When fat is cut from recipes, flavor can follow. That’s when spices become the key to making lighter foods taste great. And if you want to get the most out of your spices, it’s best to follow a few simple tips.
Whenever possible, buy whole spices, says Raghavan Iyer, author of "660 Curries." Spices get their flavor from the oils inside. Once the spices are ground, the oils lose potency, which means freshly ground peppercorns pack more flavor than pepper purchased already ground.
Whole spices also are a better value. Stored in airtight, glass containers away from heat, says Iyer, whole spices will stay fresh for at least a year. Ground spices last only a few months.
Buy spices from the bulk section of a natural food store so that you can buy only what you need for a short period. That helps ensure your supply is always fresh. Prices for bulk also tend to be lower than for packaged.
For grinding whole spices, a mortar and pestle are nice, but an inexpensive electric coffee grinder is faster and more convenient.
Iyer’s recipe for curried chickpeas in coconut sauce gets a fiery burst of flavor from a freshly ground blend of pan-roasted chilies and coriander seeds.
The curry, which can be served as a side or main course, is traditionally prepared in India as an offering to the goddess of learning during the Hindu celebration of lights called Diwali.
CHICKPEAS IN COCONUT SAUCE
Adapted from Raghavan Iyer’s "660 Curries"
5 teaspoons sesame oil or canola oil
2 tablespoons yellow split peas, picked over for stones
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
2 to 4 dried Thai or cayenne chilies, stems removed
2 cups water
1 teaspoon tamarind paste or concentrate
1 teaspoon black or yellow mustard seeds
3 cups canned or cooked chickpeas, drained
2 teaspoons coarse kosher salt or sea salt
1/4 teaspoon turmeric
1/2 cup shredded dried unsweetened coconut, reconstituted
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh cilantro
In medium saucepan over medium-high, heat oil. Add split peas, coriander seeds and chilies. Cook, stirring constantly, until split peas and seeds are reddish brown and chilies have blackened slightly, about 1 to 2 minutes.
Remove pan from heat. Using slotted spoon, skim off peas and spices and transfer to a plate to cool about 5 minutes. Do not discard oil.
Once spices are cool, put them in spice grinder and grind until texture resembles that of finely ground black pepper.
In medium bowl, combine water and tamarind paste. Whisk to dissolve tamarind. Set aside.
Return saucepan to medium-high heat. When oil is warmed, add mustard seeds. Cover pan and cook until seeds have stopped popping, about 30 seconds.
Stir in chickpeas, salt and turmeric, coating chickpeas evenly with spices. Pour in tamarind water and bring to boil. Lower heat to medium and cook, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until chickpeas absorb flavors, 8 to 10 minutes.
Stir in ground spices, coconut and cilantro. Serves 8.