From flavoring our favorite curries to curing several ailments, spices have hold a special place in our lives and is a must in every Indian kitchen. Known as the land of spices, India is known to have a major share in the global spice market. And the green belt of India, the Northeastern states, holds a distinctive position owing to its unique, quality spices.
Most of these spices of northeast India grows in pristine weather conditions, rich fertile soils, sometimes even found growing in the wild dense forest areas.
These northeastern spices are flavorsome to add in food and are widely used in home remedies too. But do you know which spices grow here? Let's find out.
This post is by Zizira, a food products company of Meghalaya, one of the eight states that form the northeast region of India. We work with a network of farmers to meet the needs of conscious customers across India in such a way that the farmers realize their potential and improve their livelihood. As people from this region, we bring you this post based on our first-hand knowledge.
5 Unique Spices Used in Northeast India Food
Here's the list of 5 spices of Northeast India. You will see a note on each of these spices of northeast India - how the locals are using them and how they've come in handy across generations in treating minor body disorders.
1. Bhut Jolokia (Raja Mircha)
Also known as the Naga Chili, this notorious chilli is widely cultivated in the states of Assam, Nagaland, Manipur. It is known to hold a Guninness Book Record as one of the Planet's hottest chili with over a million scoville heat unit (SHU). About 4,694,074SHU to be specific.
The fiery chilli is used widely in northeast India food to make chutneys, sauces and one of the tastiest delicacies of the northeastern cuisines. As hot as it is, it will make your mouth water, craving for more.
In Naga and Manipuri households, Bhut Jolokia is a must with every meal. In Nagaland (and in Assam) they even have a Bhut Jolokia eating competition every year, during festivals like the Hornbill Festival, where contestants consume raw chillies by the dozen!
How is Bhut Jolokia used? Yes, you can cook with it! It's adds flavor, extreme heat and makes your meal just scrumptious. Here's a local recipe you can try.
Recipe: Exotic Naga Pork Dish.
Ingredients required: 1 kg sliced & diced pork meat, 2 pieces of Bhut Jolokia chill, 5 red chilies, 2 tbsp of minced ginger, 2 tbsp of bamboo shoot, 1 tsp of salt.
- First start by cooking the pork meat in 500 ml of water.
- Add salt to it.
- Add the rinsed bamboo shoot.
- Add the Bhut Jolokia and the red chilies together. Cook for 40 mins. Stir from time to time.
- Then, add minced ginger. Cook for 5 mins.
- Serve it hot. Best paired with warm rice.
Note: Extreme care must be taken if you're handling Bhut Jolokia. You can use gloves and must wash your hands thoroughly.
2. Winged Prickly Ash (Jaiur)
This is one taste that you might never forget. Don't believe it. Try crunching one and your mouth will feel a sensation unlike no other.
Eating winged prickly ash raw will leave your tongue with a tingling sensation and even numb for a while. And yes, it is this numbness that opens up your taste bud helping you experience the enhanced flavors of other ingredients. So, adding it to dishes will give it a strong flavor and mildly pungent aroma. It is one spice loved by locals of Meghalaya and used in many other northeast India food items.
Studies suggest the perceived medicinal benefits of winged prickly ash include treatment of rheumatism, arthritis, toothache and gastro problems. Local folks use it as one of the traditional medicines. Its raw fruits are eaten as is during meals to stimulate the appetite.
How is winged pickle ash used? Here's a quick local recipe that you can try with this exotic spice.
Recipe: Exotic Tungtap Chutney from Meghalaya.
Ingredients used: 2 medium sized tungtap (fermented dried fish), 1 medium sized onions, 5 red chilies, 2 Bhut Jolokia, 1 medium sized tomato, 1/2 tsp salt, 1/3 tsp winged-prickly-ash.
- Start by grating the onions.
- You can either char or boil the tomato and remove the seed.
- Chop the chilies.
- Cahar the fish using a pair of tongs or a thin frying pan.
- Mash or grind all the ingredients together and make a paste. Do not over grind.
- Serve it fresh. Best paired with boiled potatoes.
3. Ing Makhir Ginger
Indigenous to Meghalaya, this ginger is potent and known best for it's medicinal properties among the locals. It is a common ingredient for traditional home remedies that the locals prepare to heal from ailments.
Although widely used for its medicinal prowess, it is also one important ingredient for a famous local dish - Tungrymbai, a popular fermented soybean chutney. How is Ing Makhir Ginger used?
Here's a local recipe that you can try with Ing Makhir ginger.
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Recipe: Tungrymbai Chutney from Meghalaya, a northeast India food.
Ingredients: 1 tbsp of grated onion, 1/2 tbsp of grated gralic, 3 tbsp of black sesame seed (paste), 1 tsp turmeric, 2 tbsp of diced pork, 5 chili, 3 tbsp of ing makhir ginger, 1 tbsp of oil, 2 tsp of salt.
- Start by mashing the Tungrymbai fermented soybean paste.
- Then heat the pan with oil. Add onion and stir fry it until translucent.
- You can now add the garlic, turmeric, black sesame paste, thai chili paste. Keep frying it for 5 minutes.
- Then add the Tungrymbai, add the salt.
- Add 3 cups of 250 ml water and let it simmer.
- Add the Ing Makhir slices in the end for aroma and flavor.
- Serve it warm. Best paired with Ja-doh.
4. Nei Lieh (Perilla Seed)Locally found in Meghalaya, this spice called Nei lieh which means white sesame in Khasi has delirious nutty flavor. Commonly known as perilla seed, it is rich in dietary fiber, minerals, nutrients, omega-3 fatty acid etc. Perilla seed is roasted and ground to bring out its flavor then mixed with chilies, salt and added as condiments for seasoning. It's a blend of aroma and a nutty, crunchy taste, and will add balance to the dish.
How is Nei Lieh (perilla seed) used? Here's a local recipe of a northeast Indian food that you can try with Nei lieh.
Recipe: Muli Khleh (Nei lieh Radish Salad).
Ingredients: 4 tbsp of Nei lieh, 2 chopped onions, 3 chopped chilies, 3 tbsp of lemon juice, 1 finely chopped radish, salt to taste.
- First lightly roast Nei-lieh for 3 mins in low heat. Once they let out the nutty aroma, turn off the heat. Set it aside until cool.
- Now take the roasted perilla and pound it using a mortar and pestle or use a grinder.
- Take all the rest of the ingredients - radish, onion, chili, powdered nei lieh and mix them together.
- Add lemon juice and salt to taste. Toss the ingredients and evenly mix it. Serve it fresh.
Notes: Squeeze out the water from the chopped radish, take care while roasting the Nei lieh seed. Do not over roast.
5. Lakadong Turmeric
One of the most special spice found only in Meghalaya, Lakadong turmeric is a highly-sought after spice. So what's so special about Lakadong turmeric?
Lakadong turmeric is one of many turmeric varieties found in India. It is indigenous to Meghalaya and only grows in a small region of Jaintia Hills. It is widely known for it's high curcumin content of up to 7 to 12%.
Compared to other turmeric varieties whose curcumin is 1 to 3 % , making Lakadong turmeric a far more superior turmeric.
What is curcumin? Curcumin is an active ingredient found in turmeric and give turmeric its medicinal properties and its bright yellow color. So, the higher the curcumin content the more effective it will be. This makes Lakadong turmeric a highly sought after for its high curcumin and premium quality.How is Lakadong Turmeric used? Here's a local recipe, a northeast India food item that you can try with Lakadong Turmeric.
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Recipe: Ja-stem with Lakadong Turmeric from Meghalaya.
Ingredients: 2 cups of rice, 1 tbsp oil, 1 tsp onion paste, 1 tsp garlic paste, 1 tsp ginger paste, 2 tsp Lakadong turmeric, 1/2 tsp black pepper, 2 cups water, 1/2 tsp salt.
- Start by heating a cooking pot. Heat until warm.
- Add the onion and saute until translucent.
- Next add garlic paste, ginger paste and saute for another 3 mins.
- Add the Lakadong turmeric and black pepper.
- Now add the rice and stir and let it mix with the rest of the ingredients. Do this for 5 mins.
- Pour the water. Cover the pan and cook it with medium heat.
- Continue to cook for 15 to 20 mins until water is fully absorbed.
- Check if the rice is soft. If not add more water and continue to cook.
- Once done. Serve warm. Best served with Tungrymbai.
There you have it these are some of the 5 unique spices of Northeast India and how we locals have incorporated them in our food.
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