Monday, 4 August 2014

Spice Talk for the Monsoon

The distinctive aroma of garlic and chili flakes frying in olive oil has to be one of the best fragrances in any kitchen. As the smell wafts through the kitchen, it draws passer-bys to peer into the pot wondering how long till lunch. That is the power of spices and its magnetic draw on the human appetite. The most memorable meals, no matter how simple or luxurious, combine produce cooked perfectly in a harmonious blend of spices and aromats. A fish fillet or chicken breast has a neutral flavour by itself. But think of the chicken floating in a freshly made curry of coriander, mint, chilies, ginger and coconut milk. Or the fillet baked with some chopped garlic, sprigs of rosemary and lemon zest. These seemingly commonplace ingredients add the zest, zing, heat and wow factors to even the simplest dish of rice and lentils.


Yet in addition to the variety, flavour, colour and aroma that herbs and spices bring to food, they also possess innumerable nutritional benefits. Ranging from anti-oxidant, immunity boosting properties to fighting cholesterol, improving brain function, controlling blood sugar and aiding digestion, spices are powerhouses of good health.

If you sense a cold coming on, do be sure to add black pepper generously to your soups, masala chai or maybe try a peppery rasam. Liberally used in cuisines across the world, the whole peppercorn and the powder add bags of flavour to salads, stir-fries, curries, eggs and so many other dishes. The black peppercorn is a tiny ball of fieriness that improves digestion and aids in the breakdown of fat cells in addition  stimulating the taste buds.


One of the oldest spices known to man, cinnamon is a superstar spice with its anti-microbial and anti-inflammatory properties and ability to control blood sugar. Use this versatile, warm sweet flavoured spice in everything from your morning cuppa, breakfast cereal, marinades for meat, salad dressings to baked goods and desserts.


Once thought to bring good luck and protect against evil, the universal condiment, garlic is a real immune booster with anti-oxidant compounds. A long history of fighting coughs, colds and the flu with its fiery, pungent and crunchy flavours, garlic is an essential ingredient during the monsoon and winters. Use raw garlic in salad dressings, salsas and butters. Or roast the whole bulbs for a mellow and creamy flavour to serve with roast meats. Or lightly sweat in oil to use as the base for sauces, casseroles, soups. 


Bright yellow in colour, turmeric has long been used in Indian and Chinese traditional medicine as an anti-inflammant which fights against pathogens like bacteria and virus. It's bold flavour needs to be tempered in oil before using in stir-fries, curries, soups, lentil and rice dishes. When down with a severe cough, drink some warm milk with a teaspoon of turmeric powder in it. It will soothe the throat and quicken recovery.

The use of spices extends beyond curries and seasonings. Complementary ingredients can be infused into oil for a customizable salad dressing, a finishing drizzle to a plate of pasta, or as a dipping oil to mop up with chunks of bread. Herbs like rosemary, coriander are excellent for their strong flavours. Or combine basil with chilli and infuse for a Thai inspired oil. Or try a garlic lemon pairing for a bright, fresh infusion. Another great way to harness the potential of spices is through seasoned salts. They are perfect to season buttered toast, scrambled eggs, boiled corn, roasted veggies, soups and salads. Simply pulse coarse sea salt with flavouring of choice. Some brilliant combinations would be chilli flakes and dried lime zest, vanilla seeds and ground cinnamon or saffron and fennel seeds.


While spices feature most prominently in savoury dishes, when combined into a sweet element, they add an additional depth of flavour that is truly gourmet. Classic spices used in desserts include vanilla, saffron, cinnamon, cardamon and nutmeg. But for a new approach to spiced desserts, try a chocolate-chilli cookie or a black pepper-vanilla ice cream, a ginger-cinnamon apple pie or maybe a black sesame seed panna cotta. The addition of these spices create an unusual flavour that delight and excite the palate.

Spices may be tiny in size but they pack a flavourful punch with each of them possessing various nutritional benefits as well as flavour notes. Which is why having access to organic spices at Natures Basket only means capturing that flavour and nutrition without the fear of harmful chemicals.


Image Credits: Google

 




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