SPICE GUIDE

MOST POPULAR SPICES USED IN SRI LANKAN COOKING

The use of spices is very imperative to Asian cuisine. The spices that are mainly used in my kitchen are, coriander, cumin, turmeric, black pepper, mustard seeds, fennel seeds, cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.

Sometimes, the spices are left whole or fried and sometimes they are roasted and ground, depending on the preparation one is making.

Spices

For meat and poultry, spices are roasted and ground to give more strength and taste to the curries.

Vegetables and seafood have their own delicate flavours. One must not drown their flavours by over spicing them. Using little or no curry powder for spices ensures that the natural flavour of the vegetables and seafood are retained.

Chilli powder and curry powder should be stored in airtight containers so that they do not lose their flavour.

Black Pepper

The black peppercorn which is used in Indian cooking, is a dried berry from the pepper plant. Another important ingredient in making curry powder. If used in excess it can give a hot burning taste to the curry.

Peppercorns may be kept whole when used as a flavouring for rice.

Cardamom

Called the “Seeds of Paradise”, Cardamom is an exotic spice native to India and Sri Lanka. Cardamom is considered to be the most prized spice after saffron.

Over 4000 years ago it was mentioned in the Sacred texts of India and, 700 years before the birth of Christ it was believed to have been grown as an ornamental plant in the gardens of the Babylonian Kings. The pods can be used whole or the husks can be removed and the seeds released. They have a very aromatic taste. They come in green and white varieties.

Cardamom is the only spice that can be used with sweet and savoury dishes or to flavour rice.

Chillies

It is important to understand the use of chillies in the making of curries as they are an important ingredient.

There are two varieties of chillies; the green variety, which is used fresh, and the red which is used in dried form.  Chillies are an important source of Vitamin C.

The green chillies are used in making salads and pickles or chutneys.

In these preparations they are used raw. In some savouries they are used for cooking. Recipes usually indicate how the chillies are to be used, slit or chopped.

Some dishes call for broken-up red chilli, others for it to be ground into a paste with a little water or vinegar, while in other recipes only red chilli powder is to be used.

The stalks of chillies are always removed before use.

To achieve the bright colour effect of red chilli powder with a less hot taste, some recipes suggest that paprika can be added it can be mixed with paprika.

But I believe that the colour depends on the type of chilli used and the measurement as given in the recipe. In authentic Sri Lankan cuisine, I do not use paprika.

One does not have to de-seed green chillies, but care must be taken to wash your hands after handling chillies, otherwise you might rub your eyes with your hands and your eyes can start smarting for a little while.

Cinnamon

Cinnamon is one of the earliest known spices and native to South India and Sri Lanka. Cinnamon has an aromatic and sweet flavour. Usually they are bought in a stick form and are  used whole in meat or rice dishes. Cinnamon is known to have medicinal qualities as well.

Cloves

Used whole for their flavour and aroma in meat or rice dishes. Known to be used in treatment of toothache.

Coriander Leaves

This is an aromatic herb of the parsley family. It is sold in a bunch and can be grown at home.  It is used both as an ingredient at the beginning of cooking and at the end as a decorative and aromatic garnish.

It is also used in the preparation of coconut chutneys.

Curry leaves

This tree is native to Asia. The leaves are smaller than bay leaves and shiny. Generally fresh curry leaves are used. It is very fragrant and can be fried in the initial stages of a curry or put in at the simmering stage.

It can also be added at the final stage to bring out the maximum flavour

Cumin seeds

Cumin seeds have a strong aroma and flavour and can be used whole or ground. Along with coriander it is one of the most essential ingredients in preparing curry powder.

Although cumin physically resembles caraway seed, it is different in taste and aroma to the caraway seed.

Fennel seeds

Used in the preparation of some dishes. Has a sweet taste.

Fenugreek seeds

This is a rectangular shaped golden brown coloured seed which has a bitter taste, but is nevertheless an important ingredient to making curries.

Care should be taken not to add too much. When used in the preparation of curry powder it is a sort of thickening agent and it also is of medicinal use _ especially when the seeds are soaked in water and taken.

Ginger

Fresh ginger is used in all Asian cuisine. It has medicinal value as well.

Mustard seeds

Mustard Seeds are used whole. It is almost always the first ingredient to be used when preparing a curry. It is first fried for a few seconds in hot oil and when it begins to splutter other ingredients are used.

Mustard seeds ground and mixed with vinegar are a base for pickles.

Nutmeg

Nutmeg is the dried seed of an evergreen tree. This spice is used in making curry powder and some sweet dishes and cakes.

Saffron

Saffron is one of the most expensive of spices.  It comes from the dried stamens of the crocus flower.  A tiny amount is infused in hot milk for about 10 minutes and added to rice dishes and desserts.

Tamarind

Tamarind’s sour fruity taste adds a distinctive, refreshing flavour to curries of all kinds. Tamarind is widely used in India, Sri Lanka and South East Asia. Tamarind is sold as a soft block of pulp or as concentrate in a jar.

Commonly used in fish curries.

Turmeric

It is an aromatic powdered root of a plant grown in the West Indies and India. It is used mainly for colouring and is also used as an antiseptic.

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