Pungent smell indicates freshness, if they smell musty, then most likely the spices have been in storage for a while.
Also, buying smaller quantities each time ensures that I have fresh stock at all times. Spices lose flavor fast once ground, so I prefer buying spices whole and then I grind them only when and as much as I need.
The health benefits of spices are universally known. The extensive use of spices in Indian food, not only adds flavoring, but also makes for healthy eating. Spices like turmeric, ginger, garlic, green chilies have always been associated with medicinal and healing properties.
Ginger and Curry Leaf Rasam
(Recipe from "Flavors First: An Indian Chef's Culinary Journey" by Vikas Khanna)
Rasam is an immensely popular soup of South India and a must in every household. The word "Rasam", in Tamil language, means essence, or juice and by extension has come to mean a particular type of soup that includes the tartness of tamarind or tomatoes. The ingredients used in a Rasam vary but it is basically a light, spicy soup.
Red Lentils have a tendency to cook quickly and are rich in protein, fiber and anti-oxidants. Turmeric has been used for hundreds of years in India as a major ingredient for cooking and in Ayurveda. My grandmother used to boil it with milk and give it to us when we were kids before sleeping. A small paste was applied when we would cut ourselves and also considered auspicious in ceremonies.
The spiciness can be adjusted to your taste. At times I add vegetables to make this soup a complete meal.
1/2 cup dry red lentils
4 cups water
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
Salt to taste
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
10 fresh curry leaves
2 teaspoons black mustard seeds
Pinch of asafetida
One 3-inch piece of fresh ginger, skinned and finely chopped
1 medium tomato, finely chopped
2 1/4 cups water
1 (12-ounce) can coconut milk
1 tablespoon tamarind paste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Wash the lentils until the water runs clear. Add them to the water along with the turmeric and salt and cook over medium-high heat until the lentils are tender, about half an hour, skimming frequently with a spoon.
In a heavy-bottom pot, heat the oil and add the curry leaves, stirring until very fragrant, about a minute. Remove 4 leaves and reserve for the garnish. To the oil, add the mustard seeds, asafetida, ginger and tomato and cook until the tomato begins to dry, about 3 minutes. Add the reserved lentils, water, coconut milk, tamarind, and black pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer for another 3 minutes.
Season it with salt and serve hot, garnished with the fried curry leaves.
Vikas Khanna is an award winning, Michelin Starred Indian chef, restaurateur, food writer, filmmaker, humanitarian and the host of the TV Show MasterChef India. He is based in New York City. To learn more about Vikas Khanna, visit his website www.vkhanna.com
From November 15 through December 14, Intentblog is launching its first-ever 30 Days of Healthy Indulgences, where every day for 30 days we are inviting bloggers from all over the health and wellness space to contribute their favorite healthy indulgent recipe in time for the holiday season. Please keep checking back on Intentblog.com for more recipes.
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