Inday Founder, Basu Ratnam’s Five Favorite Spices

By Basu Ratnam
July 12, 2021

I don’t think it’s a stretch to say that it’s the spices that define Indian food. Aloo gobi without turmeric, coriander, and garam masala is just potatoes and cauliflower. Absent a dose of cumin, dal is nothing more than a bowl of lentils. It’s the glorious expanse of spices in the Indian pantry that elevate Indian food to one of the world’s great cuisines. Spices also play an essential role in the 5000-year-old tradition of Ayurveda. The ayurvedic scripts recommend spices like ginger to prevent indigestion, and the combinations of turmeric and black pepper antihistamine.

At Inday, we draw on spices for almost everything we make. Here are a few of my favorites. 

Asafoetida – “Because it’s indescribably savory”

The sulfur-like funk of asafoetida may smell like old socks, but trust us, it pushes the flavor of whatever it seasons into another dimension of deliciousness. In the same way that fish sauce punches up a bowl of pho, or anchovies give depth to a tomato sauce without a trace of fishiness, asafetida brings the umami on hyper-blast and makes everything it touches taste so much better. 

Curry leaves – ”They’re fragrant and beautiful. I actually have a curry plant next to my bed.”

A member of the citrus family and unrelated to curry powder or even the curry plant, curry leaves are extremely aromatic with a funky flavor similar to asafoetida, but with a slight herbal note as well, and some people compare it to lemongrass or anise. Though curry leaves taste nothing like what most Westerners would call “curry,” in Southern India, they’re considered an essential seasoning.  When cooked, turn mild and just slightly pungent with a nutlike aroma.

Deggi Mirch – “Spicy, flavorful, colorful, and versatile.” 

A traditional blend of Kashmiri chilies and red bell peppers, deggi mirch is used specifically for its gorgeous color more than for its heat. Milder than a regular chili powder, deggi mirch is medium-hot, flavorful, and warm but not overly spicy. Like other chilies and many red fruits, it’s a good source of antioxidants and vitamin C. 

Try it in Indays’ Golden Chicken Curry Bowl

Gunpowder Spice

Its official name is Milagai Podi, but most fans of South Indian food know this dry condiment as gunpowder. It’s a blend of roasted lentils (dal), sesame seeds, chilies, cumin, coriander, curry leaves, and other spices. The heat level can range from medium to explosive depending on the types and amounts of chilies in the mix. Sprinkle gunpowder on dosas, toss with roasted potatoes, and use to season lentils, steamed rice, and paneer.

Turmeric – “The goddess of all spices, it’s an anti-inflammation super house”

Brilliantly colored turmeric turns everything it touches to gold. Literally. This rhizome (meaning it’s an underground stem), is used as a food coloring and fabric dye as well as a seasoning. It’s one of the essential flavors of Indian food, no curry is complete without it, and it’s also a powerful anti-inflammatory. Pair it with black pepper to enhance absorption and magnify the effects of both spices. 

Taste it for yourself in Inday’s Tandoori Rotisserie Chicken Salad


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