So you ask what is seasoning?
Well,adding spices to the dish quite simply is seasoning.It matters at what stage of cooking,you add seasonings.It changes the depth of taste for the dish.Seasoning across India varies.I have been accustomed to North and South mainly and gradually learning about West and East.
I grew up in the North-East part of India.Our home cooking was heavily influenced by North then the East.So i would focus here on the seasoning which i grew up with,my mom’s cooking.North Indian inspired Seasonings.
I hardly ever measure the seasoning spices,since amount is so little.So you will hear the terms like, dash, generous dash, pinch,sprinkle,Grab beween your thumb and your index – middle finger .I know very eclectic choice of words ha !
Time of seasoning:
First, we season the oil,before any other ingredients meat/ veggies is added to it.Second, we season ,when ingredients are sauteing.Third, sometime,not always , depending on the type of dish,we season at the very end,before you turn off the stove.
Do I always season the oil?Almost Always.
Do I do the second stage of seasoning?Most of the time YES.Unless the veg is too delicate and seasoning the oil is enough without overpowering the dish.(Think Zucchini)
Third ?:When dish is robust enough,to handle all the spices.Example : Chicken Biriyani.
Just remember : You do NOT bite on any spice seeds.It is BITTER.Some more then other.Their job is to give up their flavor to what it comes in contact with.It should NOT be tasted and eaten alone unless of course you want to take your taste buds on wild ride .You have been warned.(Do not complain and give a bad rep to the spices later !)
Seasoning of Oil (First Stage)
It is the single MOST used spice in my pantry.Just as i would not forget salt to the dish,i almost always season the oil with Cumin seeds for Indian inspired,ethnic cooking.It adds mild,smoky flavor to the dish.Don’t confuse it with caraway.
How much : 1/4 teaspoon per Tablespoon oil.
It is a seed of Cilantro leaves which i love so much.You would not have the confusion if you didn’t call the leaves ‘cilantro and kept it same as ‘Corinader’ like we do in India.An American word which i added in my culinary dictionary after grocery shopping here.
Just like milk and cookies go together.Cumin and Coriander goes together.It even rhymes well.I do NOT always use coriander seeds with Cumin,it is little more robust then cumin.So it depends on what i am cooking.Something delicate,i will leave it out.
How much : 1/2 Teaspoon for 1 tablespoon of oil.Roughly what you can grab between your thumb and index and middle finger.
Did you had trouble reading it ?Did you just say Fenu..what?These bitter seeds are nutty and add a kick to the sauted vegetable.Very robust.So you have to be careful in using it with delicate veg like squash and zucchini.Root vegetable like potato can handle it.So can the cauliflower cabbage,eggplants or example.
It is also available as dry leaves as well as green like spinach.It has bitter taste to it.It is VERY GOOD for you.Just a pinch of seeds to the dish.I use green fenugreek leaves(only in Indian stores i have found) to make roti and paratha with .I add dry leaves to the sauted potatoes or chicken tikka masala.Flavour which makes you go hmmm…
How much : 7-8 seeds to 1 tablespoon of oil.
Bay Leaf :
As you guessed ,it is a pungent leaf.Doesn’t have much taste if you bite on it.But wait till you add it to the oil and let it bloom.It adds nuttiness to the dish.
How much :One small leaf to 1 tablespoon of oil
Indian often use whole ‘chili,dry or green to season the oil.What you call ‘Thai’ Chili is used in everyday Indian cooking.If it is dry,you would know it by ‘Serrano’,thin and small.
How much :None to what you can handle.
PannchForun : Let me explain.Two words.”Paanch” means “Five” in Hindi and “Forun” is “seasoning” in Hindi.It is a blend of 5 spices.It varies by region,what those five spices will be.It is added to make robust,fragrant dishes.It is NOT for everyday cooking.
So now that you have some idea of basic spices.Next question is :
Sweet, salty, spicy, smokey makes sense but Bitter?Why anyone would add ‘bitter’ spice to the dish?
Let me just say,some like their coffee black and some with cream and sugar.Your taste buds start appreciating the depth of flavor as its gets acquainted to different set of spices. Bitterness tastes pleasantly bitter(oxymoron). Introduce it slowly.
So do i use all these spices at the same time in every dish?
NO.Most of the time,i season the oil only with Cumin.Sometime it has cumin and coriander.Sometime it has cumin and fenugreek seeds.Sometime all of them.It depends on what i am cooking.Number of seasoning spices increases with what your dish can handle without getting overwhelmed.