Magic of Spices

Healing with foods, herbs, and spices is Nature’s gift to us.   For three centuries the nations of Western Europe – Portugal, Spain, France, Holland, and Great Britain – waged bloody sea wars over the spice-producing colonies for control of this precious cargo.  The magic of curry is in the blending and sautéing of spices, and it is equally important to remember which spices are ideally suited to a particular food, a concept resulting from millennia of experience.  Turmeric and a combination of twelve or more different healing spices give curry its distinctive, delicious and unique flavor.

Growing up in India, my mother always impressed upon us, “Remember that spices and herbs have medicinal properties and are the heating and cooling energy specialists of the body.  They aid the digestive process and provide heat to the body and cool it.”  For example, black pepper, the ‘king of spices’ is an extremely effective heating agent or ‘fire’ that increases internal heat to open up congested sinuses and aid digestion.  Cardamom, the ‘queen of spices’ aid digestion and freshen the palate.  As a natural astringent substance, cardamom like cinnamon, nutmeg, poppy seeds and turmeric helps to tighten and firm tissues, organs, and skin and rejuvenates the body.  Chewing a clove helps relieve nausea, gas discomfort, indigestion, and sore throat.  Chili peppers are excellent for the skin because it opens up clogged pores and expels toxins.  Fennel seeds relieve gas, nausea, and abdominal cramps associated with indigestion and overeating.

Share the joys of good health experienced by many in the world of delicious culinary delights residing within the pages of my cookbooks Feast of India: A Legacy of Recipes and Fables (1991, 2016) and Editor’s Choice India’s Unsurpassed Cuisine (2016) with simple and easy-to-understand instructions on how to prepare your favorite dishes.


Spicy South Indian-Style Consommé (Rasam)

Serves 6

As children mother gave us a cup of Rasam or South Indian pepper-water (moloogu-thanee) with plain rice when we had the sniffles coming on.  You can also serve this soup as an aperitif to stimulate appetite.

1 cup pink lentils
10 cups water
2 tablespoons corn oil
½ teaspoon black mustard seeds
½ teaspoon ground turmeric
1 whole dried red chili
3 cloves garlic, peeled and shredded
½ teaspoon black peppercorns, coarsely ground
2 sprigs fresh curry leaves
1/8 teaspoon ground asafoetida
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¾ tablespoon tamarind pulp
Salt to taste
¼ cup fresh cilantro leaves

In a pot, add the lentils and 10 cups water. Cover and boil over medium heat for 30-40 minutes, stirring occasionally, until soft and mashed.

In a food processor, puree the lentils.

Heat the oil in a wok over medium heat. Add the mustard seeds and stir for 3–4 minutes until the seeds start popping.

Add the red chili, garlic, turmeric, pepper, curry leaves, asafoetida, coriander seeds, and cumin, stirring constantly for 2–3 minutes, until spices change color to a darker shade.

Add the cooked lentils, tamarind, 1 cup water, and salt, and mix. Cover and cook for 7–8 minutes.

Strain through a sieve lined with cheesecloth and discard roughage.

Garnish with fresh cilantro leaves and serve hot in soup plates.





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