Buying Spices

April 14th, 201012:54 pm @ Angela Odom


I have a friend who is a caterer. I am amazed by this woman because she can cook wonderful dishes, fabulous deserts and is thin, healthy and she rollerblades. I’m sick of her. Well, no, the woman has a great deal of willpower and I admire that in her.

In her kitchen — which is state-of-the-art — every spice, herb, season, whatever is placed in stainless steel containers and she has lots of them. Her kitchen is what inspired me to change and reorganize mine and it has been a big help. What I failed to do in all of my looking around her place was ask her about ingredients and the preparation of food. Not long ago I sat down to have that conversation with her and was I ever informed.

The conversation started with a discussion about salmon. I love salmon but I had run out of ways to prepare it. Since salmon is high in Omega 3 fatty acids, I try to eat it several times a week. She gave me a wonderful recipe that is simple and tasty, so much so I had to beat my dogs off.

The recipe starts with a marinade of pure maple syrup and Worcestershire sauce. She gave me a little history on Worcestershire sauce and said one of the main ingredients — if not the main ingredient — is tamarind. From there she discussed why she keeps tamarind around — it acts as a mild laxative. Yes indeed folks, it does work.

I used smoked sockeye salmon, marinated it in the maple syrup and Worcestershire sauce for about 4 hours in the fridge. On the stove, I prepared the baste for the salmon which consists of maple syrup, Worcestershire sauce and brown sugar — boiling until thick. After the marinade, I placed the salmon in the stove, broiled it while basting with the sauce, and when done, it was a most delicious treat. I will also say the tamarind in the Worcestershire sauce was very helpful.

Tamarind aside, my friend told me about other herbs and spices as well and their medicinal value for digestion, antioxidants, etc. The staples I should have are turmeric, coriander, cumin, raw sugar (not refined white), cardamon (what a beautiful spice), and more. She also cautioned I should buy my spices at a Indian grocery store because I can buy them in bulk and they are cheaper. Basically, she said “buy ‘em in a bag, package them yourself, and stop paying for those beautiful little bottles.”

She was right. After providing me with a list of places to purchase my spices, I found I did better buying them in bulk than buying at my local grocer. For instance, a 7-ounce bag of turmeric — and I could have purchased a huge tub for just as cheap — cost me $1.29. A 2-ounce bottle of turmeric at my local grocery store cost me almost $4.00, and that was a sale. Guess where I’ll be shopping from now on.

India Sweets and Spices is one store in Southern California where you can purchase all sorts of herbs and spices along with pre-made ingredients for various Indian dishes. There is one near me in Duarte.

Down the street from India Sweets & Spices is India Bazaar at 1020 Huntington Dr. It is a small, quaint little store in a shopping center and they too have large selection of spices to chose from. Actually, India Bazaar has become my favorite little store for spices because everything is so nicely laid out. Just walk in, go down the center aisle and grab bags of spices. Everything is right there and easy to see.

What I love about these stores is the ability to purchase masalas as well. Most of what I cook is made with either a pre-made masala (bulk ingredient for Punjabi Masala can be found here) or I will purchase curry powder and start with it because it usually contains most of what I need. These grocery stores also have tandoori masala as well, which is what I use for my Tandoori Chicken recipe.

The conversation I had with my friend was informative and, taking her advice, I now go to Indian grocery stores for all of my spices and I am researching recipes where I can incorporate many of these wonderful and healthy spices.

For a list of herbs and spices for use in Indian dishes see Manjula’s Kitchen. She too offers great recipes (with videos).

So, make a list and visit your local Indian grocer. Allow yourself time to walk the aisles and look, read, and fill your cart.