Sunday, 8 September 2013

Indian Spices: Dhaniya (Corriander Seeds)

My blog is named "Salt and Pepper (With a Lot of Spice!) after a conversation with a friend about the richness of spices in Indian food. The conversation started when he was telling me about how he had been to UK and eaten their all-time favourite "fish and chips" and found it bland. "It was seasoned only with some salt and maybe pepper, nothing else! No wonder 'foreigners' go crazy when they eat Indian food. It has so many spices, you can't but like it!" I agreed. And that's why when I started writing this food blog, I wanted to honour our variety of spices that go beyond the classic 'salt and pepper'.

In these series of blogs I plan to write on the varying Indian spices that are used everyday in kitchens across various regions of India. If there is one spice that is common to kitchens across India, though in varying forms, it is corriander. So the first blog of the Indian Spices series is dedicated to it.

Corriander Seeds

Corriander seeds are also known as 'dhaniya' in Hindi and Punjabi, 'dhaana' in Gujarati, 'dhaane' in Marathi. They are used in various ways in Indian cuisine. The whole seeds can be used while tempering, like in Gujarati Kadhi. Corriander powder can be used as a spice by itself like it is primarily used in Marwari cuisine. Gatte ki sabzi, aloo mangodi, Rajasthani  bhindi, dal-chawal-'kath' are famous Marwari cuisine favourites that are flavoured with corriander powder. The seeds and the powder have two different flavours. The seeds have a citrusy overtone, whereas on roasting and grounding, the powder has an earthy smell. I am always reminded of the frangrance of the hot earth cooling down after the first showers when there are corriander seeds being roasted and ground nearby.

Corriander seeds are most commonly used in spice mixtures. In Gujarati kitchens, we have 'dhaana-jeeru' which is a spice powder made with a mixture of 80-90% roasted corriander seeds and the rest being cumin seeds. This 'dhaana-jeeru' powder is a quintessential flavouring for our daily food and is one of the three spice powders (apart from turmeric and chilly powders) stocked in our everyday spice boxes. In Maharashtrian kitchens, there is 'goda masala' which is used for flavouring in everyday cooking apart from turmeric powder and chilly powder. 'Goda masala' also is made of 90-95% roasted corriander seeds and 10-12 other spices like 2 types of cumin seedsbay leaves, 2-3 types of red chilly, cloves, 2 types of cardamom, dried coconut etc. In Punjabi kitchens, their everyday 'garam masala' powder has 50-60% corriander seeds with other spices ground into a fragrant mixture.

Corriander seeds have a lot of health benefits also. According to ayurveda, corriander seeds are a great aid in digestion. Corriander seeds are suitable for all the three types of bodies: vaata, pitta and kapha. Unlike other spices, corriander seeds are cooling and do not cause pitta. Corriander seeds also have anti-bacterial properties that can help fight bacterial infections such as salmonella.