Punjabi Spices at The Dhaba
Having so many spices in one dish makes it impossible to pinpoint how one spice's flavor affects the others. The point is not for the spices to stand out as individuals, but to instead work together like voices in a choir. The true wonder when a spice blend works is that, well, the flavors just seamlessly blend.
It's a lot tougher to achieve those results at home, especially since Indian cooks tend to eyeball rather than measure, but pre-made spice blends are readily available. Most grocery stores carry basic curry blends, and Indian specialty grocers, like the one conveniently located next to The Dhaba, will have a much larger selection to choose from. Keep in mind that there are no rules for a blend like garam masala, which just means "hot mixture," so all garam masalas won't necessarily have mace, cloves, and star anise, but using these blends is a good guarantee that the overall flavors will end up properly balanced.
Photo by Dayvid LeMmon Rasmalai
Indian desserts tend to be fairly simple in comparison to curries and other savory dishes, sticking to one or two spices rather than a complex blend. Lots of Indian places will serve only three simple desserts: Gulab Jamun (small donut-like spheres doused in warm syrup), Kheer (rice pudding), and Kulfi (frozen treat similar to ice cream), but there are lesser known varieties that really highlight the spices. Rasmalai, a kind of cheese dumpling, is made by cooking fresh paneer with syrup in a pressure cooker. The dumplings are covered with a clotted cream that's flavored primarily with cardamom and sometimes saffron, and the dessert is finished with a garnish of pistachio. The final result is not very sweet and has rich yet delicate flavors.
Other spices to enjoy in authentic Punjabi style include coriander and a hint of black cardamom in Punjabi Chole (AKA Chana Masala) as well as ginger, cumin, and turmeric in Palak Paneer (a mild vegetarian dish starring cheese and spinach).
If you're dying to get some hands-on experience with Indian spices and Punjabi flavors but don't know where to start, contact the restaurant to ask about The Dhaba Cooking School's upcoming classes.