Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Where Spices Are The Variety Of Life

                                         INDIAN  SPICES AND AROMATICS

For centuries spices have served three important functions in Indian cooking---medicinal, preservative and seasoning. Today the main focus is on the flavor spices impart to a dish, although traces of their original uses still linger. Turmeric with antiseptic properties is rubbed on fish before cooking and is added to pickling mixtures as a preservative Turmeric also stops bleeding and can plug a leaking car radiator, one reason truck drivers in India travel with a bag of ground turmeric for emergency patch jobs. Legumes are usually cooked with a slice of ginger to reduce flatulence. Cumin features in cooling digestive drinks and chiles are used liberally to stimulate the liver, which tends to become sluggish in hot weather. According to Hindu scriptures, spices are classified as “warm” or “cool” depending on whether they generate internal body heat or take away heat from ones system. Black cardamom, cinnamon, ginger, mace, nutmeg, cassia leaf (a type of laurel related to cinnamon), peppercorns and red pepper are warm spices. Larger amounts are used in the winter to create a warming effect. All the other spices fall into “somewhat cool” to “moderately warm” categories and are used anytime in various amounts to keep the system in balance. Herbs and spices that harmonize with certain foods are cooked together to promote the body’s own healing properties. Ghee, honey, rice and yogurt, for example are cooling. Meat, mangoes and cashews are heat-inducing foods eaten in moderation.  Spicy hot foods are eaten in larger quantity in hot weather as they induce perspiration. You sweat, then feel cooler as even tepid air hits your damp skin—all the better if its an icy blast from an air conditioner. Not all Indian food is fiery hot as you might have come to think after a meal in the old guard curry houses that specialized in super macho, hot dishes. Some spices do impart heat, but work in tandem with more subtle aromatics, infusing dishes with heady fragrances, beautiful tints and piquant notes. Many spices also help thicken and bind sauces and some act as a natural tenderizer. A few, such as saffron, turmeric, cayenne and fresh green herbs lend flavor, aroma and color.

Stay tuned for more on spices....

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