Most of the time when I use spices, I simply shake or spoon a bit out of my AllSpice jar and am on my way. However, some dishes (especially those from India) call for a bit more special preparation of the spices you are using. Preparing spices is usually not hard and can add additional layers of flavor to your dish. Below are several ways spices can be prepared:
Indian recipes often call for whole spices, such as cumin and cardamom, to be roasted before using. Roasting spices is quite simple. The most common method is to put them in a dry pan over medium heat until they become fragrant. The difficulty with this method is that they can easily burn, so it is important to keep a constant eye on them.
Spices can also be roasted in the oven on a cookie sheet at 500 degrees. Again, it is important not to let the spices burn.
Although I have not tried this myself, I have run across the option of roasting tin the microwave. Simply put the spices uncovered in the microwave for 4-5 minutes on high.
Another common method for releasing flavor is frying. Frying works just like pan roasting except you start with a small amount of sunflower oil in your pan. Spices burn even faster in oil, so again, keep a close eye on your spices.
While purchasing ground spices can be very convenient, many spices lose their potency more quickly once ground. For this reason, grinding whole spices at the time of use is a popular way to get the most flavor and freshness out of your spices. Grinding can be done with a mortar and pestle, a hand mill or an electric mill. Coffee grinders work well for grinding spices, but we recommend using one that is not used for coffee (unless you want your coffee tasting like spices and your spices tasting like coffee!)
Crushing is very similar to grinding, but offers a larger texture rather than a fine powder. Both a rolling pin and a mortar and pestle are the best options for crushing.
Making a paste
Finally, spices can be made into a paste. This is a very common method for making curries. A paste is simply made by grinding the spices into a powder and then adding garlic, ginger or liquid to the ground spices. Spice pastes can be kept in the refrigerator for future use.