Spices help to define the flavour profile of any cuisine. As a Malayalee, I am very fond of my idlis, dosas, chutney powders, and moru curries and sambhars. When I got married to a Tamil Brahmin, my palate was suddenly exposed to a whole new set of flavours as there are several curries and kootus my mom-in-law makes that I wasn’t familiar with. So, with some inspiration from my mom’s kitchen and borrowing a thing or two from my mom-in-law’s style of cooking, here are some must-haves in any South Indian kitchen.
Red Chilli: Red chilli forms an integral part of Indian cuisine and the South Indian Kitchen is no different. The spice plays an important role in South Indian cuisine as it is often used as tadka for chutneys for different flavoured rice that Tamilians make like curd ice, lemon rice etc. It is also used as a spice agent in various powders like molaga podi or chamanthi podi for dosa and idli, sambhar podi and other spice mixes.
Tamarind: Tamarind is of great importance in South Indian cuisine because one rarely makes rasam or sambhar without tamarind. It also forms the base of many spicy-tangy curries like milagootal or chilli-based curry or meen puli, which is fish cooked in tamarind and spices.
Curry leaves: Curry leaves are used for various purposes in a South Indian kitchen. From making vegetable preparations like avial and mezhakkuperatti (vegetables fried to a crisp) to tempering chutneys, curry leaves serve a crucial purpose in South Indian dishes.
Asafoetida: Asafoetida or hing is the South Indian equivalent of ajwain; Hing for South Indians is a must in most preparations. There’s nothing more satiating than a hint of hing wafting in with the aroma of piping hot sambhar. Asafoetida is also used to flavour pickles.
Pepper: Keralites love using pepper more than any other spice to up the hotness factor in their food. Be it for vartharacha kozhi curry (chicken in roasted and ground spices) or for traditional duck roast, Malayalees love their pepper and add it to everything possible. Even among Tamilians, certain chutney powders and curries have pepper as the main spice.
Mustard seeds: Mustard seeds are as important to a South Indian as kalonjee is to a panch phoran loving Bengali. Literally all curries and preparations from sambhar, rasam, mulagashyam and mezhakuperatti are tempered with a combination of curry leaves, red chillies and mustard seeds. Together they form the holy trinity of South Indian cooking.
Coriander seeds: Coriander seeds or coriander powder is another essential spice in a South Indian kitchen. It is a part of sambhar powder. It is also essential in other curries like peas masala and black chana curry. The pungent flavour of coriander powder adds wholesome flavours to these dishes.
Fenugreek seeds: Fenugreek seeds too, are used for tempering in the South Indian kitchen. Many a times, powdered fenugreek seeds are used to add flavour to pickles. Though bitter, it is used to add base flavour to many curries, chutneys and even in dosa batter.
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