Have you ever heard of the ‘Spice Girls’? No I do not mean Posh, Scary, Sporty, Baby and Ginger! I mean the girls in Rajasthan named the ‘Spice Girls’ because they grow chillies and retain the roots of their culture.

Food is a universal love and sustenance. But spices retain memories. This is what chef Manju Malhi discovered when presenting ‘Vattan Ki Khushboo: Masaloon Ka Safar’. Talking to migrants in the UK, while her co-anchor Jatin travelled around India, Manju discovered the journey of spices.

The first episode of Manju’s programme ventures into Kerala and the spice ‘Cardamom’. Kerala is known for its beautiful shorelines and it is home to cardamom.

Some people use cardamom as a breath freshener, and traditionally used it in pilau rice but today it is used in a range of creative ways such as in cookies, baking and ice cream! It is great for digestion, is natural, vegetarian, and replaces you eating sweets.

Manju gave us a fabulous recipe for ‘Cardamom Karahi Lamb’:

  • Mix all of your spices together in a bowl
  • Grind some cardamom pods and add them into the bowl
  • Marinade all of the spices together in yoghurt, lemon juice, garlic and ginger
  • Add lamb or mutton chops/soya
  • Leave it in the fridge for a few hours
  • After that, heat some oil in pan,
  • Add some cinnamon sticks, cumin seeds and onions in the pan and fry
  • Lastly, add the lamb/soya to the pan and cook

Manju then told us the recipe of a sweet dish that could be served for afters, called ‘Double Ka Meetha’, literally meaning double the sweetness:

  • Butt bread slices,
  • Lay in a grease-proof dish
  • Heat condensed milk with ordinary milk
  • Pour this over the bread
  • Add nuts, nutmeg and ground/crushed cardamom seeds
  • Put in the over for 10-15 minutes

The total cooking time for this dish is about 15 minutes which means it is a great dish to serve up to guests and sweeten their palate after a delicious meal!

But as Manju was touring the UK hearing migrant stories, I wanted to know a migrant story linked to Cardamom.

She explained the story of Hameed from Pakistan and how Hameed has jars of cardamom! She absolutely loves it!

Spices remind migrants of their culture, the aromas hold memories of ‘home’. Manju explained that although most of the people interviewed on the programme had never been on television or filmed before, their eyes lit up and they became animated when they were talking about spices, because of their passion for spices.

We then moved on to talking about red chilli, garam masala and dhaniya and about the region of India called Rajasthan which is home to one of the hottest chillies in the world.

I wanted to know how the chilli has been received in the UK. Manju explained that actually chillies originate from Mexico and the US but we have embraced it as one of our own, just as the UK has now done so.

There is a violent history when it comes to spices and the UK. During the Raj and British Empire, traders wanted to ship meat across the waters from Europe to Asia. They did this using barrels and added salt as this acted as a preservative.

However, they discovered that spices not only acted as a preservative but altered the flavour of rancid meat making it palatable. Therefore, there became a high demand for spices.

Talking about the violent history, this made me think of how different generations have a different relationship to spices.

The first generation who came to the UK as migrants and settled here were unable to attain or buy spices, unlike today where you can find even the rarest one as Manju managed to do on her programme.

Thus, they stocked up on spices and brought in bulk. Today, the younger generation values spices less because they are so readily available. We tend to buy less but more often.

And this was one of the top tips Manju left us with. Buy less and do not overbuy because spices do go off date. Stick the sell-by date.

She also stated that spices cook in jars if they are near heat. Store them away in a cupboard, and keep them away from sunlight, heat and moisture.

It was beautiful to hear how migrant stories tied in with food and how spices can retain a culture and history, and bring the essence of ‘home’ to a home.

Manju will be joining me again on Zee Companion in a few weeks to talk more about her journey of discovering spices. If you have any stories about spices, how they remind you of home, or have a recipe you would like to share, email us at zeecompanion@zeetv.co.uk