Know your Masalas
Masalas (a mélange of spices) are revered and have been used in Indian cooking for centuries, not just for adding taste and flavor but also for their various health benefits. Some masala recipes are even family secrets passed down from generation to generation. My summer vacations were spent tending and drying spices on the roof of our ancestral home in Surat, and helping the women of the family grind the special masala blends for daal, pickels, tea, and much revered garam masala. All that labor for an ice popsicle treat!
Masalas are fun to cook with; however, it is important to understand their nuances and to use them appropriately.
The different Masalas give Indian cooking its distinct flavors, tastes and textures. Ayurvedic practices for centuries have recognized the benefits of spices to promote a healthy balance of mind, body and soul.
Some of the health benefits found in the basic Masala ingredients used in day to day Indian cooking include the following:
Ajwain (Celery) seeds are known to reduce asthma and cough symptoms, increase libido, and reduce arthritic pain.
Asafoetida a powerful anti-oxidant also helps lower the risks of high cholesterol and high blood pressure.
Black mustard seeds a rich source of B-Complex vitamins and minerals like iron, calcium and zinc.
Cardamom is a great source of potassium and iron. It also contains several chemical compounds that are known to have anti-oxidants and health promoting benefits.
Chilies are rich in Vitamin C and have several other health benefits.
Cinnamon is known to reduce cholesterol. Diets rich in cinnamon are known to reduce the body’s negative responses to eating fatty foods.
Cloves are excellent source of manganese, vitamin K and dietary fiber, as well as iron, magnesium, and calcium.
Coriander seeds are rich in anti-oxidants and fiber.
Cumin seeds are an excellent source of Iron. They are also known to reduce risks of certain types of cancer and are beneficial to digestive system.
Fennel seeds are rich in Magnesium, great for digestion and as an herbal mouth freshener.
Fenugreek seeds are a good source of minerals and vitamins, including the amino acids that control glucose absorption.
Sesame seeds are a high source of protein, also, known to reduce blood pressure, boost skin health.
Turmeric is known to purify blood, boost the immune system and promote bone health. Studies show turmeric consumption can lower the risk of Alzheimer’s.
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In the movies, “Masala” means something altogether different. A mélange of genres - action, comedy, romance and melodrama - are incorporated in a single film is called a MASALA film, the most popular form of Indian cinema.
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There are a few pieces of equipment worth investing in to make prepping and cooking easier. Aside from these, you’ll need to stock up on a few spices that are readily available in most supermarkets or specialty shops.
Electric coffee/spice grinder
Food processor or blender
Please note: these are only suggestions to help save you time. You can always develop your own workarounds!
Ajwain (celery) seed
Black Mustard seeds
Garam Masala powder
Red Chili powder