Toasting and grinding spices

Two ingredient posts in one day!!!!

Whenever I watch Indian chefs on tv, they always bang on about toasting and grinding their own spices. I don’t remember my mum ever doing it and so I don’t do it either. In my cooking I use a combination of whole spices and ready ground ones.

Whole: cumin seeds, mustard seeds, carraway seeds, cardamom, cinnamon bark, cloves, dried peppercorns etc.

Ready ground: cumin powder, coriander powder, chilli powder, turmeric, salt, asafoetida, paprika etc.

I like to have the whole spices in the dish when I eat (though I don’t actually bite on them as they are really strong!). It adds a dimension to my dishes that I enjoy. I have tried to toast my whole spices before grinding them in my coffee mill. The benefit being not having to pick out the whole spices when eating. But I found the ground spices all melding together and lost something. I think it’s a matter of individual preference. 

But then I was watching Saturday kitchen – a segment with the gorgeous Spice Men and my man, Tony Singh. He showed me the way! He lightly toasted some spices, not too hot as he was able to continue handling them (though bear in mind, chefs have asbestos hands), in this way the spices release their flavour. And then after they had cooled he gently pounded them in a pestle and mortar.

So if gave it a go and wowsers, what a difference. I added these to a mung dal that night and it was delicious. So there you go, I’ll toast and pound from now on.

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Ingredients: Bay leaves

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The picture above shows two types of bay leaf. The large one on the left is the Indian bayleaf (tej patta) and can range in colour from dark green to brown. It has long stem lines along its length. The flavour is a subtle one, almost cinnamon like and it’s what I prefer to use for cooking dals or rice dishes, tearing the leaf to release the flavour before adding it to the dish.

It has been incredibly hard to come by in Scotland and all the Indian shops I tried didn’t know what it was, didn’t stock it and frankly looked at me as if I’d gone insane which was a bit extreme if you ask me. Instead they have had packets and packets of the mediterranean version and have confusing labelled that as tej patta too.  Luckily, it’s finally back in stock on the online stores such as asiancookshop or spicesofindia.

I have been making do with the mediterranean bay leaf which has stronger herby smell / taste. There is nothing wrong with using it but it does give a harsher taste to the dals compared to the Indian bayleaf. The med version however, is fabulous in cheese sauces (such as my mac and cheese) or when I am making a tomato based pasta sauce such as my quorn Bolognese.

One thing both have in common as that they are pretty strong if you bite into them, so if you are going to serve out your food, pick the leaf out before hand. 🙂