Dearest cheekiest of cheeky ones,

I say Indian spices and straight away we think to cumin seeds, mustard seeds, a bit of coriander and chilli powder, and maybe even that now-considered super-dupa food ‘turmeric’ (word of warning: if it cured quite as much as it’s claimed to, we Indians would be immortal by now!). While if you know your stuff even more, you may think to curry leaves, cloves, and cardamon.

However these represent merely the tip of the (sp)iceberg. Laying behind great Indian cooking, there are a number of unsung heroes whose praises go amiss among the clamour for the spotlight-grabbers. Well it’s time their voices were heard! And it’s Cheeky who are undertaking the task to out them, under both their English and Hindi titles:

Yellow split pea

1. Asafoetida or heeng – Ok this first one is a bit of a tease as one, you probably aren’t sure how to pronounce it, and two, it’s incredibly hard to find in the UK. It is a herb from which we take the resin and grind it into powder, where the smallest pinch adds a distinctive pungent taste to Indian cooking. The type found in Asian supermarkets is inauthentic, usually bulked out with wheat flour or other impurities, and a good source is of this garlicy-tasting super spice is in fact quite find to hard. However Cheeky has done the work for you and can provide you with this link to get the real deal.

Carom seeds
2. Carom or ajwain – A fruit of a herb grown in India that looks like a smaller, rounder brother of cumin, yet with a distinct flowery smell – almost like thyme. However this is no mere flavour enhancer! Since Ayuervedic times, it has been known to heal stomach aches and digestive issues. Indeed nursing mothers in India are required to eat one teaspoon a day with warm water, and it is heated in oil and rubbed on babies stomachs with colic. Aside from herbal remedies though, it tastes damn delicious. Add it to some leavened bread, and transform it from plain ol’ bread, to stomach-satisfying, mouth-watering, wholesome loveliness.
Fenugreek leaves

3. Dried fenugreek leaves/kasuri methi – These are not exactly a spice, but are nonetheless heavily aromatic with the most beautiful, mildly bitter taste to them. The leaves are collected then dried under the hot Indian sun, and are added to mild curries like paneer, korma, and go exceptionally well with egg curries. The trick to harnessing their full power is that you must rub them in your hands first, releasing all the seductive aroma, before letting them fall into whatever simmering goodness lies below.

Pomegranate seeds

4. Dried Pomegranate seeds/anardana – Despite this one not being exactly a spice again, we Indians are good at using such ingredients as if they were one! Once powdered, pomegranate seeds have a delectably pungent and tart taste to them. I use them to add a hint of acidity to my chickpea curry, or aloo paratha, ensuring that they taste balanced and layered.

Fenugreek seeds

5.Fenugreek seeds/methi Dana – Oh what a particular smell! The distinctive fenugreek and its slightly bitter and fragrant taste is a spice widely used across Southern regions of India. It is quite potent, but that does not require that you avoid it! Only that you be careful when dosing out the proportions, and make sure to never overcook it. Follow the above guidance, and you will be assured to fully unlock its fragrant flavours. I use it at home when making Sambhar (South Indian lentils), or would fry and grind them, before finishing off a coconut chutney with their particular tang. We also use it in our uber hot Chilli Bang-Bang pickle to balance the heat from the chilli and the sweetness from the fennel seeds.

So… Intrigued and planning on using some? Or do you use spicy people have some delicious dishes that already make use of any of these? Or are there any that didn’t make the list, which you think deserve a place? Let us know in the comments below!

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