Writing the Rails to the Spices of India


March 25, 2014 by Ray Yanek

I’ve been sitting on this blog for awhile and then it occurred to me that I sat on it too long.  The weather will soon be changing, grills will be coming out and people will lose interest in foods such as this.

But I decided to post it anyway because:

1.) It’s still freakin’ snowing in Illinois.

2.) I’m falling into my son and daughter’s early-season travel baseball and softball lifestyle of fast food and cold beer, so I thought putting this up would get me back on track.

So, I hope you enjoy and maybe even learn something here…

I’ve always liked trying different ethnic foods–Spanish, Italian, Thai, French, Japanese, you name it.  When I can, I really enjoy cooking in the different ethnic heritages, both to discover the distinct styles and spice profiles of the regions.

Indian food, however, is one cuisine I literally have no experience in whatsoever.  I think I may have had a dish of chicken curry in London one time long, long, ago but I have no recollection of what it tasted like.

But I was curious, because I knew Indian cuisine was fiery, fragrant, and full of bold flavors.  I did a little research, talked to a knowledgeable lady at a Penzey’s Spices up near Chicago and came to the conclusion that focusing around the spice mixture knowngaram masala as Garam Masala would be a nice, mild introduction to Indian food.  So I bought a small container, took it home, put it in my spice cabinet—then promptly forgot about it.

Time went by and my wife and I started to become more conscious of the things we were putting into our bodies and learning how different spices and foods could help our bodies repair and stay strong.

One night, my wife was telling me about an article she read concerning  the benefits of turmeric and she asked if I knew anything about using the spice.  I thought turmeric was the spice in mustard, and I remember using the spice once or twice in home-canned peppers or something like that. I also remembered reading somewhere that turmeric was also a spice typically used in Indian cooking.

Then I remembered my garam masala, and I searched out a recipe that would, I hoped, use both the garam masala and turmeric.

I found one and the recipe, which was touted as a traditional Indian dish taught to the cook by an elderly Indian lady, was packed full of other ‘superfoods’ as well.  These included garlic, ginger, and cayenne–all three of which my wife and I had also been trying to get more of into our diet.

Before talking about the recipe though, I would like to give a brief run-down on the health benefits these spices are supposed to bring to the table… get it, bring to the table?  Oh never mind…


First of all, this shit turns everything yellow–mustards, the counter, your fingertips. Everything.  If it turmeric does what the scientists say it does though, you could rub turmeric over my entire body and send me naked and yellow out onto the streets. Turmeric allegedly, according to Health Diaries.com:

  • is a powerful antioxidant that could help with cancers such as prostate, colon, and skin which is, in all seriousness,  important to me.  I’m a man at the age where prostate and colon cancer can become an issue, and I’ve battled melanoma in my past.

  • is a powerful anti-inflammatory.

The Mother Nature Network also reports that turmeric:

  • is a natural liver detoxifier… um, yeah. I could use that…

  • was used in ancient Chinese medicine as a cure for depression

  • may aid in fat metabolism and help in weight management

spice palleteGinger:

I’ve been using ginger as much as I can for a little while now.  I’ve juiced pieces of it, grated it with lemon, cucumber, and mint and infused water. I cook with it when I can. I’ve been doing this because ginger is supposed to help with bloating and gas.

Yeah, I’ll just leave it at that.

Cayenne Pepper:

First, it’s cayenne pepper and it’s my favorite of all the hot peppers.  I think that comes from my old love of cajun and creole food. I love the slow burn and how the spice lingers on your lips. What I didn’t know, was that it’s good for you too.

According to 3FatChicks on a Diet (hey, I didn’t make that up) cayenne pepper has been proven to regulate blood flow, rid the body of bad cholesterol, relieve joint pain, and finally, help to promote fat loss, probably because it roasts your taste buds and makes even the thought of putting something else into your mouth sound ludicrous.

Garam Masala:

As mentioned, Garam Masala is a spice blend that usually contains black pepper, cardamon, cinnamon, and cloves all of which have distinct and potent health benefits.

Rather than talking about each spices individually, I’ll direct you to the people at Yodesh!

The Recipe:

It’s called Maharaja Curry by Jane Gibralter from Allrecipes.com:

  • tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seed
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1 teaspoon cayenne pepper to taste
  • 1 teaspoon garam masala

  • 1 clove garlic, minced

  • 1 tablespoon minced ginger

  • 5 peeled, seeded, and chopped tomatoes

  • 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast meat – cubed

  1. Heat oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Stir in cumin seed and cook until they start to pop, 20 to 45 seconds. Stir in onion, and cook until golden brown, about 5 minutes.
  2. Season with turmeric, cayenne, garam masala, garlic, and ginger. Cook for 1 to 2 minutes until fragrant.
  3. Puree the mixture with the tomatoes in a blender until smooth. Return the puree to the saucepan, and add the chicken.
  4.  Simmer gently until the chicken has cooked, about 20 minutes; add water as needed while cooking to maintain desired consistency.

There were a few changes and additions I made with this recipes and few things I discovered that I think I should share.

First of all, soon after you start chopping and scooping these spices, your kitchen will become fragrant– quickly.  In fact, quite a bit of your house will become fragrant…

Secondly, I would highly recommend you have the tomatoes in the blender, waiting and

Cooking the onion and cumin.  Be careful not to burn the cumin!

Cooking the onion and cumin. Be careful not to burn the cumin!

ready to go.  This became especially important for me, because I didn’t have the whole cumin seeds, only the ground variety.  What I did was to cook the onion (in olive oil rather than vegetable oil) first and then put the spices in to cook with the onion, hoping that would slow the cooking process.

It didn’t….  and I needed to get that spice into the cold tomatoes to keep it from burning. I’ve had some bad experiences toasting cumin for chili…let me tell you.  Keep the spices moving in the pan,and went they turn fragrant, take them off.

The other change I made was to use whole, peeled canned tomatoes.  I bought the 28 oz can and tried to estimate five, normal size tomatoes.  I also used some of the juice to thin out the slurry.

Smells a lot better then it looks...

Smells a lot better then it looks…

And after a little while in the blender, it will become a slurry–a very thick, slurry.  When I saw the picture of the finished product on the website, I had to look twice because the chicken looked liked it had been fried with a cracker crumb batter.  It hadn’t, it’s just that the tomato will look like a strange type of red cracker crumb.  That will take a little while to get used to…

Also, you’ll probably want to add salt to taste.

I served the finished product over whole-grain brown rice and didn’t use naan bread, although if naan bread was healthy, I’d have torn that up…

The Results:

My wife loved it.

I, on the other hand, didn’t.  But I didn’t hate it either.  It’s just that I expected more.  Maybe it was the rice, or maybe that I used too many tomatoes, but I thought it turned out rather bland.  The heat factor was there (even though I lowered the amount of cayenne so as not to set my wife’s ass on fire) and you would occasionally catch hints of the clove and cardamom, but I expected the flavors to be much bolder.

I do think, based on the healthy ingredients and the potential this dish has I would try

Finished Product

The finished product.

making it again.  I would most assuredly adjust the seasonings though and up just about everything save the cayenne and tomato.

I do still have plenty of garam masala left, so I think my next adventure into Indian cooking will be into Tikki Masala territory.

So if you have any thoughts, tips, or suggestions about this recipe, the ingredients, or Indian cooking in general please leave me a comment–I would love to hear from you.

Take  care and thanks for reading!


7 thoughts on “Writing the Rails to the Spices of India

  1. I am intrigued. I just bought tumeric for the same reason you did … and haven’t touched it since. Can’t say I enjoyed the taste I took.

    • Ray Yanek says:

      Yeah. It’s a little rough. For awhile, my wife was mixing a teaspoon or two with a teaspoon of honey and trying it that way. Consistency was a little rough for my taste 🙂 We actually just found some tumeric tablets, but I keep forgetting to take them…maybe I should go do that right now!

  2. jenbr323 says:

    I love your writing Ray! Informative AND funny as hell!!!

  3. Jon says:

    Great article Ray! [Good sense of humour! ;-)]

    Persevere with the expermentation of Indian Cuisine – it gets much better with a little experience…

    And yes – that Turmeric can make a real mess of things. I prefer Fres Yellow Turmeric which i get from here: http://www.spicesofindia.co.uk/acatalog/Fresh-Yellow-Turmeric.html (doesn’t make half as much mess!)

    Keep up the writing Ray…



  4. Karl says:

    Thanks for sharing the recipe, I can’t wait to try this and incorporate my own spices of India!

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