I love my fair share of South Indian cuisine- the irresistible combination of tangy and delicious spices cooked to perfection! I believe all of us enjoy our dosas, idlis and the accompanying wholesomeness of sambhar and chutney. Though In my growing up years I did not eat lots of south Indian food, but after my marriage I was exposed to most regional cuisines and that helped me to understand the flavour profiles little better.
As is true for a North Indian household, a South Indian kitchen has a list of must-have basic spices- which are secrets behind producing such great food. I have compiled a list of five basic spices which command a definite presence in the kitchen if you love south Indian Food.
I don’t proclaim myself South Indian Food Expert, but still I feel these 5 are must have in the kitchen If you love to cook south Indian Food.
5 Must have Spices in Every South Indian Kitchen
1. Curry leaves
They are quite indispensable in a South Indian kitchen so much so that they go together almost always! And it is a versatile spice in itself- you can use the whole leaves and you can also make a dry powder out of it.
The curry leaves are called so as they smell of a typical Indian curry. They are used to impart flavour to soups, daal, rice, chutney, and sambhar. I cook them in oil first before putting them back in the original dish- it brings out their taste much better.
And how I forget our favorite “imli” which finds its way in our most favorite street food and eventually the South Indian cuisine?
Tamarind imparts a slightly sweet taste to dishes like sambhar. It balances the spiciness of other dishes. Its chutney form is also widely relished by everyone.
3. Mustard seeds
One can always spot tiny black balls which are indispensable in sambhar, rasam and vegetable recipes. These mustard seeds are used to lend a fantastic aroma and exotic taste to dishes.
I use these for “tadka” or tempering wherein I add the seeds to hot cooking oil to bring out their best flavor. The powder or whole form can also be added to enhance the taste of pickles.
This delectable spice is associated with an enticing aroma and floral taste which it lends to the dish it is added to. It has a sweet smell which goes really well with desserts and savory dishes. I prefer using the smaller green cardamom over its black counterpart.
Primarily, traditional payasam (South Indian rice pudding) utilizes cardamom effectively, to give that extra zing to a delicious dish. I suggest using whole pods in your dishes to bring out the maximum flavor.
We are famous for our spicy food and it only makes sense to embrace our habits openly. Red chilies are used in their dry form to give a nice texture and color to the dish.
It can also serve as a garnish and is widely used in its whole, dried form in several dishes. South Indian cuisine also stresses the use of fresh green chillies, which surpass their red counterparts in terms of fieriness.
The list is a never-ending one, in reality, but I have chosen the 5 most easily available spices. I would love to hear your thoughts and inputs and will add more!