Being an Indian, I have inherited a few traits from my motherland. First being the love for colour: in my wardrobe, food, festivals, home décor or even nails sometimes, the more the merrier and second being my culinary dependence on spices. They both influence each other in some way I believe. Do you notice any similarity in the pictures below? I am sure you will.
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/holi-india-vivid-holiday-culture-671899/https://pixabay.com/en/singapore-little-india-colorful-805548/https://pixabay.com/en/thali-indian-cuisine-eat-meal-51996/
Why I love spices…
The combinations of spices one can use in Indian cuisine are infinite. My Aai (mom) still sends me, some of them freshly ground, all the way from India on a bi-annual basis. It’s a mom thing. I cannot argue with her on that. I might not be an expert on Indian cuisine. I leave that to the top chefs my country boasts of. However, after three years of hotel management and countless ‘stand and watch’ kitchen sessions from my very own Aai and Aajee (mom and grand mom respectively), I am sure I can’t go wrong here. I do not mind making the famous Indian butter chicken and palak paneer, I love both of them the latter being an all-time favorite, but what I want to share here is food I cook at home. Recipes and spice mixtures that have been given to me as ‘hand-me-downs’ from my mom, grand mom and which are a part of who I am. Other than one ingredient like asafoetida, aai never bought store made spice powders. She always made her own, all these years, she still does.
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/retro-vintage-home-cake-dessert-1291738/
Growing up with Indian spices and the traditional process of masala preparation
One of my favourite childhood memories, consists of me accompanying my aajee, aai and sometimes maushi (maternal aunt) to the spice mill. We used to carry colourful floral nylon bags, full of dried red chillies and whole yellow aromatic turmeric, on a twenty-minute walk to a local market where the spice mill was. After handing over the whole spices to the sweet old man with colourful clothes (I call it spice art) at the mill, we used to shop for fresh vegetables and fruits in the market. Once we were done we used to head back to the mill, pick up our beautiful, mesmerizing aromatic ground spices and return home after a mandatory stop at a small dairy shop where I was treated to flavoured milk (my favourite was pineapple flavoured milk by a company called Energee). Good old times. The bouquet of those spices used to dawdle around us all the way back home. That memory is probably the reason why I find the smell of freshly ground warm spices very comforting and nowadays, thousands of miles away from home, my go-to task on a gloomy rainy/snowy day is to make roasted spice mixtures at home. It helps me go back to those beautiful innocent memories.
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/indian-spices-spices-indian-food-829198/
Growing up with spices wasn’t easy but it was a whole lot of fun. Trust me. The memory I shared above is just the sweet ending. The tedious process of making home-made masalas used to take place every year between April-May. It still happens back home, just that aai doesn’t have her helper anymore. (wink). Anyways, that time used to be aai’s favourite time to get her yearly spices in place for two main reasons.
- Summers in Mumbai are very hot and the unforgiving afternoon sun on the terrace is the best way to dry the chillies and other spices which help to make them last longer in powdered form (a whole year). It also intensifies the colour, flavour and aroma and
- Aai’s little helper (me) had summer vacations.
We used to roam market to market all over Mumbai trying to find the best spices and at a good rate. Sometimes it used to take so many hot summer afternoons for her to finally find The One.
Image source: https://pixabay.com/en/spice-herbs-indian-ingredient-606175/
After the choice was made, it was my job to carry the basket full of spices, bedsheet, and four to five bricks all the way to the terrace for sunbathing. I used to love it. The bricks were mainly to hold the bedsheet down when the warm afternoon sea breeze would try its luck to scatter the spices. We had to get them back down before the sun sets. In case we had sudden rain showers which are rare in May but likely, we had to start all over again. Phew.
After a couple of weeks of sunbathing the spices, they were carried to the spice mill. Ground and filled into designated airtight spice containers with a small amount kept in small glass bottles on the kitchen platform. These glass bottles were mainly cleaned and sun-dried jam bottles (mason jars). Aai is all about recycling and repurposing. The small bottles kept being refilled as and when required. I love spices and I still treasure them more than the jewellery I own. I cannot imagine my life without them.
The Spice Series a.k.a The Spiceries
If you want to make cozy home-made Indian preparations, this series is for you. I am going to discuss spices I use every single day with short excerpts from my life. I could have just jot them down here but where is the fun in that. Each spice has its own personality and importance in the food I cook.
Stay tuned for the first spice in our spiceries. Hint: It has the Midas touch.