The history of Punjabi cuisine is vast and diverse, spanning many centuries and impacted by a complex network of intermingling forces. The colourful tale of Punjabi food is truly a saga of heritage, history and culture, and varies vastly even within the parameters of the state. At the heart of it all, however, lies the spices that form the ecstatic foundations of this incredible cuisine.
The culinary heritage of Northern India’s Punjab – also known as the Land of Five Rivers, emphasised in the Persian origins of panj meaning five, and ab meaning waters – is incredibly diverse. The spices of Punjabi cuisine are deeply rooted in the region’s culture, and also play a paramount role in its economy, too. Here at Sachins, we are incredibly proud to fly the flag for the beautiful flavours and palates of Punjab, so today we thought we would take a quick look at the spices which form the foundation of this colourful cuisine.
Punjabi Garam Masala
Ah, the humble Punjabi garam masala. This signature spice blend forms the foundations of almost all of the recipes hailing from Punjab. It’s nearly impossible to emphasise the centrality of garam masala in not only Punjabi cuisine, but all of the various culinary cultures of the entirety of India. It’s akin to trying to talk about the importance of salt to modern American cuisine. In this sense, its ubiquitous centrality is more or less embedded into the entire social and cultural framework of Punjab as a whole.
Part of what makes garam masala so special is the incredibly rich and bold flavour notes that it encompasses. From the heady scent and fragrant flavours of cumin and cardamom, all the way to the grounding earthiness of cinnamon and coriander seeds, Punjab’s garam masala is a flavour profile like no other.
Cinnamon is an incredibly versatile spice that is found throughout the entire breadth of Punjabi cooking and is most often used whole during the tempering of a dish.
The flavour profile of cinnamon is one that is warm, comforting and mildly sweet. With earthy, peppery notes, however, it brings a savoury taste, too. cinnamon is widely used in the preparation of meat dishes and dal, as well as in sweet masala cha and within a variety of Punjabi desserts and sweets, too. It is, of course, also a staple spice within the garam masala blend of Punjab.
Fennel seeds – or “saunf” – are another key component of the spice profile of Punjabi cooking. They have a sweet liquorice flavour and are used to inject a mild and subtle hint of aniseed in Punjabi dishes. They are also commonly used in most households across the entirety of India as a mouth freshener and digestive aid after meals.
Garlic – we all know it, and most of us love it. Unsurprisingly, it is widely loved by Punjabis, too, and features often across the vast breadth of Punjab cooking. Somewhat unsurprisingly, it is widely understood that the garlic plant was in fact originally identified and incorporated by the ancient Indians, who were able to domesticate it around six thousand years ago.
The flavour of garlic is strong and its scent pungent. It is a warm and earthy spice that sweetens a little as it is cooked.
By way of Arabic influence, cumin – or “jeera” – was introduced to the Punjabi spice box and quickly became a staple. Both white jeera and black jeera are used in Punjab and the seeds are used in whole and powdered form. These seeds have an incredibly distinctive flavour and aroma, adding a fragrant earthiness to the dishes they feature in.
Cardamon, belonging to the ginger family, is a stalwart spice in Punjab, and both black cardamom and green cardamom are used in Punjabi cuisine. It has a strong and unique flavour, with an intensely aromatic and resinous fragrance.
Green cardamom, the sweeter of the two Cardamoms, is in fact one of the world’s most highly prized spices, hence its colloquial title as ‘Queen of Spices’. Black cardamom has a woodier, stronger flavour than its green counterpart and is a staple in the masala cha of many Punjabi homes.
Quite like cumin, coriander – known as ‘dhania’ in Northern India – found its way into the kitchens of Punjab through the influence of the Arabs, too. The leaves of the fragrant coriander plant are used for garnishing dishes in Punjab, whilst the seeds and powder are used throughout the process of cooking. In many Punjabi dishes, the powder also helps to thicken the gravy, too.
Intrigued by the spice box of Punjab and keen to sample the finest Punjabi dishes that Newcastle has to offer? Make a reservation with Sachins today and get ready to experience the incredible flavours of this wonderful cuisine.food history, heritage, Punjabi cuisine, spice