The world of spices – the array of smells is enticing. The right amount of them can transform a simple meal to an outstanding scrumptious experience. Who would know better than Indian-born Sameera Mitha, who came to New Zealand from her native Bombay nearly 20 years ago.
Sameera introduced us, a small group of enthusiastic shoppers, to the secrets of the different spices which are essential to cooking Indian food. We met in Avondale on a hazy Saturday morning at Spice World, a small but endearing store, run by Mehmood Khan, originally from Hyderabad.
In front of us is a huge tray with a variety of spices. It’s is not only the smell that is appealing, the beautiful colours get our attention as well. It looks like a painter’s palette: Bright red paprika, yellow turmeric, light brown of star anise, leafy green fenugreek, muddy brown cardamom pods, dried chillies, pepper corns and coriander. Best of all, is the mixture of spices in a plate, ready to be ground.
Sameera starts with brown mustard seeds. “They have to be split properly”, she says. To use them appropriately, sunflower or rice ban oil has to be warmed up, then the seeds should be added and fried until fragrant. This is true for a number of spices.
Their main purpose is to give dishes a certain kind of identity. Back to the mustard seeds. What do they do for your meal, and when should they be used? “It enhances the flavour of vegetarian dishes for example, and they are also very good in fish dishes,” says Sameera, but, she adds, “they have to be cooked properly”.
We learn that coriander is two herbs in one. All parts of the plant are edible, but the fresh leaves and the dried seeds are the parts most traditionally used in cooking. The same is true for Fenugreek. Its seeds and leaves are common ingredients in Indian dishes, with the leaves eaten as a vegetable.
Nearly all of the spices have medical properties. Cloves for example is said to help against toothache, turmeric is claimed to be a help in supporting the cardiovascular and nervous system health and is good for soothing a wound. Both of them have traditionally been used for their proposed anti-inflammatory qualities.
Shop-owner Mehmoud Khan demonstrated the shop’s spice grinder. With it he can create a blend of distinctive flavours such as garam masala, which simply translates as a hot mixture of spices.
“We are grinding our spices freshly to help customers create authentic Indian recipes,” says Mehmoud. Fresh-ground spices are especially flavourful.
Our group was offered to try some of the blends with a fresh baked naan bread. Very delectable! We filled up our pantry with the fresh spices on offer, and are looking forward to a cooking lesson at Sameera’s Cooking Sensation.
by Doris Evans