Coriander

These small round seeds have a lovely citrusy and woody smell with floral hints. Their woodiness complements other spices beautifully. Coriander can be incorporated at the beginning, in seed form, as well as at the end of a dish, in powdered form. Apparently, coriander was cultivated for millennia by the ancient Greeks, and was used both as a spice for its seeds and as a herb for the flavour of its leaves.

Health Benefits of Coriander

A wonderful source of dietary fibre, manganese, iron and magnesium, coriander leaves are rich in Vitamin C, Vitamin K and protein. They also contain small amounts of calcium, phosphorous, potassium, thiamin, niacin and carotene. Very good for digestive system, coriander promotes liver functions and bowel movements. Coriander contains high amounts of iron, so it is very beneficial to those suffering from anaemia.

How You Can Use Coriander

Coriander is used extensively in Latin-American and Mexican cuisine, and you’ll also find coriander in a lot of Indian cooking, where it’s used as one of the spices in the many curry dishes. Toasting the seeds before use allows their flavour and aroma to be released. Then, you can grind the seeds in a spice grinder or pestle and mortar, and use, as in the recipes of this book. It is also a great ingredient in marinades for fish and chicken, or try adding a teaspoon of chopped coriander leaves next time you make guacamole; I use it in its fresh form all the time!

Garlic

We all know and love this bulbous, pungent thing that is garlic! We eat it so much here in Spain, so much so that Mrs Beckham once said that the entire country smells of it! This is not something that I have ever noticed or has ever bothered me one bit.

Many health experts consider garlic to be a superfood due to its numerous health benefits.

It’s no secret, Indian food contains LOADS of garlic, as does wonderfully healthy Mediterranean food here, along with Asian food etc. It’s what gives a dish it’s extra kick, it helps all the other ingredients to stand out and hey, if it’s healthy, then we need more of it!

Garlic is rich in healthy compounds known as allicins that can help to protect against cancer and heart disease. It has been used medicinally for thousands of years. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that garlic can lower cholesterol levels and lower blood pressure. Garlic also has some anti-cancer properties that can help to prevent cancer and reduce cancer symptoms in cancer patients.

Garlic is one of the most common flavours in Indian cuisine, where no curry dish is complete without using garlic paste. It adds incredible flavour and thickens up a curry sauce.

Curry Leaves

Large bunches of these small pointed aromatic leaves are sold fresh on the stem in many Asian stores around the world. They are difficult to find here in Spain, but can be purchased online. The dried version is easier to find everywhere, and even though they do not release the same flavour and aroma, you do get a very close and similar feel to the dish that you would achieve.

If you are in luck and can find the fresh curry leaves, the best way to store them is to remove them from the stems, store them in a Ziplock bag and freeze them. Use them directly from the freezer then.

Health Benefits of Curry Leaves

Curry leaves are known to be carminative in nature and thus, is highly effective against indigestion.

Kadi patta or curry leaves are a rich source of iron and folic acid. Interestingly, anaemia is not only about the lack of iron in your body but also about the body’s inability to absorb iron and use it. This is where folic acid comes into play.

Reduces congestion in the chest and nose – If you suffer from a wet cough, sinusitis or chest congestion, kadi patta is a very effective home remedy to relieve the symptoms. Packed with vitamin C, A and compounds such as kaempferol that is a very potent anti-inflammatory, decongestant and antioxidative agent, curry leaves can help loosen up and release congested mucous.

How You Can Use Curry Leaves

One of my favourite things to use in Indian cooking, they remind me of the aromas of the kitchen of South India, very commonly used in most traditional dishes such as lentils, chutneys and my favourite, most simple dish of all, curd rice, which is essentially just yoghurt with rice and a “tempering” of mustard seeds, red chilli and curry leaves to add the finishing flavour!

Ginger

Ginger is grown as a root and is a flexible ingredient that can be consumed in drinks (tea, beer, ale) or in cooking. It can be used to make foods spicy and even as a food preservative. For over 2000 years, Chinese medicine has recommended the use of ginger to help cure and prevent several health problems. It is known to promote energy circulation in the body and increase our body’s metabolic rate.

The Benefits of Ginger

  • Maintains Normal Blood Circulation – Ginger contains chromium, magnesium and zinc which can help to improve blood flow, as well as help prevent chills, fever, and excessive sweat.
  • Improves Absorption – Ginger improves the absorption and stimulation of essential nutrients in the body. It does this by stimulating gastric and pancreatic enzyme secretion.
  • Cold and Flu Prevention – Ginger has been used for years as a natural treatment for colds and flu around Asia. Steep 2 tbsp. of freshly shredded or chopped ginger root in hot water, two to three times a day. In cooking it is usually added in a form of a fine paste (grated), along with garlic as a base of a curry.

Turmeric

Turmeric is a member of the ginger family. Fresh turmeric comes in finger-sized pieces of root, has bright orange flesh, and tastes slightly bitter and earthy. While the powdered form is a very good substitute, there is nothing like using the fresh version if you can find it.

Some places that stock it, here in Barcelona, are the Boquería market and Veritas. Generally, the powdered version is used in our cooking, both for its colour and health benefits. It doesn’t add much flavour, so you only need very little. If you add too much, it will make your dish taste bitter.

Health Benefits of Turmeric

Turmeric is a terrific antioxidant and antiseptic, and boosts the immune system. It also has powerful anti-inflammatory properties, and is popular amongst those with arthritis and joint issues. Furthermore, it is used for headaches, bronchitis, colds and lung infections. Studies show, that it can help fight cancer, kidney problems and even Alzheimer’s disease!

Turmeric can be made into a paste with water, honey or yoghurt, to make a skin scrub that soothes inflammation and helps stop acne. It can also be rubbed onto wounds to help accelerate the healing process. It is wonderful in all kinds of Indian dishes, roasted vegetables, sauces and soups, even to just add a natural hint of sunshine colour, and you can also infuse it in hot water to make a soothing tea.

Put the powdered version in an air-tight container and store in a cool dark place. It keeps for up to one year. Freeze the fresh version, to preserve it. Be careful when using this spice as it stains absolutely everything, and can be difficult to remove.

Bay Leaves

Bay Leaves have a long and noble history. The ancient Romans and Greeks used to make crowns out of true Bay Leaves (Laurus Nobilis, Lauraceae) to crown great and accomplished people. These great people usually included kings, war heroes and Olympians.

Bay leaf not only has medicinal properties but is also used in cooking. The freshly dried bay leaves have a warm aroma, which is infused into cooking. The leaf is crushed before being used. It is used for flavouring stews, dishes that need a long time to cook and soups. However, it is removed from the dish before serving.

Health Benefits

Medicinally, the leaves of the Laurus Nobilis tree, also known as Sweet Laurel, have been used since the ancient times to treat problems associated with the liver, stomach and kidney. Today we use them for:

  • Coughs and Colds – Placing a cloth soaked in water in which bay leaves have been boiled provides relief from cough, cold, bronchitis and chest infections.
  • Digestion – Bay leaves are used for treatment of digestive disorders. They reduce flatulence.

How You Can Use Bay Leaves

The bittersweet, spicy leaves impart their pungent flavour to a variety of dishes and ingredients, making bay a versatile store cupboard ingredient. It’s also one of the few herbs that doesn’t lose its flavour when dried. I tend to use it a lot in curries, soups and rice dishes along with cinnamon and cloves.

Red Chilli

Eating spicy food more frequently as part of a daily diet is associated with a lower risk of death, suggests a new study published in The British Medical Journal.

This is an observational study so no definitive conclusions can be drawn about cause and effect, but the authors call for more research that may “lead to updated dietary recommendations and development of functional foods”.

Participants in a recent survey who ate spicy foods almost every day had a relative 14% lower risk of death compared to those who consumed spicy foods less than once a week.

Frequent consumption of spicy foods was also linked to a lower risk of death from cancer, and ischaemic heart and respiratory system diseases, and this was more evident in women than men.

People often get worried when I talk about adding fresh chillies to my dishes, however, most of the time, it is just a subtle hint of chilli that can be noted and nothing overpowering.

Red chilli powder, made from crushed red, dried Kashmiri chillies give an excellent addition of flavour to most Indian dishes without being too overpowering.

Many people back home in India make their own red chilli powder but here, I find that it’s okay to buy the ready, ground powder and it lasts for about 2 months in an airtight container away from sunlight.

Fennel Seeds & Star Anise

Fennel Seeds

A dried seed that comes from the fennel herb, fennel seeds look like cumin seeds, only greener, and have an aniseed flavour and a warm, sweet aroma. They’re also used in spice mixes such as Chinese five spice and the Indian panch poran.

The fennel plant is native to the southern European and Mediterranean regions, although nowadays it is cultivated and produced in other parts of the world such as India, China and Egypt.

The Romans introduced the spice to the UK and other European countries and over time it was also transported East to Asia and China.

Medicinally fennel seeds have traditionally been used to settle the stomach and digestive system. This is due to the high levels of certain components that are known to prevent muscle spasms and cramps. In the Indian culture, fennel seeds are often chewed after a meal to prevent gas or indigestion.

Star Anise

Star anise is aptly named. Part of the tree that is used as spice is its eight-pointed star-shaped pod. These pods or fruits are harvested before they ripen and are usually dried.

Star anise is a completely different plant that is native in China and Vietnam while anise is found more often in the Mediterranean region.

It rightly belongs in the Superhuman Food Pyramid because of the wonderful therapeutic effects it can provide as well as its dense nutritional profile.

For such a small spice, it is chockfull of vitamins and minerals. 100 grams of the spice delivers 21 milligrams of Vitamin C, 311 IU of Vitamin A, 646 milligrams of calcium, and 440 milligrams of phosphorous.

Like most of the spices and herbs that have been presented so far, star anise is a carminative and helps ease digestion.

Whole star anise is frequently used to sweeten soups and meat stews in other types of cuisines. One or two pieces are usually enough to flavour your dish or tea.

Nigella Seeds

Not a very well-known seed in most parts, the nigella seed, also known as kalonji, are similar in aspect, to the sesame seed. Often used over breads and rice, they are deep black in colour and add a slightly smoky and nutty flavour. I use them in my naan recipe and to top salads and curries sometimes.

Health Benefits of Nigella Seeds

Nigella seeds are a unique source of thymoquinone, a plant chemical that may have valuable abilities in reducing mutant cell proliferation. It may also reduce histamine production, helping to alleviate inflammatory conditions, and reduces the activity of parasites and bacteria in the mouth and gut. This completes the Holy Trinity among the health food brigade who recommend nigella seeds in the diet as they are “anti-cancer, anti-inflammatory and anti-parasitic”.

Cloves

The dry, unopened flower bud of the tropical myrtle tree family used to flavour a wide variety of sweet and savoury dishes. Cloves can be used whole or ground to impart a strong sweet but spicy and peppery flavour so should be used in moderation to avoid over seasoning.

It’s best to grind whole cloves into powder, using a mortar and pestle, just prior to using them to ensure flavour and freshness are at their peak. Make sure to remove whole cloves before serving as they have a strong, pungent and slightly unpleasant flavour on their own.

To store: Cloves have a long shelf life, lasting up to a year, if they are kept in a cool, dark place.

Used often in Ayurvedic medicine, cloves are anti-fungal, antibacterial, antiseptic and analgesic. They’re packed with antioxidants and are good sources of minerals (especially manganese), omega-3 fatty acids, fibre and vitamins.

Temporarily treat a toothache: You can temporarily alleviate the pain by dabbing a little clove oil on a cotton ball and placing it on the sore tooth or on your gums. An added benefit is that it will also pull out any infection.

It is a main ingredient in my Garam Masala blend.