Indian Spices and Herbs
Finding Indian spices and groceries today is so much easier than when I was growing up in Pennsylvania, back in the 1980s. An Indian grocery store was a rare find, and one for which we were constantly on the lookout. I still remember making a weekly jaunt to a dark, slightly unkempt store with a steep, curved driveway in Norristown, Pennsylvania. Now, most basic Indian ingredients are well stocked in mainstream grocery stores—so much so, in fact, that many Indian grocers are scrambling for business.
If you have trouble finding spices, head to my website, indianasapplepie.com, where I stock basic Indian spices and blends. More are added every day.
Amla (Phyllanthus emblica): Also known as an Indian gooseberry, amla is a round, pale, greenish-yellow-colored fruit that is extremely tart and high in vitamin C. I bring back the dried variety from my mother’s childhood home in Chandigarh, but if you can find dried amla in an Indian grocery store, it’s worth adding to Mom’s Morning Cleanse. The frozen kind is a terrific and easy addition to my Indian as Apple Pie Green Juice Smoothie).
Asafetida (hing, Ferula assafoetida): Also known as devil’s dung, likely because of its sharp smell, this gum-like resin is ground into a powder and added sparingly to hot oil to help with digestion. It tastes like leeks once cooked in hot oil but should be used carefully—it is very strong. Buy it preground and keep it in a tightly sealed container.
Black salt (kala namak): My favorite spice, mined from soft-stone quarries in northern India and Pakistan, is kala namak. It has a sulfuric tang and is used in salads and street foods to help boost flavor. Sprinkle it, along with lemon juice, over fresh veggies like raw onions and cucumbers for an addictive side salad and/or snack. This tangy spice is how I got my young girls hooked on veggies.
Cardamom, green (elaichi, Elletaria cardamomum): Known as the queen of spices, hara (green) cardamom grows as pods on a six-foot-tall shrub. One of the most valued and costliest spices in the world, it contains 25 volatile oils. Key among these is cineole, which is also found in bay leaves. Cineole is being studied for its many benefits, which may include aiding digestion, getting rid of bad breath, inhibiting the growth of ulcers, and preventing colon cancer. It’s the primary flavor in Indian teas, rice pudding, basmati rice, and meat stews. Buy it whole in pods and crush it gently (discard the hull before eating) or take the seeds out and crush them into a powder (it’s used this way in many desserts). You can also purchase cardamom seeds already removed from the hull.