food photography

The Masala Dabba #3“Each spice has a special day to it. For turmeric it is Sunday, when light drips fat and butter-colored into the bins to be soaked up glowing, when you pray to the nine planets for love and luck.”
The Mistress of Spices

The Masala Dabba #3. We enter month #3 of our collaborative spice journey exploring or rather ‘shooting’ spices, a fun interaction with DolphiaSimi,  Meeta and me. The spices we cover for The Masala Dabba #3 are cardamom, whole pepper and turmeric. I think I love the spice journey best. March is synonymous with Spring, new beginnings and a whole lot of colour. Thandai This March also had holi, the festival of colour, which inspired me to shoot several times through the month. I did a fun version of Thandai for KitchenAid, one you can play around with endlessly. The recipe included a bit of pepper and cardamom.Thandai for HoliI’m just a little badly organised, procrastinate a lot, so I didn’t get down to editing the images for The Masala Dabba #3. Now I’m rushing to post on the last day of the month!TurmericWinter in North India means a lot of fresh turmeric root, and the colour it yields when it hits the grinding stone is amazing. Ground fresh turmeric makes for a fabulous turmeric milk. You can find the recipe for warm soothing turmeric milk on Dolphia’s blog.Turmeric RootOur recent trip to Banaras actually brought alive and to the forefront the Indian love for spices and everything colourful.Banaras 2016The play of spices ruled the roost. And if there are spices, can colour be far behind? Do read about Banaras and it’s beautiful culture if you find a moment. We had the most fun time ever!

Banaras 2016March was a busy month. I haven’t been blogging too much, but I made a mean Gajar ka halwa, Rich Indian Carrot Pudding adapted from Delectable Platter. The Indian dessert, delicately laced with green cardamom, was absolutely delicious. Green cardamom is an interesting spice and works equally well in savoury and sweet recipes. I use it a lot in kormas, a delicate Awadhi lamb/chicken curry.

Gajar ka halwa, Rich Indian Carrot PuddingNot so much black cardamom. It’s a larger, more robust almost rustic spice, and you would often find it in a lamb curry or as part of garam masala, a baghar/tadka/tempering maybe, also in rice pulao. I haven’t ever heard of it in a sweet preparation ever. Have you?

The Masala Dabba #3

Kormas, curries, pulaos and garam masalas also use a lot of whole back pepper. The Thandai interestingly had some too. There are several colours in whole pepper, though the black is most widely available, and perhaps the cheapest. There is a controversial pink pepper, actually they are dried berries I hear, and it is said to be toxic. However, it is used often in the West. I use it sometimes to sprinkle over wholegrain bread, very sparingly, just for visual appeal.Pink Pepper Rosemary BreadAnd that pretty much covers the spices for March. Spices are addictive to shoot. I can’t barely wait for time to shoot in April. All I know is that it’s going to be another colourful and fun month!The Masala Dabba #3

The Masala Dabba #3

The Masala Dabba #3The other Spice Girls have been amazing with their spices this month.
Do stop by Story of Cooks and Turmeric n Spice. Meeta has yet to blog spices this month.

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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India

The Masala Dabba #2“He who controls the spice controls the universe.”
Frank Herbert

The Masala Dabba #2. February 2016. It’s strange how often we connect spices to savoury foods, often in India spice is synonymous with a curry! Delightfully enough, as we blog on, reading more, breaking new ground and exploring our palettes, ingredients take on new meaning. For instance, there is always so much more you can do with spices, enough to make them leap out of the masala dabba or spice box!!

The Masala Dabba #2Yes I’m back with the second version of our collaborative spice journey with exploring or rather ‘shooting’ spices, a fun interaction called by the ever sweet Dolphia, seconded enthusiastically by my soul sister Simi and yours truly. We’ve collected a new spice girl along the way. Meeta joins us this month as we delve into the fascinating world of spices. It’s only about styling and shooting spices, yet for me, the inspiration often goes a step further. It’s impossible to just shoot spices without following my nose to the simmering pot, hence a recipe is born now and then!

Gur Panna Cotta With Candied WalnutsIt began with shooting spices, and eventually turned into a winter inspiration. I desserted with spice! The three found their way into this absolutely smooth and delicious Gur Panna Cotta With Candied Walnuts. Talk about flavours that compliment each other! If panna cotta is not divine enough on it’s own, this version turned out to be sublime, a recipe I contributed for my column on askme.wellness.com.Sangria MocktailI couldn’t just stop there so I then drank or sangriad with it! The Sangria Mocktail was great fun to shoot. You could go down the red wine way with this of course. I mean, after all a recipe is often a springboard for further creativity. Sangria Mocktail With cinnamon it’s difficult not to think of warming, comforting wafts of sweetness in the air. I plan on making bite sized cinnabons some day soon. They really call my name. I think the mini dessert trend happening now, along with my recent spice overdrive, might well be the culprit!The Masala Dabba / Indian Spice Box #2Our spices of choice for the first month to challenge us – Cinnamon + Cloves + Star Anise. Three spices, cinnamon I use often, cloves a little rarely, and star anise possibly never. While I love how star anise looks, one of the prettiest spices ever, the flavours are often overbearing. Yet, surprise, surprise. Spiced Strawberry Wine JamI used star anise in a the trio of spices to make a Spiced Strawberry Wine Jam for this Chocolate Berry Wine Fallen Gateau and I was rewarded with beautiful lilting flavours. As I begin to use star anise more often, or rather infuse it, keeping it at a minimum, the gentle undertones are rather endearing.

Chocolate Berry Wine Fallen Gateau, Big Banyan Wines

The Masala Dabba #2Cinnamon
The inner bark of a tropical evergreen tree, harvested during the rainy season when pliable and then dried into curls sold as sticks or ground into a powder.With its warm, sweet flavor, cinnamon is one of the biggest workhorses on the spice shelf. Cooks often use it to flavor baked goods and drinks, but cinnamon also works wonders in stews and sauces.
Matches: apples, berries, chicken, chocolate, coffee, custards, fruit, lamb, oranges, pears, rice

The Masala Dabba #2Cloves
Native to Indonesia, cloves are small nailed shaped flower buds that are dried and have a sweet, somewhat penetrating flavor. They can be bought whole or ground. Ground cloves are commonly used in baking.
Matches: apples, beets, game, ham, lamb, pumpkin, sausage, tea, tomatoes, walnuts, wine

The Masala Dabba #2Star Anise
A star-shaped, dark brown pod that contains a pea-size seed in each of its eight segments. Native to China, star anise comes from a small evergreen tree. It’s flavor is slightly more bitter than that of regular anise seed. Asian cooks use star anise to give a licorice flavor to savory dishes, particularly those with pork and poultry.
Matches: duck, eggs, fish, leeks, pastry, pears, pork, poultry, pumpkin, shrimp.

The Masala Dabba #2Do stop by our other spice girls as well as we share this charming journey from one month to the next! Hope you enjoy it as much as we are.

Dolphia @ Story of Cooks
Simi @ Turmeric & Spice who has a spicy giveaway this month
Meeta @ Whats For Lunch Honey

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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India

The Masala Dabba #1, Jan 2016 {Nigella, Fenugreek, Caraway}“Once you get a spice in your home, you have it forever. Women never throw out spices. The Egyptians were buried with their spices. I know which one I’m taking with me when I go.”
Erma Bombeck

The Masala Dabba. A name that paints a spicy picture. A fun food styling experiment born out of a conversation one day in December last year. Spices are something that intrigue us, and are sometimes challenging to shoot. So Dolphia floated the idea, and it was instantly lapped up by Simi and lazy me. It’s always great to have something that gives us inspiration, or maybe focus to shoot. The idea was to shoot the spices, in sets of three, month after month.
The Masala Dabba #1, Jan 2016 {Nigella, Fenugreek, Caraway}Doing something creative as a group is always fun. Makes you want to reach out for the elements time and again. Makes you also impatient to see how different minds style and shoot. It’s another new creative start, one that should see a few months of spicy good fun! This month we each picked a spice…

Nigella {not Lawson 😉 sativa or kalonji
Fenugreek or methi daana
Caraway or ajwain

The Masala Dabba #1, Jan 2016 {Nigella, Fenugreek, Caraway}A step back into the history of the world, and in many ways spices were central to exploration of uncharted territories, to discovering exotic lands. Spices led to wars and empires being built, and then eventually being lost! Nowhere in history would you find the same ingredient common to being celebrated as an aphrodisiac, holding proven medicinal qualities,yet being an inherent part of the ‘recipe’ for embalming! Such great properties can only be SPICEY!!

The Masala Dabba #1, Jan 2016 {Nigella, Fenugreek, Caraway} Spices are an integral part of the Indian kitchen and each one adds punch and flavour to the pantry. Even though I’ve never used the three of these together, individually they pop up every now and then when I cook. Ajwain shows up a great deal in radish or mooli ke paratha, in root vegetable stir fires and in curries. I use it often as a substitute for oregano in my pasta sauces, giving the seeds a good rub between the palms before throwing them in. They have huge digestive properties.

Kadhi, Indian vegetarian yogurt curry with dumpligsFenugreek finds itself more often than never in pickles and curry powders. My mother’s aam ka achaar or mango pickle always had fenugreek, and I still remember the slightly bitter aftertaste after biting into the soft firm seed once pickled. I use fenugreek the most in the tempering or baghaar for kadhi, a yogurt curry with dumplings, which is a huge favourite at home. Fenugreek too offers great digestive properties, is used to treat diabetes, reduces bloood pressure, congestion and a host of other illnesses.

Nigella of course lands up most often on the naan, sometimes in a ‘paani ke station wale aloo‘ ki recipe {a water based no oil potato curry served with puri at railway stations in India}, and an inherent part of paanch phoron. Paanch phoron is a five spice blend quintessential to Bengali cuisine. Nigella satvia is one of the five, the others being fenugreek, mustard, fennel and cumin, all seeds.

The Masala Dabba #1, Jan 2016 {Nigella, Fenugreek, Caraway} Shooting spices is always challenging but quite addictive. Already looking forward to what we can do next month with the spice girls!!

Do stop by and explore the dabbas/spice boxes of my other two partners in crime spice
Simi @ Turmeric n Spice
Dolphia @ Story of Cooks

…and if you’d like to learn a bit of food styling, do check out my next workshop with Darter below

Food Styling Workshop Delhi








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Also find me on The Rabid Baker, The Times of India