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Spice Box

Spices: a history of kingdoms built or destroyed, treaties agreed or opposed and battles won or lost
Modern research has also found many herbs and spices to have certain health benefits, which could protect against some illnesses. In fact spices and herbs are prominent feature of the top 50 anti-oxidant containing foods known to mankind

Spices have many medicinal properties to heal ailments including the dreaded cold, cough and flu that many of us suffer during the winter months. So, ditch the cough syrup and throat lozenges this winter and embrace your spice box. Certain spices can heal cough, blocked nose, headaches and flu which are caused by viruses and medical science can only reduce the discomfort associated with them, but there is no magical cure.  On the other hand, you can safely rely on your spice box to fight the misery that these ailments bring you.

Spices have been used in Asia for centuries to cure ailments including blood pressure, diabetes, cancer, cholesterol etc.  Spices have anti-viral and antibiotic properties which help to heal such ailments.  The common cold and its associated problems are caused by viruses.   As soon as the symptoms appear, grab your spice box and create delicious food and drink which will not only help you with your daily diet, but also will give you instant relief. They have been used in India and China to cure all sorts of ailments since ancient times.  Modern research has also found many herbs and spices to have certain health benefits, which could protect against some illnesses.  In fact spices and herbs are prominent feature of the top 50 anti-oxidant containing foods known to mankind.

Within the traditions of Hindu Holy Scriptures is found ‘Ayurveda’, an ancient system of medicine originated in India thousands' of years' ago, which provides guidance to people about healthy living. The 'Ayurveda' meaning science of life, recommends that many of the spices should form part of our daily diet in order to fight illnesses and remain healthy.

Three of the most commonly used spices in Indian cooking are onion, ginger and garlic.  Onion has been used all around the world for thousands of years.  The medicinal value of onion has now been recognized by the WHO (World Health Organization) and it supports the findings that onion is a cure for bronchitis, cold and asthma. 

Ginger is decongestant and also helps digest your food.  Garlic relieves nasal congestion and a powerful tool against flu and the common cold.  Garlic is also a natural antibiotic and anti viral.

Black pepper is a spice that is used freely by everyone. This commonly used spice, known in Roman times as ‘black gold’ because it was exchanged for gold in India by the Roman traders, is known to have medicinal properties to cure  all sorts of illnesses.  It has been used for thousands of years and now research by Prof. Paul Sherman at Cornel University has found that black pepper cures throat infection and fever.  Adding an extra helping of black pepper in your food will definitely help you with this problem.  Try adding plenty of cracked black pepper to your food to fight cold, cough and sore throat.

Cinnamon, cardamom and clove are known as winter spices.  These three spices are also the basic ingredients in that magic Indian ingredeint 'garam masala'. The word garam means heat and masala is a mixture of spices.  These ingredients create body heat and protect us against colds and cough.  They are very popular during the winter.

In the Himalayan region of India, where the climate is extreme, a spice infused tea known as 'Qahwa' is used by the local people.  The spices used in this tea are cinnamon, cardamom, cloves and black pepper.   The essential oils in these ingredients are powerful weapons against sore throat, the common cold and respiratory problems. Boil these ingredients for 10 minutes before adding the tea leaves and brew your tea for 5 minutes.  Add milk if liked, but instead of sugar, sweeten with honey, as honey is another ingredient that soothes sore throat.  In the state of Punjab, fresh ginger is also added to the infusion in order to combat colds and flu.

Nutmeg is an extremely aromatic spice and is mentioned in the Vedic texts as a cure for headaches and fever. Nutmeg oil is used in medicines that combat colds and coughs.

Turmeric is an every day spice in Indian cooking, but it is not common knowledge that this golden spice not only enhances the colour and flavour of our food, but it also contains important medicinal properties.  Because it is anti-bacterial, anti-viral and is one of the most powerful antioxidants, it can cure all sorts of serious ailments as well as the common cold and cough. It's anti-inflammatory qualities can reduce the inflammation of the sore throat.

Fenugreek leaves and the seeds are extensively used in Indian cooking. Fenugreek seed is one of the ingredients in curry powder.   Fenugreek is believed to boost the immune system because of its antioxidant properties.  It protects the body from the free radicals and helps reduce the inflammation of the throat and reduce fever.  In the state of Gujarat, in Western India, a delicious snack is made using fenugreek leaves which can be bought dried or fresh.   This recipe combines fenugreek leaves and asafoetida which is another spice that is known to fight influenza, bronchitis, cold and cough.  You can create your own highly powerful protection against colds, cough and flu by combining Kashmiri Qahwa (spiced tea) and Methi na Muthia (fenugreek dumplings).  It is also very comforting during the winter.


Fenugreek and gram flour dumplings

From the state of Gujarat, the home of vegetarian cooking, this is a delicious and healthy snack which is ideal at teatime, with a bowl of hot soup in the winter or as a canapé at drinks parties. 


Serves 4

300g/10oz gram flour, sifted

30g/1 heaped tablespoon dried fenugreek leaves

1 tsp bicarbonate of soda

1 tsp salt or to taste

1 tsp asafoetida

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 fresh red chilli, chopped

2.5 cm/1” piece of fresh ginger, grated (use the coarse side of a cheese grater)

2 tbsps sunflower or light olive oil, heated


For the tempering

2 tbsps sunflower or plain olive oil

½ tsp black or brown mustard seeds

½ tsp cumin seeds

2 whole dried red chillies, scissor snipped

¼ tsp asafoetida


To garnish 

1 tbsp desiccated coconut, 1 tbsp chopped coriander leaves


Put the gram flour in a large mixing bowl and add the remaining dumpling ingredient, except the oil. Make a well in the centre and pour in the heated oil.  Heat the oil, make a well in the centre and pour it in.  Add 100ml/3 fl oz water and mix until a stiff dough is formed.   Divide the mixture into 4 equal portions and make 7cm/3-inch cylindrical shapes and wrap them in plastic food wrap securing the edges so that no water can get inside, then wrap again with foil, securing the edges well.  Bring a large pan of water to the boil and add the gram flour rolls, and cook for 20 minutes.  Remove and let cool then cut into 1cm/1/2-inch thick slices.  The gram flour rolls can be frozen before slicing through.

Heat the oil for tempering over a medium heat in a roomy non-stick pan until almost smoking.  Switch off the heat source and addthe mustard seeds, followed by the remaining ingredients.  Allow the chillies to blacken then switch on the heat source again and add the gram flour slices.  Stir carefully to mix through, transfer to a serving dish and garnish with the coconut and coriander leaves.

You can omit the tempering and deep fry the slices until golden brown for a delicious alternative. Mango chutney is an excellent accompaniment.

© Mridula Baljekar. All rights reserved. 


Cold Cure Curry

Here is a recipe that will cure the dreaded cold and cough and you do not have to wait to run its course nor do you have to rely on medical science. Your spice cupboard has the answer!  This recipe has all the spices that help cure colds and coughs that we all suffer from in the winter.  What could be better than enjoying a delicious meal which will also take away all the discomfort associated with colds, coughs and flu?  Apart from the basic three ingredients i.e., onion, garlic and ginger which are needed in majority of Indian recipes, and are known to cure colds, cinnamon, cardamom, clove, nutmeg, fenugreek and turmeric with their ability to cure the common cold and even flu, make this dish a stronger choice. Dried fenugreek leaves are available from Indian stores and all large supermarkets. The meatball (kofta) curry recipe below is easy to make and is absolutely gorgeous with any Indian bread or plain rice.


Serves 4

For the meatballs

450g/1lb lean mined lamb or beef

2 cloves garlic, crushed to a pulp

1 fresh green chilli, finely chopped

2 tsps dried fenugreek leaves, crushed lightly with your fingertips

1 tbsp fresh mint leaves, chopped or 1 tsp dried mint

1/2 tsp freshly ground nutmeg

1 egg yolk

50g/2oz mild cheddar cheese, grated

Salt to taste


For the sauce

3 tbsps sunflower or light olive oil

2.5cm/1" piece of cinnamon stick

5 cardamom pods, bruised

4 cloves

1 large onion, finely chopped

4 cloves garlic, crushed

2.5cm/1" piece ginger, grated

1 tsp ground turmeric

1/2-1 tsp red chilli powder

2 tsps ground cumin

2 tsps dried fenugreek leaves, crushed lightly with your fingertips

200g/7oz chopped canned tomato with the juice

50g/2oz plain yogurt

Salt to taste

1/2 tsp sugar

15g coriander leaves and stalks, chopped


Combine all the ingredients for the meatballs in a mixing bowl, knead until fairly smooth, cover the bowl and chill for 30 minutes.  This will make it easier to form the meatballs later. Divide the mixture into approximately 20 equal sized balls.  Rotate them between the palms to achieve a smooth surface, and set aside.

In a roomy pan, heat the oil over a low heat and add the cinnamon, cardamom and cloves.  Let them sizzle for 30-40 seconds and add the onion.  Increase the heat to medium and fry the onion until soft but not brown. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute. Add the ginger, turmeric, chilli powder and cumin.  Continue to cook for a further minute and add the fenugreek and half the tomatoes.  Cook until tomato juices evaporate and add the remaining tomatoes.  Cook until tomatoes reach a paste-like consistency and the oil floats on the surface. 

Whisk the yogurt (this stops the yogurt curdling during cooking)and add to the pan.  Add the salt, sugar and 150ml/5 fl oz warm water. Mix well and carefully add the meatballs in a single layer and bring it to a slow simmer.

Cover and simmer for 20-25 minutes, stir gently half way through to ensure that the thickened sauce does not stick to the bottom of the pan. 

Add the coriander leaves and stir carefully. Remove from the heat and serve.

© Mridula Baljekar. All rights reserved.