Essential spices in the Pakistani kitchen

Essential spices in the Pakistani kitchen

Desi Cooking 101 is our blog series on the basics of cooking in a Pakistani kitchen. Most amateur cooks these days are able to make complicated Chinese or Italian dishes but are terrified of making basic daal, sabzi and chawal. What spices do we need to use – dhaniya, laal mirch powder, haldi, zeera or something else? Should we use sliced onions or brown onions or onion paste or no onions? How do we put chawal on dam? How do we store fresh coriander or dhaniya? How do we chop it? Do we even chop it? Our series addresses these and many such questions in order to make you realize that Pakistani cooking is not as complicated as it sounds – with a bit of practice it literally take minutes of prep work to have your food ready on the table.

Essential Spices in the Pakistani Kitchen

The first post deals with the essential spices in the Pakistani kitchen – here’s a list of the top 5 spices that you just need to have in your kitchen.

Red Chili Powder or Lal Mirch Powder

Red Chili Powder are dried red chili peppers that are ground up. It’s an essential element in Pakistani cooking because it gives dishes the characteristic spicy flavor. Paprika or Kashmiri Lal Mirch can be used instead of traditional ‘Laal Mirch Powder’ – both give a vibrant red color to curries / salaan’s but are milder in taste.


Whole Cumin Seeds or Sabit Zeera

Cumin seeds can be used whole and in spice mixes to add a characteristic smoky note in Pakistani dishes. It is also used to temper lentils (especially moong & masoor). Though it can be ground in a batch and kept in the cupboard or fridge for a few weeks, it is best used fresh. In case you don’t have a spice grinder, just dry roast the cumin in a tawa or frying pan for about 30 seconds and then ground it with a mortar pestle. Alternatively, put it in a clean plastic bag and pound it with a rolling pin.

Coriander Powder or Dhania Powder

Coriander powder is one of the most common ingredients in the Pakistani spice cabinet. Whole coriander seeds are used as a base in spice mixes and ground coriander (or dhaniya powder) is used in almost every gravy / salaan we make at home.

Turmeric Powder or Haldi Powder

Turmeric is known for it’s bright yellow color and its antiseptic qualities. Haldi doodh or turmeric dissolved in milk is a common remedy for pain relief in households. It its raw state, the turmeric root is a rhizome with a deep orange color from the inside. It can be grated and used fresh in cooking. However, it is commonly found as turmeric powder which is made by drying up fresh up turmeric and then grounding it up.


Garam Masala

Garam Masala is a combination of different spices – generally cinnamon (daal chini), cumin seeds (zeera), coriander seeds (sabit dhaniya), cardamom seeds (elaichi), black peppercorns (kali mirch), cloves (laung) and/or nutmeg (jaifal). If it’s used whole, the spices are usually added in the beginning of the recipe to flavor the meat while its cooking (known as sabit garam masala in recipes), and if used in the powder form, it is generally sprinkled on the dish at the last stage of cooking or right before serving. Earlier and even in certain households now, garam masala would be made at home and every version would be different based on the preferred spice blend. Now, there are multiple brands manufacturing garam masala so it can easily be purchased at the supermarket.


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