Spices make up the “palette” of a chef. They have a long and intriguing story of travel; how they spread out from a point of origin to all over the globe. Each culture treats these spices a little differently, yet there seems to be several common spices used in global cuisine.
Cumin, coriander, turmeric, and ginger make up the base of most Asian and South Asian cooking. Pick up any Indian cook book, and at least three of the four will be listed. The combination is the base of a “curry,” or gravy, that is made to compliment the food on the table.
Spices like cinnamon, cloves, and nutmeg are used as enhancing spices in Indian cooking, yet they are known as “sweet” spices in American cuisine. That’s where they have a tendency to stay, unless the cook is feeling a little adventurous. Finding out that I could add cinnamon to tomato sauce opened up the possibility of using other “sweet” spices in savory dishes.
Using spices judicially is key to the success of a dish. Too much turmeric can overwhelm a dish. Coriander can turn food bitter while cumin imparts an earthiness, and when used with ginger can make or break a dish. Too much ginger will give too much heat to the food.
Most of the spices that came from Asia, or the Sub-Continent have medicinal as well as culinary uses. Ayurvedic Cooking bases itself on these medicinal uses, and the warming or cooling elements of the spices themselves. When such spices and herbs are combined with certain foods, healing, or balance can take place in the body-mind-spirit.
I am going to examine each of these base spices, and help you understand just a bit more about their ancient benefits. How we can bring these spices into daily use, and help gain from the medicinal uses as well as the flavor. Going along, I’ll point out some of the recipes I’ve used as a springboard for other great food I’m creating, with the help of several Indian cookbooks. And because I love the history of food, there might be some discussion of the Spice Road, and how the American continent was discovered because of our love of spices.