Cardamom

Sri Lankan Raw Five Spice Powder / Sri Lankan Raw Curry Powder (තුන පහ “Thuna Paha”)

Sri Lankan raw curry powder or "thuna paha", in a traditional Sri Lankan coconut shell spoon, surrounded by green cardamom pods, cloves, fennel seeds, cumin seeds, coriander seeds, fenugreek seeds, Ceylon cinnamon, a sprig of fresh curry leaves on a white plate.

Sri Lankan raw curry powder or “thuna paha” is an aromatic and flavorful concoction of finely ground local spices

Sri Lankan Raw Five Spice Powder / Sri Lankan Raw Curry Powder (තුන පහ “Thuna Paha”)
Sri Lankan raw curry powder, also known as “five spice powder” (known as තුන පහ “thuna paha” in Singhalese) is a staple ingredient in all Singhalese households, used to lend aroma, color and flavor to various Sri Lankan dishes. “Thuna” තුන means three and “paha” පහ means “five, and so taken together it literally means “three-five” referring to the three to five spices used to make the curry powder though nowadays many more spices are used.

The spices are traditionally ground in a මිරිස් ගල “miris gala” which literally means “chili stone” – a laborious labor of love in which the spices are painstakingly ground by hand into a curry paste, using a heavy, cylindrical granite rolling stone and lots of elbow grease. The cylindrical stone is dragged over the spices which have been placed over a separate rectangular slab of granite stone. This chili stone has given way to the modern day grinder which indeed saves considerable time to prepare the curry powder but this convenience comes at the expense of quality; manual grinding retains the flavor, aroma and nutritional benefits of the spices whereas when pulsed in a mechanical blender, some of the aroma, flavor and nutrients are lost.

Usually, Sri Lankans use raw curry powder to make vegetable dishes while the stronger roasted curry powder (known as “badapu thuna paha” බැදපු තුන පහ – “badapu” means “roasted”) is used for making fish and meat dishes.

Like most Sri Lankan dishes, there are no fixed recipes for curry powder; different families in different provinces have different recipes containing different spices in varying ratios.
The freshness of the spices is critical for a good quality curry powder. Spices tend to lose their strength as they age, particularly certain spices such as cloves and cardamoms and hence if stale they would not make for a good curry powder. Similarly, the curry powder too is best used fresh, the longer it sits on the shelf, the lower the quality.

The cardamom used is green cardamom (known as එනසාල් “enasaal” in Singhalese), an aromatic spice native to India but is now cultivated in Sri Lanka as well. The cinnamon used is Ceylon cinnamon – a delicate and fragrant spice grown in Sri Lanka. Ceylon cinnamon (known as “kurundu” කුරුඳු in Singhalese) is not as widely available worldwide compared to the cheaper cassia variety which is largely cultivated in and exported by Indonesia. Cassia is not recommended when making Sri Lankan curry powder as it would fail to produce the right taste and aroma.

Version 1 (the following traditional recipe is from my Sri Lankan (Kandyan) grandmother born in the 1930s):
Ingredients:

  • 100 grams cumin
  • 25 grams fennel seeds
  • 150 grams coriander seeds
  • 1 1/2 inch piece Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1/2 teaspoon green cardamom cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon cloves
  • 1 sprig fresh curry leaves

Method:

Lightly roast curry leaves on a pan over medium heat.

Add the rest of the ingredients and roast till fragrant and lightly browned, taking care not to burn or over-roast the spices. The idea of roasting the spices is to bring out its aroma and flavor as well as to prolong the shelf life of the curry powder by removing the moisture contained in the spices. The curry leaves should be crispy by now.

Stop heat and let cool.

Once thoroughly cooled, grind spices finely.

Store in an airtight container. Best used within 2 weeks.

Version 2:
Ingredients:

  • 50 grams cumin seeds
  • 25 grams fennel seeds
  • 25 grams coriander seeds
  • 2 tbsp fenugreek seeds
  • 1 teaspoon green cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon cloves
  • 2 inch piece Ceylon cinnamon
  • 1-2 sprigs fresh curry leaves

Method:
Place the curry leaves in a pan and lightly roast over medium heat till dried.

Add the rest of the spices into the pan and lightly roast over medium heat, taking care not to burn or over-roast the spices. The idea of roasting the spices is to bring out its aroma and flavor as well as to prolong the shelf life of the curry powder by removing the moisture contained in the spices. The curry leaves should be crispy by now.

Set aside to cool.

Once thoroughly cooled, grind the spices finely.

Store in an airtight container. Best used within 2 weeks.

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Cumin Rice (Jeera Chawal जीरा चावल / Zeera Walay Chawal زیرے والے چاول )

Cumin rice is a flavorful and aromatic rice dish popular in India (northern India in particular) and Pakistan. In its simplest form, it consists of rice and roasted whole cumin seeds while more elaborate versions could also include spices such as cinnamon and cardamoms, nuts such as cashew nuts, dried fruits such as raisins, herbs such as curry leaves and coriander leaves (also known as cilantro or Chinese parsley) and other ingredients such as lemon juice and slices of onion. There are no fixed recipes for cumin rice as the possibilities are endless. The key ingredients are rice and cumin and other optional ingredients can be added as desired.
In India, cumin rice is known as “jeera chawal” जीरा चावल in Hindi (“jeera” means “cumin” and “chawal” means “rice”) while in Pakistan the dish is called “zeera walay chawal” زیرے والے چاول in Urdu (“zeera” means “cumin” and “chawal” means “rice”).

Cumin has been used for hundreds of years in Indian cuisine and since ancient times the spice has been valued in this region for its medicinal properties. Cumin is a good source of iron and it is believed to aid digestion according to ayurveda. Cumin is known as “jeeraka” in Sanskrit, one of the world’s most ancient languages once spoken in India thousands of years ago. The word “jeeraka” is derived from the word “jeerana” which means “digest” in Sanskrit.

Similar to cumin, turmeric is very widely used in Indian and Pakistani cuisine. For this particular dish however, the addition of turmeric for cumin rice tends to be more popular in Pakistan than in India.

While the dish could be made with all types of rice, long-grained basmati rice is the favored variety.
Modern recipes for cumin rice sometimes feature vegetable oil, however as with most Indian and Pakistani dishes, ghee, rather than vegetable oil was traditionally used to make this dish. Ghee imparts a distinct flavor to the dish and hence cumin rice made with ghee is generally superior in taste compared to cumin rice made with vegetable oil.

Version 1 (Basic cumin rice)
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • 1/2 cup sliced onions
  • Water to cook the rice
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Drain water from the rice.

In a heavy bottom pan over low heat, sauté cumin seeds and onion slices until brown and aromatic.

Add soaked rice and water as needed to cook rice.

Cook rice as usual.

Once rice is cooked, serve immediately.

Version 2 (Punjabi style)
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • Few drops lemon juice
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 1-2 bay leaves
  • 3-4 cloves
  • Water as needed to cook the rice
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Drain the water from the rice.

Pour water as needed to cook the rice, salt and lemon juice.

Cook rice as usual.

In a separate heavy bottom pan, heat ghee over low heat.

Add cloves, bay leaves and cumin and sauté until spices are aromatic and browned. The spices burn very easily so keep a watchful eye.

Add the cooked rice and stir gently.

Serve immediately.

Version 3
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 1/2 cup onions – sliced
  • 1 tsp fresh ginger-garlic paste
  • 1/2 tsp turmeric powder
  • 6-8 fresh curry leaves
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • Salt as desired
  • Water to cook the rice

Method:

Drain the water from the soaked rice.

On a cast-iron skillet over low heat, roast the cumin seeds until brown and aromatic.

Ensure they do not burn.

Stop heat and set aside.

In a heavy bottom pan, heat ghee over medium heat.

Add sliced onions, ginger-garlic paste, salt, turmeric powder and curry leaves.

Sauté till aromatic.

Add water, soaked rice and bring to a simmer.

Add roasted cumin seeds and salt and let rice cook as usual.

Once cooked, serve rice immediately.

Version 4
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups long-grained basmati rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 1/2 cup onions – sliced
  • 1 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
  • 2 fresh green chilies – slit down the middle
  • 1 tbsp cumin seeds
  • 1/3 cup raisins – soaked in warm water for 10-15 minutes
  • 1/3 cup cashew nuts
  • Water to cook the rice
  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • Salt as desired

Method:

Drain the water from the rice.

Heat ghee over low heat in a heavy bottom pan.

Add the cumin seeds, raisins (discard water), cashew nuts and fry till the cashew nuts turn brown and aromatic.

Next, add the green chilies, ginger-garlic paste and sliced onion.

Fry till onions soften.

Add salt.

Add the soaked rice and give a gentle stir to combine.

Pour water as needed to cook the rice and let rice cook as usual.

Once rice is cooked, serve immediately.

Version 5
Serves: 3
Ingredients:

  • 2 cups rice – washed and soaked for at least 1 hour
  • 1 inch piece cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 cloves
  • 1-3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 bay leaf
  • Water to cook rice
  • Salt as desired

For tempering:

  • 2-3 tbsp ghee
  • 2 tsp cumin seeds
  • 2 tbsp cashew nuts
  • 2 green chilies – finely chopped
  • 2-3 tbsp coriander leaves – finely chopped

Method:

Drain the water from the rice.

Pour rice, cinnamon stick, cloves, bay leaf, cardamom pods, salt and water as needed to cook the rice.

Cook rice as usual.

Once rice is cooked, stop heat and set aside.

In a separate heavy bottom pan, heat ghee over low heat.

Add cumin seeds and sauté till cumin seeds turn brown and aromatic.

Add cashew nuts and green chilies and cook for a short while.

Add cooked rice and chopped coriander leaves.

Stir gently till ingredients are combined.

Stop heat and serve rice immediately.

Masala Chai मसालेदार चाय

A glass of masala chai with a spoon and jaggery cubes on a serving dish, placed on a table with a deep red tablecloth and greenery in the background.

Masala chai मसालेदार चाय served with jaggery cubes.

“Chai” चाय means “tea” in Hindi and “masala chai” मसालेदार चाय means “spiced tea”.

The type of tea used is a critical determinant of the chai’s end result. Typically, when making chai with black tea, a specific type of Assam black tea called “mamri” is used. Mamri tea (known in the industry as CTC i.e., “crush, tear, curl”) is granular (as opposed to “leaf tea”) and is a strong bodied variety of tea that has the strength and depth to hold its flavor against the spices and sweeteners.

Traditionally, fresh buffalo milk (milk taken from the buffalo the same day the chai is made) and jaggery (an unrefined cane sugar known as “gur” गुड़ in Hindi) was used to make chai. Buffalo milk offers an unparalleled richness (buffalo milk is richer than cow’s milk) and the jaggery contributes a distinct flavor which results in a chai that tastes considerably different from the modern day chais made with half-and-half/reconstituted milk/UHT milk/skimmed milk and refined sugar/artificial sweeteners. It is also noteworthy that the buffalo milk traditionally used was whole buffalo milk – that is milk, cream and all.

There are no fixed recipes for masala chai and the combination of spices traditionally used varies by region and climactic conditions. For instance, ginger is considered to generate “warmth” and so it is sometimes left out on hot days but is favored on cold and wintery days or when the chai drinker is down with a common cold. Chais made in northern India are likely to contain fennel (known as “saunf” सौंफ़ in Hindi) and no peppercorns while chais from the south often have peppercorns and no fennel.

Use only the freshest spices as spices lose their flavor and aroma with age. Ideally, crush or grind the spices just before making the chai.

Adjust the quantity of jaggery to your taste. Some Indians use no sweeteners at all for their chais while chaiwallahs usually add a generous amount. The milk may curdle when boiled together with jaggery. If curdled milk is not your cup of tea, then crush the jaggery into a powder and add to the chai just before serving. Alternatively, serve the masala chai with jaggery cubes.

This recipe tries to stay true to the authentic and traditional method of making masala chai, from using jaggery as a sweetener (instead of sugar) and fresh whole spices which are ground in a pestle and mortar.

 

Version 1:

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup full fat buffalo milk
  • ½ cup spring water
  • Jaggery as desired
  • 1 tsp black tea leaves
  • 1/5 – ¼ tsp peppercorns
  • 1/5 – ¼ tsp fresh ginger – grated
  • 1 inch cinnamon stick
  • 2-3 green cardamom pods
  • 1 tiny clove
  • Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

 

Method:

Place the spices (peppercorns, cardamoms, cinnamon and clove) in a pestle and mortar and crush to a coarse mixture.

Combine all ingredients except jaggery in a stainless steel or cast iron saucepan.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a boil, stirring every once in a while.

Optional: as you make the chai, using a ladle, scoop some chai and pour it back down holding the ladle as high up as you can to generate some froth on the surface of the chai. This helps to combine the ingredients and is common practice among some chaiwallahs in India.

As the mixture comes to a boil and bubbles appear on the sides of the pan, stir more frequently, scraping the bottom and the sides of the pan to prevent the milk from scalding.

As the mixture boils, it will change to a rich and deeper hue and foam will begin to rise. Be careful it could spill over. Take off the heat and give a good, thorough stir.

Put back on the heat and bring the mixture to a boil again.

Stop the heat and stir well.

Allow to steep for a few minutes.

Strain and add crushed jaggery as desired or serve accompanied with cubes of jaggery.

 

Version 2:

Serving size: 1 cup (about 250 ml)

Serves: 1

Ingredients:

  • ½ cup spring water
  • ½ cup full fat buffalo milk
  • 1 clove
  • 1-2 green cardamom pods
  • ½ inch stick cinnamon
  • ¼ tsp grated ginger (optional)
  • Pinch fennel seeds
  • 1 tsp black tea leaves
  • Jaggery as desired

 

Method:

Place the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and fennel seeds in a pestle and mortar and crush to a coarse mixture.

Pour the water to a cast iron or stainless steel saucepan along with the crushed spices and grated ginger.

Over medium-low heat, bring the mixture to a low boil. The longer the mixture boils the more robust the spice flavor.

Once boiled to your liking, add tea leaves.

Bring to a boil. The longer the mixture boils the stronger the flavors of tea and spices don’t over boil as doing so could make the tea taste bitter.

Add the milk and bring a boil. Stir every now and then. Using a ladle, scoop some chai and then pour it back down holding the ladle as high up as you can to generate some froth on the surface of the chai.

Stop flame.

Allow the chai to steep a few minutes.

Strain to a cup.

Stir in crushed jaggery as desired and serve.