The Aroma of Indian Cuisine

Adapt the ancient wisdom of India, where herbs and spices play a vital role in cuisine, health-care and spirituality.

| February/March 2007

India-Inspired Recipes

• Turmeric Facial Mask
• Cumin Rice (Jeera Rice)
• Cumin Cooler (Jeera Pani)
• Spiced Tea (Masala Chai)
• Coriander Mint Relish
• Fenugreek Beans 

Growing up in India, I experienced the amazing ability of spices and herbs, used in accordance with the seasons, to warm or cool the body. No matter how blustery the winter weather might get, I know I can turn to my spice cupboard to bring some of the warmth of India into my life. The sweet smell of cinnamon, pungent turmeric and smoky cumin perk up my senses and take me home again.  Of the many spices and herbs used there, each region has its special flavorings.

The Spice of Indian Cuisine

Turmeric (Curcuma longa) is a bright yellow spice central to Indian cuisine. A member of the ginger family, it is made by boiling and then drying the perennial’s rhizomes. Called haldi in India, turmeric is in almost every dish and is one of the main constituents of curry powder. Turmeric has a musky aroma and is used as a base upon which other spices build their flavor. A word of caution—the warm yellow color, though appealing, can stain almost anything. Turmeric, which has its origin in South Asia, is used in Thai, Indonesian and Ethiopian cuisine as well.

The use of turmeric extends well beyond the kitchen in a traditional Indian home. It is used in prayer and wedding ceremonies as an offering and a symbol of God’s blessings. The spice also is prized for its healing properties. Recent research suggests it might have the ability to fight cancer and Alzheimer’s. In India, traditional wisdom deems turmeric an immune booster, and people drink it in warm milk to fortify health. Also regarded as an antiseptic, it is applied to cuts and bruises and as a warm poultice on sprains. Turmeric also is a skin conditioner thought to cure acne and blemishes. Brides-to-be are anointed with turmeric for a radiant glow (see Turmeric Facial Mask).

Cumin (Cuminum cyminum), originally from Western Asia, is a member of the parsley family. To create the spice, cooks dry roast or fry in oil the plant’s dried seeds to release their flavor. Called jeera in India, cumin is another main component of curry powder, along with coriander and turmeric. Cumin has a smoky flavor with a strong bouquet. In India, people use two varieties—black cumin and the more common, everyday variety, white cumin (which actually is brown, not white). Cumin is popular in other parts of the world as well, such as Mexico, Latin America, the Middle East and North Africa. The French and Dutch use it to flavor cheese.

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