Indian Cooking – Spices

It’s been three years since I took my first Indian Cooking class. It was time to take it to the next level with Indian Cooking 2!

But first I had to get my spices.

A characteristic of Indian cooking is its use of dried spices and herbs. It’s an adventure to discover them; something I look forward to but dread at the same time. Unlike all my other courses, I’ve enrolled in the online sessions. It means that I Zoom into class, cook in my own kitchen and source all of my own ingredients.

In Indian Cooking 1 when I needed something like kasoori methi for Butter Chicken, all I had to do was go to the school’s supply station and measure it out. Now, when I need kasoori methi I have to find it at the local supermarket and if not there, at a speciality grocery store.

Identifying unfamiliar spices can be challenging, especially when they have multiple names and aliases.

Kasoori Methi is also known as dried Fenugreek Leaves

Before my first class, I took stock of my existing spices, noted what needed replenishment and what was missing. Most urgent to find were Shahi Jeera, Kashmiri chilies and fresh Curry Leaves.

Shahi Jeera

In the Indian grocery there were three long aisles packed with dried spices. After walking up & down a couple times, the order seemed to be Aisle 1: Prepackaged mixes and branded spices, Aisle 2: Generic and bulk packages and Aisle 3: Medicinal spices. Aisle 2 seemed like the right place for jeera.

Jeera means cumin. Shahi jeera is a different type of cumin which is also known as black cumin or kala jeera (in Hindi) or zireh kuhi (in Persian) or siyoh dona in Tajiki or Kashmir zireh or koshur zur in Kashimiri. It is also known as caraway seed.

Kashmiri Chilies

To the uninitiated, all dried red chilies look the same.

I have a healthy supply of regular dried red chilies and another healthy supply from Korea. My Korean cooking teacher had told me that Korean chilies were quite different from the regular kind. She was right, they are different but now I have two large bottles of dried chilies. Did I really need a third?

My Indian Cooking teacher (Chef) told me that Kashmiris are also very different from regular chillies. Kashmiris are prized for their intense red color and very mild bite.

To put it in perspective, chilli peppers are rated in Scoville Units. The higher the score, the hotter the pepper. Kashmiris are on the mild scale at 1,000 – 2,000; Mexican jalapeños score 5,000 – 8,000 and Thai chilis score 50,000 – 100,000.

Kashmiri chilies are hard to find anywhere but Indian grocery stores. Even then, they are displayed with all the other types of dried peppers … all of which to the unitiated (like me) look exactly the same. After staring for a while, I found the smallest huge bag I could buy.

Curry Leaves

Two down. One to go. Unfortunately, the Indian grocery was out of fresh curry leaves.

In other shopping trips I’d looked for curry leaves and can confidently say that none of my regular supermarkets or favorite Chinese and Korean speciality markets stocked them. I had had high hopes for this Indian store but apparently, I’d come on a bad day.

With very low expectations, I went to another nearby Chinese grocery to check.

Lucky for me – it was there! Double lucky for me – I could recognise it by sight and smell because the label was no help at all.

It simply said “VEGETABLE.”

In any event, I am now stocked and stoked for my cooking lessons. Onwards!


  1. How nice to have an Indian grocery at hand. Here, outside of the standards, it’s usually necessary to use substitutes, with varying degrees of success. Anyway, as Jacques Pepin would say, ‘Happy cooking.’

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Witha green thumb and your fabulous weather, I bet you can grow some of the ingredients. Bushboy says he grows curry leaves and chillis in his backyard!

      But you’re right, I’m lucky. Some of these spices would be impossible for me to find elsewhere.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. You are certainly learning fast. The right spices and herbs are the essence of Indian cooking, which is similar to the Pakistani cooking as well, since both are neighboring countries. What’s next after Butter Chicken? 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. As you say, dried chilies come in big bags. I have mine from years ago. I also make my own dry chilies. I also have a curry leaf tree growing in my garden.
    My kitchen pantry always seems to have a curry type scent. Maybe as I have so many different spices and herbs. Three different spice types say of Cardamon, I have powder, seeds and pods.


    1. I envy your spice garden! How nice it must be to just clip the leaves, as you need it.

      I’ve never seen a curry leaf tree. Is it very big? The package I bought had whole branches in it. It looked like they’d been ripped off the plant by an irate harvester. I’m thinking he either had a bad day or these bushes are so bushy and sturdy, they can be aggressively pruned.

      Cardamon is another wonderfully fragrant spice. I have the powder, seeds and pods too … altho outside of Indian cooking classes, I don’t know what to do with them. I even have Black Cardamon (again from classes) which is quite different.


      1. My Curry Leaf tree is small. The tree the seedling came from was quite big.
        A whole branch seems just lazy to me.
        I do just use Cardamom in Indian cooking but I am sure they have many uses probably they may have a medicinal use too

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Up until recently, I only used cloves in my Christmas ham. Now it’s in my curries and pulaos and briyanis. I also cook it with my beans for additional flavor. What your favorite use of whole cloves?


    1. To be honest, this is one of the few mis-labels that I’ve seen. I don’t know if you have them but we have huge supermarkets that cater to number of ethnic groups. It’s amazing that they get everything right most of the time.

      To put in perspective, this store is the size of a large Walmart Superstore with a large produce area, fresh meat & fresh/live fish sections, bakery, cooked foods, frozen food and packaged goods catering to Chinese, East Asian, South Asian, Indian, Filipino, Caribbean and Middle Eastern cuisines.


      1. We might have an international section in our regular supermarket of four shelves that are one to two metres wide!
        But Indian foods are making more inroads due to increasing Indian immigrant communities.

        Liked by 1 person

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