On my endeavour to understand more about spices, I set foot to the Spice Souk located in Deira, the older part of the otherwise very developed Dubai. Through my walk along the teeny tiny alley ways I came across a variety of seeds, sticks, flower, powder, and essences of all spices in different forms. Mr. Abullah is a young and handsome 97 year old man who owns a spice shop at the spice souk and he enlightened me on a lot of the spices available. We started a discussion about spices and realized that a few basic spices are all that is needed to cook with flavour and character. Which lead us to come up with a must have spice suggestion for any household, no matter the race, background, ethnic culture, whether a beginner in the kitchen or whether a prof chef. These are the MUST HAVE spices for you, here goes...
Found in form of seeds and powder. This spice is commonly used in making tea and in Middle Eastern and Indian sweets. It is very good for gastrointestinal protection, cholesterol control and also makes your food taste absolutely yummy! It is one of the many spices which are ground together to create "Garam Masala" (aka hot spice)
Usually found in the form of powder and used in a lot in Indian Cuisine to make traditional curries. It is part of the ginger family hence making it a root. It is a great source of antioxidants for the body and also assists with anti-inflammatory issues. It also provides a natural sunlight colour to anything it's cooked with.
Cloves are dried aromatic flower buds that stem from Indonesia and have no specific season to its availability. It is a versatile spice, commonly used in teas, curries and desserts. It provides a warm, sweet flavour and beautiful aroma when cooked well. It aids in anti bacterial and anti fungi issues making it a quick home remedy for cuts and bruises.
These chillies come from North India, a place named Kashmir. The chillies are dried in the sun and used whole or ground into powder. Either way, the spice it gives out is eye watering and mouth burning. Hence, when cooking with it, one must be sensitive to the palates as a little goes a long way with this spice. It provides an earthy depth of heat to any dish.
Everyone is familiar with pepper. They are available in form of peppercorns or powder. There were a variety of peppercorn available when I visited the spice shop, each of which provides a distinct seasoning to food. The 4 types I came across were Black peppercorns, Green peppercorns, Red peppercorns and Pink peppercorns. They can be used whole, crushed in a mortar and pestle or even powder.
Originating from Vietnam and China, this is the fruit of an evergreen tree, Illisium vernium, dried and cured for consumption. It is available in the form of seeds and powders. Commonly used in teas, curries, asian dishes like stir fries and all sorts of desserts.
Found in form of sticks (large and small) or powder, Cinnamon is the inner most bark of certain trees, making its flavour unique and pure. When used in baking, it automatically serves as the best scented candle as its aroma fills every corner of the room. Commonly used in curries and a variety of desserts as well as tea.
Found in the form of seeds and powder, cumin is found in the region of Pakistan and India. It is used in a variety of cuisines and also as a medicinal treatment for many ailments. It is very good for digestion and also helps strengthen the immune system. It provides a burst of flavour in any food. One main Indian dish in which it is highlighted is Palak Paneer (Spinach and Cottage Cheese Curry).
Apart from these I also found bayleaves, lavender flowers, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, coriander seeds, rose flower petals, fenugreek seeds and leaves, nutmeg seed and powder, mint leaves, chilli flakes, dried herbs, paprika...the list is endless. Those were, however, Mr. Abdulla's and my favourite spices to cook with. If you ever set foot into the spice souk, you don't need to buy these spices whole, they sell little packets of them in very creative ways. You could pick one of them up to experiment with and to explore the flavours.
The best way to store these spices is in a steel container or as we say in India, a masala dabba. If stored well they can last for years and not spoil. A little goes a long way in the cooking process with spices, so be humble and they will reward you with flavour.
Deira Spice Souk