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Thursday, April 14, 2005

SPICE TRADERS

Posted on Thu, Apr 14, 2005 at 4:00 AM

As we sauntered into our friends' kitchen, in anticipation of a delicious home-cooked meal, we were handed glasses of a refreshing sparkling wine that we downed while watching the making of the feast. These friends are the most adventurous and skillful at this very task. I couldn't help but comment on the smell of spices that filled the kitchen, and when handed the cookbook from which our meal was inspired, I found there were no less than 25 ingredients required, most of them exotic spices and hard to find ingredients.

"Where can you get annatto?" I asked. "And tamarind pulp?"

Our host winked: A cook's secret was about to be revealed.

"India Spice House," she whispered.

India is so rich with spice that almost all other cultures have incorporated Indian varieties into their cuisine. Just about any seasoning called for in a recipe can be purchased on the shelves of an Indian market – usually at a great price.

India Spice House is located in a south Orlando K-mart shopping center. The messy storefront is plastered with product printouts and hand-written specials; inside it is neat and perfumed with exotic ingredients. With only three aisles, this store is packed with wondrous surprises. All of the ingredients for a Moroccan dish I wanted to make were available in abundance: Turkish pistachios, orange flower water, cumin, coriander and mint. There were also exciting new things to try: A delightful jar of lime relish and mace, which totally captivated me with its spicy-sweet smell and turned out to be the outer hull of the nutmeg fruit. And safetida, an alluring powder that was both musky and fruity, is a crucial ingredient in Indian vegetarian cooking and comes from a hybrid of the fennel plant. I picked up some prepared Indian food as well as some frozen paneer cheese that mixed nicely with a ready-made curry for a quick weeknight meal. There's something for everyone.

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