The use of aromatic spices, herbs and seasonings forms the heart of Cape Malay cooking.
It is difficult to describe the subtle aromas and intriguing undertones of foods so delicately spiced. Flavours range from the pungency of hot chillies to the fragrance of nutmeg, cinnamon and cloves.
Ever since their arrival at the Cape, over 300 years ago, Malay cooks have been masters of the art of seasoning, using a pinch of allspice or nutmeg for a delicate dish or grinding and roasting masala spices for dishes such as breyani, denningvleis or atjar.
All spices, especially ground spices, diminish in flavour in time, so use fresh, whole spices for the best results and store in airtight containers in a cool, dry place as they tend to lose their freshness if exposed too long to air, heat and moisture.
- Allspice takes its name from its aroma, which smells like a combination of spices, especially cinnamon, cloves, ginger, and nutmeg, hence the name ‘wonderpeper’ (wonderful pepper) in Afrikaans… more
- Aniseed (Pimpinella anisum, also anìs (stressed on the second syllable) and anise) has small sage green to yellow ochre crescent-shaped seeds similar to caraway in appearance, with a distinct sweet though not overpowering liquorice flavour… more
- The Malay name for fennel (Foeniculum vulgare). Barishap seeds look very much like cumin but are less elongated and fatter. The seeds are aromatic with a warm, sweet liquorice flavour similar to that of dill. Barishap seed is used for meats and poultry, but even more for fish and seafood. In Italy, aniseed is reserved for sweets and barishap for savoury dishes.… more
- Bay Leaves
- The bay leaf comes from the sweet bay or true laurel tree. It is aromatic with a slightly bitter taste and is used in the preparation of pickled fish, sosaties and denningvleis. Use sparingly and always discard whole leaves before serving. For a more delicate flavour, some cooks prefer to use lemon leaves instead of bay leaves… more
- Borrie (turmeric) is a deep yellow, ground spice obtained from the dried root of a plant related to ginger. It has a slightly bitter taste and care should be taken not to exceed the amount recommended in a recipe. Borrie is chiefly used in curries, pickled fish and sosaties and for colouring yellow rice… more
- Known as elachi in the Indian community. The dried seed pods are available in two varieties – green or white. It is best to buy cardamom seeds in small quantities and to use as needed, since they quickly lose their pungent aroma and distinctive flavour after they have been ground. The aromatic dark brown seeds are generally left whole or are lightly crushed for curries, breyanis and other rice dishes. Ground cardamom is also used in the preparation of puddings, koesisters, biscuits and cakes… more
- There are many different varieties of chillies, some much sharper then others. Unripe or green chillies are juicier, with more flavour, while ripe red chillies are hotter. Pounded or liquidised chillies mixed with a little oil and salt can be stored in sealed containers in a refrigerator for easy use. Dried chillies should be torn into pieces and soaked in hot water for 10 minutes to soften. Chilli powder is generally red in colour and made from dried red chillies. It is excellent for foods that need a bit of colour and gives an extra bite that makes quite a difference. Use instead of ground black pepper on chops and fish. Chillies are a must for most curry dishes, chutneys and sambals, so experiment for the best results… more
- The bark of a tropical tree which has a rich, strong, spicy aroma and a delicious, sweet flavour. In Malay cooking, stick cinnamon is added to curries, breyanis, vegetables, puddings and desserts. Ground cinnamon is also used in baking, melktert and confectionery… more
- Cloves are the dried, unopened buds of a tree indigenous to Indonesia. They have a pronounced aroma and a strong, almost bitingly sharp, spicy taste. Cloves are used to flavour many savoury and sweet dishes, and the flavour blends well with other spices like cinnamon, allspice and nutmeg. Ground cloves are stronger than whole ones, so take care to use only a pinch or the flavour will be too overpowering… more
- Also known as koljander, a seed which tastes sweet and aromatic and should be roasted before being ground to bring out a more curry-like flavour. Coriander seeds crushed together with jeera are widely used in curries and other meat dishes… more
- Curry Leaves
- These are available fresh or dried. Fresh ones are mainly used for garnishing curry dishes while dried curry leaves are used in the preparation of leaf masalas.
- Curry Powder
- This mixture of borrie, whole coriander, jeera, ginger, fenugreek, black peppercorns, chilli and mustard seeds is best when freshly ground. Many commercial preparations, including curry paste, are also available, but these do not have the flavour of fresh aromatic spices and tend to lend a sameness to everything in which they are used. Malay people mostly use masala in cooking and only use curry powder in sweet/sour dishes such as penang curry, sosaties, bobotie and pickled fish.
- Known as cilantro in the US, it is fresh coriander leaves which are used as a garnish in curry dishes or in the preparation of savouries such as samoosas. Pounded dhania leaves are also an important ingredient for some chutneys. When crushed, dhania leaves have an unmistakable pungent smell. They can also be chopped and used like parsley… more
- A popular herb and a member of the onion family which is often used fresh in combination with fresh root ginger, although in fish dishes only garlic is used. Garlic minced or liquidised with a little oil and salt will last well in the refrigerator, is always ready to use and saves time… more
- Ginger, like nearly all spices, contains a volatile oil that gives it its destinctive flavour which is aromatic, biting and slightly sweet. Fresh ginger is indispensible for making curries and breyanis and mixed with garlic makes an excellent meat tenderizer. Dried whole ginger is more fibrous and less aromatic than fresh, but is more pungent. It can be powdered easily and retains its spicy flavour for a long time. Ground ginger is used in flavouring koesisters, konfyt, puddings and cakes… more
- The Malay and Indian term for cumin, a caraway shaped seed that looks like fennel but is slightly more bitter. When the seeds are ground, the powder has a distinctive green colour. Jeera is an important ingredient for making various masalas, so is always used in curries and breyanis… more
- Masala is a fragrant blend of spices used in curries, breyanis, atjars and many other savoury dishes. There are many different varieties of masala including wet and dry masala. There are special masalas for fish (with mustard seeds), vegetable atjars, chutneys, breyanis and rice dishes. Buy freshly ground masala from a spice shop or make your own as needed and use the spices best suited to the particular dish you are preparing. You can grind your spices with a simple pestle and mortar, a blender or a food processor.
- Atjar masala: A special mixture of spices including mustard seed, chilli powder, borrie, ground methi and salt. Oil is added to make a thick paste.
- Breyani masala: Made with whole jeera seeds, coriander, barishap, bay leaves, cardamom, cinnamon and star anise. Roast and grind before using.
- Garam masala: Contains pounded fresh ginger, garlic, green chilli and dhania leaves.
- Leaf masala: There are many varieties including red leaf masala, which has more ground chilli powder and is therefore hotter. Use for making meat curry. Yellow masala is similar to red leaf masala except that it has less chilli powder. Use for a milder curry.
- Also known as fenugreek. Mostly only the hard lentil-type seed is used. Ground with other spices, it is used to make curry powder or methi which is used to flavour some rice and vegetable dishes. This spice has an astringent aroma and should be used sparingly… more
- There are many types of mint including, spearmint, peppermint, apple mint, water mint, horsemint, pineapple mint, and orange mint. Apart from peppermint, spearmint is probably the most widely used species of mint. It is not as strong as peppermint in flavour and is therefore used in cooking and added to sauces, dressings, cakes and can be added as a garnish to dishes… more
- Seafood dishes, atjars and pickles are greatly enhanced when flavoured with mustard seeds. Add whole mustard seeds to atjar masala for a more pungent flavour… more
- Naartjie Peel
- Naartjie peel is one of the cheapest and most rewarding flavouring agents for puddings, desserts and vegetables and it is a great pity that so few people take the trouble to experiment with it nowadays. The peel is left out to dry in the sun, then ground into a powder and stored in an airtight jar for later use. It blends well with cardamom and cinnamon.
- A naartjie (Citrus reticulata, Citrus nobilis), is a soft loose-skinned South African citrus fruit with pips. It is also known as a mandarin, satsuma or tangerine outside of South Africa. The name is Afrikaans and is originally from the Tamil word nartei meaning citrus.
- A spice which comes from the same tree as mace. The seed of the fruit is the nutmeg and the dried, reddish skin that covers the nutmeg is mace. Grated or ground–it is frequently used as a garnish for boiled vegetables, and as a flavouring in bredies and confectionery… more
- Rose Water
- A fragrant essence distilled from rose petals. Traditionally, Malay cooks never used any essences, only rose water was used to flavour boeber, a rich milky drink, and puddings. Nowadays rose water is also used in the making of Turkish Delight. It is also an essential ingredient in rose syrup which is used to flavour milkshakes and falooda jelly.
- Saffron is by far the rarest and most expensive spice in the world. The name is derived from the Arabic word Za’faran meaning yellow. The dark, reddish-orange stamens of the wild crocus are used mainly for colouring and flavouring rice dishes and puddings. It is one of the most wonderful spices to use in breyani. To use, first infuse in hot water or add directly to the meat marinade when making breyani… more
- This dark brown fruit of a tropical tree tastes very much like an apricot/date mixture. Its sweet/sour flavour makes it an excellent ingredient in sosaties and denningvleis. Children love to suck on the fresh fruit… more
Category: South African/Cape Malay
Subcategory: Spices and Herbs
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