FAQs


Here are the responses to some of my most frequently asked questions. If you need advice on anything that hasn’t been addressed here as yet, please don’t hesitate to email me your queries at meena@hookedonheat.com. I will try my best to either correspond with you personally, or if I feel that others may too benefit from your questions, then I’ll just have my answers posted on this page.

ingredients & spices:

When you say green chilies, is it okay to use jalapenos? They’re the only green chili pepper I can buy fresh, that is why I’m asking. (The nearest Indian market is a two-hour drive away.)
In most cases, it’s absolutely okay to substitute fresh green chillies with jalapenos, provided the heat levels are similar.

Am I supposed to fish those big lumpy spices (cinnamon stick, peppercorns, cardamom pods, bay leaves) out before serving? Cardamom pods, for one, are kind of a surprise if you aren’t expecting their wallop of floral goodness.
I usually serve my curries with all the whole spices still in, but I always warn my guests to keep a watch for them. You can surely fish them out if you wish; it might be a daunting task, but certainly much easier on guests who are not too fond of it!

Was curious, can I use curry powder in place of curry paste?
When a recipe calls for a curry paste, it’s usually referring to a particular flavour – like maybe a Thai red or green curry, or even a Madras of Malabar curry. The regular curry powder available at most grocery stores these days is in no way similar to any actual curry flavour. So may want to add a mix of dried spices to try and imitate the flavour of the curry paste in question.

I see that your recipe uses cornflour, when you say cornflour do you mean cornstarch?
From my own experience and understanding, cornflour and cornstarch are exactly the same, and simply differ by name in various parts of the globe.

Do you think paprika can be a good substitute for red chili powder?
Depending on the kind of paprika you’re using, it may or may not be a good substitute. Normal paprika could definitely be used, however may not add the same amount of heat as that of chilli powder. Smoked paprika, on the hand, has its own distinct flavour and in no way would be a good substitute.

Does turmeric have a flavor or is it added to dishes mainly for the color? It’s a spice I haven’t yet purchased.
Turmeric, when added in huge amounts will give you a slightly bitter taste. Most Indian dishes add turmeric for its colour and health benefits.

What is ghee??
Ghee is simply clarified butter made by boiling unsalted butter till it reduces to solid fats.  A much healthier substitute is regular cooking oil.

Asafetida – is there something else I can use instead of that in recipes and that is the same thing as hing, right? All the varieties I find in the stores around here (Lansing MI) have wheat in them and I can’t eat wheat.
Yes, Asafetida is known as Hing in Hindi. It’s mostly used in vegetarian dishes to imitate the taste of onions and garlic. Simply leave it out of the recipe if you can’t find it. It might not make too much of a difference in a dish that already has a variety of different spices.

cooking methods:

My problem seems to be that most of the chicken curry recipe variations I try end up tasting more or less the same. The moment I try something – it seems like the basic spice mix – coriander powder, garam masala, cumin powder, red chilli powder – all end up tasting so similar even though I vary the proportions. What am I doing wrong?
By varying the amounts and use of spices in a recipe, you can definitely change its taste. Try roasting the whole spices and then grinding them for a fresher, more robust flavour. Or better yet, simply grind them to a fine paste for a richer flavour.

I and my husband are very fond of rice but the rice I cook comes out lumpy–both when boiled or cooked as a pulao. I use Basmati rice and put two cups of water to one cup of rice in pulao and when boiling I let it boil in six cups of water and then drain. What can I do to make the grains of rice separate from each other?
For cooking Basmati, I usually use 1 3/4 cups of water for 1 cup of rice, and letting is sit covered in steam for a few extra minutes after the water has dried off. If you’re cooking rice in extra water with hopes of draining it out (which I personally believe is a better and healthier way to cook rice by throwing out the extra starch), just make to check the rice every so often. Once you feel that the grains are done, drain immediately.