Monday, August 17, 2009

curries and the spices | therapeutic properties of spices | recipes of garam masala, thanda masala and everyday curry powder

Spices have been a part of Indian cuisine since time immemorial. Spice routes passing through Indian subcontinent brought more variety of spices to India and made Indian spices a part of other cuisines around the globe.

Spices and herbs used as medicine in the Ayurvedic system of medicine and home cooking has always followed the Ayurvedic principles because the nourishing and healing properties of food were identified well. The everyday curries, condiments and even the desserts were made according to seasons and the use of spices kept changing through the year. 

The curries of India are as diverse as it's people and it's landscape. The Kashmiri curries, the Awadhi, the Bengali and the curries of Tamilnadu, Andhra Pradesh, Karnataka and Kerala are very different from each other. All of these curries developed in those particular regions according to the climate and locally available ingredients. Each of these curries are delectable and very different from each other. These curries are considered therapeutic but most people do not know how they benefit our system, although there is much awareness about the medicinal properties of the spices used in the curries, we need to keep reinforcing it into our everyday cooking. Food is medicine they say.  

spices and curries

Most recipes of Indian curries confirm to the procedures and principles of Ayurveda. In Ayurvedic procedures a herb is boiled with water till reduced slightly in quantity and is called a ' kwaath' or decoction. Like if you boil a handful of Tulsi (Indian holy basil) leaves in 500 ml water till it reduces to 400 ml, the liquid extract is called a 'kwaath' which is digestive, antipyretic, mild analgesic, astringent and much more. When you cook a curry with spices, the extracts of spices come to the food. Simple.

Some spice extracts are water soluble and some are fat soluble, so the curry provides a better extraction with a ghee frying (bhunoeing) of spices first and boiling with water later during cooking. Ghee is considered a good vehicle for herb extracts as it nourishes the tissues and cleanses the intestines.

Apart from ghee, mustard oil, coconut oil, sesame oil and sunflower or safflower oil are used for making different curries and cooking in general.

So if you feel like having a curry for your indigestion you may think of using a pinch of asafoetida, some cumin and black pepper and a liberal dose of ginger into a light curry made with a watery (like guards or squashes) vegetable, tamatar wali lauki is an example. In winters you can opt for the hot spices like dry ginger, black pepper, red chilly peppers, nutmeg, cloves, black cardamom and ajwain (bishop's seeds) etc. while fennel seeds, cumin, coriander, fenugreek etc. are cooling spices. Once you make friends with the spices they will tell you how to choose them for your daily cooking and for different moods. 

The motive is to make it more understandable and common knowledge for everyone that the curries can cure, if you choose the spices judiciously.

Apart from all these spices turmeric is an integral part of curry cooking and is considered to prevent cancer, arthritis and even Alzheimer's. It has antiseptic and healing properties.


Making the curry powders at home is a way to ensure freshness, quality and taste. 

Here are the recipes of few of my curry powders which can be used individually for some curries and together in combinations for some more complex curries. Like sometimes I add a dash of the special garam masala in a curry that has been cooked with everyday curry powder, adding the garam masala in later stages of bhunoeing process works better as the aromas are preserved in the curry better that way.

Everyday curry powder

It has only 4 ingredients and I call it everyday curry powder because it is used for everyday curries mostly. For dry stir-fries, as well as for soupy curries which are light.

everyday curry powder

ingredients for everyday curry powder
coriander seeds 250 gm
black pepper corns 100 gm
cumin seeds 100 gm
a handful of scissor cut bay leaves

Sun dry the spices completely or using your oven at low temperature (60-70 degree C) and grind together to make a fine powder. Do not roast the spices as their aromatic oil evaporate and the spices loose some of their taste and properties.  

everyday curry powder

This everyday curry powder can be added to regular everyday subzis, sabut daals, and even rajma and kala chana curries etc.

Aromatic (special) garam masala powder
Aromatic garam masala is in fact the Awadhi version of garam masala. 

aromatic garam masala spices

This is a more complex and aromatic powder which lends a rich feel to the recipe. Use of this powder is occasional in summers but it is used almost daily in winter months and for non vegetarian curries.

ingredients for aromatic garam masala black cardamoms 50 gm
green cardamoms 20 gm
cloves 30 gm
star anise 30 gm

cinnamon 50 gm
one whole nutmeg

mace 4-5 flowers
long peppers (8-10 (optional but recommended during winters)
shahi jeera 10 gm (optional but recommended for meat curries and stews)
kababchini (allspice) 5 gm (optional but recommended for winter curries)
lichen spice (dagad phool) 2-3 shreds (optional but recommended for vegetarian biryani or koftas)

These spices are to be dried like the previous ones and ground in the spice grinder, the color is a deep dark brown which is so aromatic you will fall in love with. You can grind it very fine or a bit coarse. I do not grind it too fine as it looses its aroma very fast once made into fine powder. 

aromatic garam masala recipe

Black cumin or shahi jeera and cubeb or kababchini are two very aromatic spices which are used for making special mughlai curies and biryanis too, I keep them in the kitchen whole and use them as required.

There are many more spice mixes like kashmiri masala and pav bhaji masala which keep well for months in airtight containers and are used for making different curries. I generally make these spice powders as and when required. 

Robust (Punjabi) garam masala  

Punjabi garam masala recipe

Punjabi garam masala includes dry ginger (sonth) and black peppers and cumin as well. Some recipes even include coriander seeds but then it becomes like an all purpose garam masala that can be used for almost all curries being cooked at home. 

Punjabi garam masala recipe

Thanda masala  

Thanda masala recipe

Thanda masala includes only coriander and cumin as a base but adds on fennel, tejpatta and some poppy seeds etc for more depth of flavors. Fenugreek seeds, asafoetida (hing) and chilllies are often used as a tempering whenever thanda masala is used in curries. 

Thanda masala is used mostly for light summer curries and the use of mint or coriander leaf paste is also common in these curries. 

More exotic spices like Nagkeshar, Paan ki jad (Betel root), Rose petal powder, Abhrak powder, khas ki jad (Vetiver) are used for recipes recommended by Viadyas and Haqeems, some of these spices make the secret spice mixes that some old khansamas never share with anyone. There is immense lure attached to spices and curries. 

Various varieties of chillies are used in Indian cuisine. Capsaicin found in the chillies is considered therapeutic. Chillies are high in vitamin C (about twice that of citrus fruits), dried chillies are very high in vitamin A, and red chillies are a great source of b-carotene. Chillies have antibacterial qualities, and contain bioflavinoids, anti-oxidants most common in apple juice. (source

So when your doctor says not to eat chillies and spices he doesn't know about food and ingredients. It is a common practice in India to advice going off spices and chillies when one is under treatment for any ailment. Modern medicine follows symptomatic treatments and never considers ethnic ways of treatment and prevention of diseases.

Spices show us a better way thankfully as we have grown up on tulsi adrak ka kadha, adrak wali chai and fennel tea.


  1. Wonderful post,sangeeta! Curries are the best the tasty array of spicy dishes :D

  2. Very informative post.....and nice step by step recipes of all vital masalas used in Indian curries.....

  3. Nice....its very tasty...thanks.

    पाखी की दुनिया में "बाइकिंग विद् पाखी"

  4. A special thanks from my wife for these daily to use recipes,she has eagerly scribbled them down in her cookery notebook !

  5. These masalas add zing to the food... Simply love both the masalas, your everyday curry powder has been named as magic masala in my house :)

  6. This is the most helpful post by a blogger in my opinion. You have managed to address audiences varying from a novice to the expert! :) So glad that I managed to find your blog.

    Do drop by @ my food space. :)

  7. Thanks SuhailAmrita ...'most helpful post by a blogger' is a huge complement and you made m day...

  8. :) I am glad I did that!

    So in order to proove that I am not bragging here is how I tried innovating with your recommended 'everyday curry powder'. Just posted my recipe where I've liberally used your secret ingredient... :D

    Click on

    My recipe of Soybean nuggets in ribbed gourd and carrot curry. :)

  9. Enjoyed reading the recipes and homemade amchoor as well as khoya. Ayurveda blog is good too. nice info.

  10. When I think "Banaras" I know where to come:)Thanks for the amazing recipes.Have a friend coming for dinner and since a UP garam masala curry will be new to the Maharashtrian palate I'm going to make this for dinner.Thanks for the amazing blog too.Even miles away I can smell home in your recipes.I made mattar ghugni once and could feel the Banarsi winters:)Cheers!

    1. Thank you Desi Chai..I am glad BKK smells of home for you. It does the same to me too :-)

  11. Hi how does kababchini spice look.Its the first time I have heard of this. Thanks :)

  12. It looks like a black pepper corn with a stick.

  13. I love this blog and have saved it in my Favorite folder. It is definitely the best. The stories that go along with the recipes make it all the more interesting. So much of warmth here. Thank you for sharing..:)