I’m a good cook and what I don’t know, I can pretty much wing it and figure it out. But Indian food? Completely stumped.
Enter Kanchan Koya. Kanchan is founder of the website Spice Spice Baby, a featured chef on Buzzfeed Tasty’s popular cooking videos and a two-time cookbook author. She is also a big believer in the medicinal value of Indian spices. I interviewed Kanchan about her spectacular mid-life pivot from MD to chef on the SheSez podcast.
Afterwards, I asked her for a little tutorial on Indian spices. What are her most essential ones; how does she use them and what are their healing properties?
“Indian spices can do everything from help fight depression to aid in digestion— and not just for adults but also for children,” she shares.
Here are Kanchan’s 7 essential Indian spices.
Fresh turmeric has a peppery, vibrant flavor. Most turmeric, however, is consumed in dried, powdered form, which has warm, sweet, bitter notes.
Breakfast: Sprinkle on spiced scrambled eggs, overnight oats or chia pudding. Make a turmeric latte with ginger, cinnamon and cardamom.
Dinner: Use with chicken or fish curries, stews, soups, garlicky green beans, oven-roasted cauliflower, sautéed cabbage, okra, and lentils.
Snack: Put in warmed in coconut oil, drizzled over popcorn.
Kanchan on benefits: “Turmeric is brain health boosting, gut healing; helps to fight inflammation, cancer, anxiety, depression, Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s.”
Note: Some turmeric may be laced with lead chromate to brighten the color, so buy from a reputable source.
Peppery, warm, earthy and slightly funky.
Breakfast: Sprinkle on a sunny-side up egg, oven-roasted potatoes, carrots and peas, spinach and beets. Great as a base in lamb and chicken curries or grilled meats. Great in tagines, chili, lentil soups, rice and vegetable dishes (pulao), raitas (savory yogurt and veggie dips) and vegetable fritters (pakoras).
Kanchan on benefits: “Cumin is digestion boosting, immunity strengthening, antimicrobial, iron-rich, antioxidant, anti-cancer, anti-obesity.”
Floral, peppery, citrusy, minty.
Breakfast: Ground some fresh cardamom seeds and sprinkle on oatmeal or infuse into pancakes. Great in mango smoothies, muffins, banana bread, spiced chai, matcha latte and coffee.
Dinner: Sprinkle on rice, quinoa and millet, on lamb and chicken stews, and rice pudding (kheer).
Dessert: Delicious in chocolate cookies.
Kanchan on benefits: “Cardamom is good for boosting digestion, fighting cancer, bacteria and nausea; cardio protective.”
Woodsy, peppery, citrusy, sweetish.
Dinner: Sautée with cabbage or cauliflower; sprinkle on eggplant, shrimp curry, roast chicken, lamb chops.
Kanchan on benefits: “Coriander is anti-diabetes, cholesterol-balancing, antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, antibacterial.”
Spicy, sour, sweet .
Snack: Try it on mango with salt and lime; terrific on a mango salsa and in hot chocolate.
Dinner: Sprinkle on roasted corn, chicken tikka masala, Thai red curry, and tomato chutney.
Kanchan on benefits: “Cayenne helps fight inflammation, obesity, cancer; aids in digestion.”
Floral, sweet, luxurious.
Breakfast: Sprinkle on frittatas, pumpkin pancakes, mango muffins, chai.
Dinner: Paella, chicken or lamb biryani, kulfi, rice pudding.
Kanchan on benefits: “Saffron helps fight cancer, depression, anxiety, OCD, PMS and is also an antioxidant.
Bonus: Saffron is also considered an aphrodisiac.
Sweet, herbaceous, with licorice notes.
Snack: Slice some figs and serve with goat cheese and drizzled balsamic. Sprinkle fennel on the top.
Lunch/Dinner: Use in potato cakes, Greek salad, fried okra, in a spice rub on chicken or lamb.
Kanchan on benefits: “Fennel is gut-healing, anti-cancer, antibacterial, and an antidepressant.”
Bonus: Chew after a meal for a digestion boost.