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Spices are the very life force (or prana, as it is called in Sanskrit) of Indian food. As we discussed a while ago, spices are chock-a-bloc with nutritional and medicinal properties. So whether you cook Indian food at home occasionally, or would just like to enjoy the healthy goodness of Indian spices, you must keep at least these four Indian spices in your kitchen.

Cumin – Called jeera in Hindi, these spindly and grayish brown seeds with digestion boosting properties are the first thing to go into hot oil or clarifies butter when cooking vegetable curies or tempering to pour over pulses/ beans. Here’s how you can use cumin at home:

  • Making Indian style pulses or dal? Heat 1 tsp oil in pan, add 1 tsp cumin seeds in hot oil, it will puff immediately. Now add 1 tsp red chilli powder and take off the heat. Pour it onto your boiled dal for authentic Indian taste.
  • Dry roast a teaspoon of cumin seeds to dark brown colour on a moderately hot griddle or in a heavy pan. Take off the heat, cool a bit and powder coarsely using grinder or mortar/pestle. Sprinkle over fresh cut fruit along with a pinch of rock salt. You can use it as a sprinkle over hot buttered toast as well.

Boil a cup of water. Add 1 tsp cumin seeds. Switch off the gas and cover the pan and leave to steep. Strain the infusion and sip after a heavy meal for easier digestion.

Turmeric – Called haldi in Hindi, the richly yellow turmeric is rich in anti-inflammatory, immune-boosting and anti-septic properties. Used in a vast variety of Indian dishes, turmeric powder is useful to have in your kitchen. Use it as follows:

  • Making split pulses? Pressure cook your soaked pulses with some turmeric powder (1 tsp for every cup of dry pulses) for authentic Indian coloured preparation.
  • Cardiac problems, internal injuries, arthritis or simple cold and cough, take 1 tsp turmeric powder stirred in a cup of hot milk for a two weeks at a stretch and see the difference.
  • For glowing skin, add a pinch of turmeric to 1 tbs yoghurt/ milk cream and 1tsp chickpea flour (besan). Mix well, apply on skin and wash off once dry.
  • Black Pepper – Called kali mirch in Hindi, black pepper is high in antiseptic properties. Though you are sure to be keeping a bottle of black pepper on your sideboard, here are a few typically Indian uses you may not be familiar with.
  • Making basmati rice pulao or jeera rice? Add 4-5 whole black peppers for every cup of rice to the pan for added flavour.
  • Replace your daily morning cup of tea/ coffee with this drink to lose weight. In 1 cup warm (not hot) water, add 1/4 tsp black pepper powder, 1 tsp honey and 2 tsp lime juice. Stir and drink on an empty stomach.
  • For cough and cold, mix ¼ tsp black pepper powder with 1 tsp honey and 1 tsp ginger juice. Mix and swallow. Have 2-3 times a day for noticeable relief.

Saffron – Real saffron is top drawer expensive but worth every cent you spend on it. To get maximum use out of your saffron strands, drop a few strands in a cup of very hot water and leave covered and undisturbed for an hour. Now use this infusion to get the most out of your precious as gold saffron. Here’s how you can use it:

  • Making any Indian-style dessert – kheer, halwa, kulfi , sewaiyyan or malpua etc.- add 1 tbs saffron infusion during cooking for a delicate and divine flavour.
  • Add 1 tbs of saffron infusion to hot milk along with a pinch of cardamom powder and sugar to taste. Stir and drink for relief from headaches, insomnia, arthritis and anaemia. This drink is also an aphrodisiac.
  • For clearer skin, soak 3-4 strands of saffron in 1 tbs hot milk. After 15-20 minutes, add 1 tsp fine ground almond meal (Auyrveda advises you to soak, peel and grind the almond for best results) and use this as a cleansing scrub and a face pack.

Note – All spices should be stored in airtight bottles away from heat and moisture for optimal benefits.

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