Indian cooking and the spice of life

I think we’ve all been there at one time or another and had a disastrous experience with too much spice. It may well cause a moment of hilarity, when one or the other of our guests is calling for water, lots of it and quickly, but it begs the question: “why do we use spices?”

One of the first things that you’ll learn at any Indian cookery course is that spices are not just for flavour. To many peoples on the subcontinent, fresh and organic spices are not just to give their food a bit of a kick. The marriage of more mundane ingredients with exotic herbs and spices, traded in local markets for centuries, is as much to do with ensuring that their bodies stay nourished as it is with anything to do with simply flavour.

The old adage, we are what we eat, has never been truer than with the concept of the n=majority of Indian cuisine. Collated over many centuries, the various indigenous peoples of regions of India have developed harmonious recipes that blend affluent, local spices to produce the dishes we know and love in the UK as our favourite take-away food.

Ayurveda is much more than the technique developed of marrying ingredients to one another, as sworn by by the populace of many Indian townships. It is an out and out science that draws upon the chemistry between ingredients, developed through time-honoured practises (in the absence of any scientific equipment), passed down from generation to generation.

Okay, it may not pass a stringent examination under controlled conditions in a lab as a health benefit, but many of the blends we taste in our favourite Indian dishes have remained fervent in their respective cultures due to the belief that such time-honoured combinations as we’re now used to seeing accompanied with rice, naan, chapatti and roti have the added benefit of helping to stave off disease.

So not only are many of the Rogan Josh, Jalfrezi and other spicy dishes mouthwateringly tasty, but it’s the common belief of the people who uphold the traditions of their preparation to a traditional recipe that each curry or balti we have is doing our body good in a way that we perhaps do not even realise.

The scarcity of food in such tropical zones is well documented and the way of thinking that has been enforcedly adopted over time is: what benefits are my meal going to deliver my body and mind? Necessity is the mother of invention and many of the combinations of onions, chilli, red meat and spices that make up the basic ingredients of your common or garden curry dish are the results of using combining what ingredients were available to help stave off the effects of malnutrition and pestilence in times gone by.  A blessing in disguise as we look back, one may hasten to say.

So the next time you’re sitting down with your Biryani, mostly unknown on home shores sixty years hence, just think of the journey that traditional dish has had to get onto your plate today.

Spices are a truly fascinating culture on their own – and can be quite lethal if served in inappropriate doses but a boon when you know how to get the best from them.
The quickest and easiest way to acquaint yourself with their benefits is take on one of the many popular Indian cookery classes on offer, many available from those on our cookery course home page. Get to grips with your corianders, cumins, turmerics and cardamoms once and for all so that next time the boss comes round for a curry, you end up giving them too much of a chilli reception, whether they deserve it or not.

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