Herbs and Spices in Pakistani cooking
It's National Herbs and Spices day so I've compiled a list of pantry essentials for Pakistani food. Check out my post on spices and why we use them for some more background and history of spices. Feel free to read more on each spice, I have linked my other posts on individual spices which go into more detail.
Jump to sections in this post:
Spices : cumin, coriander, cardamom, turmeric, paprika
Chilies : red chili, red chili flakes, fresh green chili
Spice blends : curry powder, garam masala, chaat masala, black salt
Whole seeds : cumin seeds, mustard seeds
Fruits : anardana, amchur
Herbs : mint, coriander, bay leaves, fenugreek leaves
Ground cumin or cumin powder is made by grinding down roasted cumin seeds. Its become a recent favorite of mine to use in the kitchen in general. Ground cumin goes beautifully with vegetables, it has such a lovely distinct flavor, just keeping your food simple by just using cumin and chili or paprika goes a long way!
Coriander powder is made by grinding down roasted coriander seeds. Its great in curries especially vegetables.
Cardamom powder is made by grinding down the seeds of cardamom pods. I use it when making Pakistani desserts. It is a little expensive but a little goes a long way!
Turmeric powder is made by grinding down dried turmeric root. It gives curries a distinct golden color and bitter flavor. Turmeric is known for its many health benefits too.
Paprika is made grinding down dried red peppers. Its gives curries color and a level of heat and sweetness.
Clockwise starting top left: Cumin, Coriander, Turmeric and Paprika, Cardamom.
Click here to read more about chilies
Red chili powder is made by grinding dried red chili peppers. Ground chili is my go-to when I want to add heat to my dishes. 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp should do the job, just be careful of the heat level as it may vary between brands.
Red chili flakes
Red chili flakes are made by grinding dried red chili peppers, just enough to get flakes instead of a powder. I use them in appetizers like kebabs and aloo tikki.
Fresh green chili peppers are great in appetizers, salads and fresh vegetable curries. I like to freeze my peppers to last longer.
Fresh green chili peppers, red chili powder and red chili flakes
Curry powder is a spice blend that can contain spices like turmeric, chili, coriander, cumin ginger, mustard, cinnamon and cardamom to recreate a typical 'curry' flavor. Feel free to add 1/2 tsp to 1 tsp when making a curry and any other additional spices you like.
Garam masala is a spice blend comprising of 'warm' spices like cinnamon, black cardamom, green cardamom pods, cloves, black peppercorns, cumin seeds and coriander seeds. It can also contain curry leaves, nutmeg, star anise and fennel. The spices are roasted and can either be used whole or ground down to a powder. I love using whole garam masala when making rice and ground garam masala in curries.
Chaat masala includes spices and seasonings like salt, red chilli, paprika, coriander, cinnamon, ginger, aniseed, long pepper, cumin, green cardamom, black pepper, dried mango powder, clove, carom and citric acid. It packs in the heat, salt, tang, pungency, sourness, perfect for chaat and other appetizers,
Black salt / Kala namak is made by heating Himalayan pink salt with other spices. Kala namak is known for its pungent taste and sulphuric aroma; it can can be used to season appetizers, fruits, drinks, chutneys. Black salt is also a little eggy in flavor so it's great when sprinkled on tofu scramble.
Clockwise starting top left: curry powder, garam masala, black salt, chaat masala
Click here to read more on whole spices
I love adding whole cumin seeds to rice and curries. I normally either dry roast the seeds in a pan or fry the seeds as a first step to making curries. I sprinkle in cumin seeds while boiling rice for extra flavor too.
Black mustard seeds are amazing in vegetables. I normally heat the mustard seeds in a pan first, dry roast it till they start popping, then add the oil and other spices to fry.
Anardana is made by grinding down dried pomegranate seeds into a powder and is used to add sourness and tang to food.
Amchur is made by grinding down dried unripe green mangoes.
Both Amchur and Anardana can add sourness, tang and acidity to any recipe without the extra moisture that lemon or lime juice would have. This is great when it comes to appetizers like pakoras (bhajis), aloo tikkis (potato cakes) and kebabs that you don’t want falling apart. They both provide some of the health benefits of mango and pomegranate when the fruits are not in season. Feel free to try out these spices and add them to chutneys, sauces, drinks, smoothies, curries, vegetables, fritters, or any food that you want to give some extra tang!
Coriander leaves are my personal favorite herb as it’s so versatile and pops up in most cuisines (South and East Asian, Caribbean, Mexican, Mediterranean and Middle Eastern). In terms of Pakistani cooking, I use coriander leaves as a garnish for any curry, use it in chaat, kachumber salad, kebabs and aloo tikki.
In Pakistani meals, mint leaves can be used for chutney, in kebabs, chaat, raita and a garnish for dishes like biryani.
Fresh mint and coriander leaves
I keep dried bay leaves and throw in a leaf or two when making rice. I love the fragrance that it gives.
Dried fenugreek leave / kasuri methi can be added to curries in the last few minutes of cooking. It's fresh but bitter flavor works as a great seasoning on vegetable curries.
And there we have it! This is a summary of my go-to spices and herbs when making Pakistani food. Let me know what your favorite herbs and spices are and leave any questions you have in the comments!