fenugreek250px IMG 1726The seed of an annual herb related to clover. It is small, hard, oblong and dull in colour; ground fenugreek is a warm yellow-brown with a bitter flavour that often dominates curry powders. Once it is cooked the flavour mellows. It is used in a wide variety of spice mixes – for example sambhar powder which flavours southern Indian vegetable and dal dishes.

Mustard Seeds

IMG 2591 mustard seedMustard seed comes from three large shrubs, Brassica juncea, (brown mustard), Brassica nigra (black mustard) and Brassica hirta (white mustard). All three produce bright yellow flowers that die off to leave small round seeds. The brown mustard seed is more pungent than the white and is used predominantly in Indian cooking.

Mustard seeds are small, matt, hard, spherical, and either brown, white or black. When heated, they taste bitter, nutty, hot and aromatic. They are a key ingredient in some vegetable dishes and in pickles. In Bengal, they are often ground to make sauces for fish. Cooks in southern India fry a small quantity with other seasonings, such as cumin and curry leaves, before eating them – take care when you do this: the seeds pop in the hot oil and fly about with a life of their own. The spiciness of mustard seeds, no matter how pungent, does not linger, and they impart a rich, earthy taste to any dish.

Onion Seeds

nigellaonionseeds250px IMG 1728Nigella is grown predominantly in India and is used extensively. Although the seeds are also known as onion seeds they have nothing to do with onions. They are tiny and jet black, a bit like chips of coal, and smell slightly acrid when rubbed between your fingers. They have a nutty, bitter flavour. Store in an airtight container in a cool, dark place for up to 6 months.

Fennel Seeds

Fennel seeds are the dried ripe fruit of the perennial herb. They resemble cumin seeds but are green and plumper with yellow ridges. Good quality fennel seeds have a warm, aniseed flavour and aroma, which turns slightly bitter when roasted. Fennel seeds are used in many Indian spice mixtures to enhance meat dishes and sweeten desserts. It is also one of the ingredients used in tea spice or chai masala.

Bay Leaves

IMG 1762 bay leavesThe European bay leaf comes from the sweet bay, a member of the laurel family but the Indian variety comes from the cassia tree. It is sold dried and is a dull sage colour and fairly brittle. When cooked, Indian bay leaf gives off a pungent, warm aroma, and have a mellow but spicy taste. One ort two leaves are enough to scent a dish.