Salt is the power player in my spice cupboard. It is the driver, pushing flavour forward and accentuating the personality of each individual spice. Salt makes cinnamon sweeter, amchoor more acidic. Salt takes chilli by the hand and raises its heat up high.
Thinking about salt in this way means that I am always considering how it will work in contrast.
“If I put one teaspoon of salt in my pan, then I will need one third of a teaspoon on turmeric, a heaped teaspoon of cumin seed and a half teaspoon of red chilli to balance that.”
This is the conversation I have with myself. (Top tip: I always spice my pans off the heat, so there is time and space to talk myself through this balancing act without fear of those gentle aromatics burning.)
Salt finds its articulation in dispersing through other spices, and so matching ratios ensures the salt in your dish is allowed its fullest expression. Too much, and it overpowers. Too little, and the other spices will fall flat.
Of course, different salts have different ways of communicating. Aloo parathas are a clear example.
When making aloo parathas, I use two salts: a fine pink salt for the spicy aloo mix, and a white sea salt (I prefer Sicilian) for use in the paratha dough.
Salt is the power player in my spice cupboard. It is the driver, pushing flavour forward and accentuating the personality of each individual spice.
Fine pink salts are soft on the palate. Try some. Note the subtle tongue fizz and trailing end note that suggests sweetness. My Sicilian white sea salt, on the other hand, carves its channel on the outer and central lengths of my tongue. It’s a shouty, abrasive announcement of flavour.
This kind of strong character is ideal when working with atta (wholemeal) flour, or any flour, really. Dough acts as a blanket on spice, muffling subtleties. White sea salt has the ability to penetrate the dough’s density and still make itself heard.
(Pink salt is much more conversational, and this is important when I’m making a sabji (potatoes in a spicy gravy) where all spice elements need to be given voice. For my sabji, in my softened aloo mix, I create a slurry of ghee, red chilli, turmeric, amchoor, fresh ginger, ground ginger, a little jaggery and cumin seeds. It’s a bright, hot and warm bunch of flavours that looks to pink salt as a harmoniser.)
You’ll note that this recipe for aloo parathas doesn’t approach parathas in the traditional way; there is no working and rolling of ghee into the dough mix in order to create that characteristic paratha layering and lightness. My shortcut version is quicker for the kids – it’s a favoured after-school snack – and less involved for me.
Salt gives a dish its definition. Knowing my salts has helped me to become more nuanced at my stovetop. How to be sharp. How to let go and slip a little into that lovely soft blur.
Having the aromatic tools to move between states is a really important element in cooking. It’s also a pretty nifty trick to master in life.
Cinnamon is my spice pantry trickster: strength masquerading as sweet. Use its wooded high notes to harmonise sweet and creamy paneer.