Spice In Dishes

SpicesThe character and importance of spices have been recognized in our cuisine from the earliest of times. I once asked my mother, “What is the most important element in our Pakistani dishes? Without hesitation, she answered Masala – it gives the food its flavor. So what is Masala? Most dishes employ two or three spices making and elaborate combination of freshly ground seasonings called Masala.

The Masala vary widely and each is designed for a special purpose. Garam Masala for example is a basic blend of dried spices to be used alone or with other seasonings, used in Salan, Pasanday, Koftay and Qorma and in so many more dishes. Other Masalas each devised to suit a particular dish to embellish it accordingly. One of these, perhaps the simplest, and used in hundreds of meat preparations, is one that calls to blend spices with herbs and maybe pounded with water, vinegar or another liquid to make a paste or “ Wet Masala”. In some cases, garlic or onion may be added. A Masala is usually cooked – separately with other ingredients – to release its flavors before the appropriate meat, fish or other food is added to the pan.

spicesIn pursuing the search for the appropriate flavor, no Pakistani cook will admit to hard and fast rules for the use of spices, but few obvious principles do emerge from even the most cursory examination of Pakistani cooking.

In any dishes at the end, as any desi cook will tell you, the test of the correct use of spices is not, which spices you use, which is a matter of individual taste or regional custom, but how to use them. You should be aware of the spices as separate ingredients. They should never taste raw, should never “catch your throat”, and should never be so intrusive that the essential character of the dish is lost. But as in any art, the personality and special vision of the artist are vital factors, and in our Pakistani cooking, it is through the use of spices that you express you individuality and your special talent as a cook.

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