Homemade Turmeric Paste

Homemade Turmeric Paste Recipe

Making ready-to-use pastes out of ginger, garlic, chili peppers, or combinations thereof, is a fairly common practice in many kitchens, and Turmeric is well suited for this as well. If you are really only familiar with Turmeric as the bright Yellow Powder on your Supermarket shelf, but would like to explore it a little further, you may wish to read ‘Turmeric – An Introduction’ for a more detailed examination.

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Homemade Madras Curry Paste

Madras Curry Paste Recipe for Home-cooks

Indian spice blends, collectively known as ‘Masalas’, can be dry powders or ‘wet’ pastes. Typically, pastes are made by combining dry powdered spices with a liquid (vinegar especially) and then either using as is, or else storing after cooking the paste in oil until the blending liquid evaporates out.

I would say that I actually use pastes more often than powders when it comes to making Curries as they are convenient, and also add a nice tangy quality that Curry Powders generally don’t possess. The rich, red Curry Paste you see above uses my own Homemade Madras Curry Powder as a starting point, and is one of my favorite Masalas.

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Asafoetida a.k.a. Hing

Asafoetida a.k.a. Hing

Asafeotida is a somewhat obscure flavoring agent that is primarily associated with the cuisine of India, where it is most commonly known as ‘Hing’. The English name, Asafoetida, is derived from a combination of Persian and Latin roots and means, quite literally, ‘stinking resin’. This might not sound like the sort of thing one would really want for the spice cabinet but, in fact, despite a rather off-putting odor in the raw state, it can actually enhance many dishes once cooked.

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Homemade Madras Curry Powder

Homemade Madras Curry Powder

Homemade Madras Curry Powder

In years past, a ‘Madras Curry’ was a standard item on Indian restaurants in the West, and the typical blend of spices used these dishes combine to produce what many people think of as being the quintessential ‘Curry’ flavor. Indeed, most of the generic ‘Curry Powders’ available on supermarket shelves, are largely milder derivatives of the traditional Madras Curry blend.

Nowadays, Madras Curries are not seen quite as often on restaurant menus anymore, which is probably because the City of Madras is now named Chennai, and also because the eponymous curry was probably more of an Anglo-Indian, rather than a purely Indian creation. Whatever the case, the Madras Curry is still something of a classic and well worth adding to one’s culinary repertoire. You can use a commercially prepared Madras Curry Powder for such dishes, of course, but blending the spices oneself is more satisfying and allows for improvisation.

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Turmeric in several forms

Turmeric in several forms
Turmeric in several forms

Turmeric- An Introduction to an Essential Spice

Most westerners are only familiar with Turmeric as the bright yellow powder on the spice shelves at their local supermarket, but most will have tasted it at one time or another. It is a regular ingredient in many commercial Curry Powders, of course, and it is commonly used to add taste and color to many preparations of mustard, including the neon yellow variety routinely slathered on hot dogs and hamburgers.

The spice is used extensively in many cuisines, most notably in India (where it would be impossible to compile a list of dishes in which it appears), and it is also widely used throughout southern Asia and the Middle East. It is available in several different forms, aside from the ubiquitous powder, and it is well worth leaning how to purchase and use this very versatile ingredient. 

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Galingale Curry Paste

Galingale Curry Paste

Recently I introduced the Indonesian rhizome known as Galanga (aka Galingale) and, here, I have put together a spice blend that captures the basic character of the typical sorts of curry pastes used in South-east Asia, while show-casing the particular qualities of this exotic spice ingredient. The other aromatics I am using in this blend would be at home in both Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian curry recipes and can thus be used as a general-purpose base for a wide range of home-made curries.

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Galanga a.k.a. Galingale

Galanga, also known as Galingale

At first glance the root-like object pictured above might be taken to be a section of fresh Ginger, but, in fact, it is completely different plant and is commonly known as Galanga, or by the rather prettier name ‘Galingale’. For many westerners, these names won’t mean much as it is not a commonly used ingredient in cuisines outside of the far East, but for those who enjoy Thai restaurants, or who purchase commercially prepared South-East Asian curry pastes, they will almost have certainly tasted this interesting spice at one time or another.

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Basic Chili Oil

Basic Chili Oil

I always tend to favor the type of Chinese restaurant that have little jars of Chili Oil, complete with flakes, sitting on the table for using on dumplings, or whatever else you like. Some of these preparations can be quite complex, with Sichuan Peppercorns, Star Anise, or other aromatics being added, but a Basic Chili Oil contains little other than just Oil and dried Red Chili and can easily be made at home for use at the table, or as an ingredient in other dishes.

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Panch Phoron - Bengali Five-Spice Blend

Panch Phoron – A Bengali Five-Spice Blend

Panch Phoron, sometimes spelled ‘panchpuran’ along with a host of other variations, is a blend of whole spices that is native to the north-east regions of the Indian sub-continent in general, and the state of Bengal in particular. Because it is typically composed of 5 different spices, it is often called ‘Bengali five-spice’ although there are variations not only in the types of spice, but also the number. You can buy ready-made blends in stores of course, but it is more satisfying, and very easy to make your own blend at home.

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A Saffron Crocus – Picture courtesy of Wikipedia
A Saffron Crocus – Picture courtesy of Wikipedia

Saffron and Safflower

Saffron is widely known as the world’s most expensive spice. Luckily, a little of it goes a long way and just a tiny pinch will lend a dish a beautifully vivid golden-yellow hue and a taste that is all but indescribable.

Safflower, in contrast, is much cheaper, unrelated, and with a completely different taste profile and capacity to color foods. Surprisingly though, its is passed off as Saffron, often fraudulently, with such frequency that it is sometimes referred to as ‘Bastard Saffron’.

Now, to be fair, Safflower is actually a pretty useful spice in it’s own right, and you can sometimes use it to augment a small amount of expensive Saffron, but it pays to be aware of the difference so that you end up using what you intended to purchase. Luckily… this is not difficult at all.

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