Salt's savour is straightforward — a pinch on the tongue is a purely physical experience. Tastebuds open, saliva glands start to work and the stomach enters a state of expectancy.
Place some salt in your mouth. Experience that bodily response. Feel the physicality.
Salt is an elemental taste.
Elemental tastes are the building blocks of understanding for every Spice Mistress. They are unique because they transcend memory.
Broad flavour platforms that form the basis of the spice language. Once fluent in these origins, a Mistress is capable of creating her own emotional dialect within the bounds of the savoury experience.
Salt is my blank canvas. (Source: Instagram)
This is what a Spice Mistress does.
The uniqueness of salt is that it is both category and singular spice. Where we all have our own nostalgic recollections of mustard oil, or turmeric or sweet fennel seeds, salt, in its simple form, offers a static point of reference.
Vacant of memory, salt is a patch of clear and level ground.
I had an experience recently of cooking a cabbage sabzi for a spice class full of women when the dish failed. I’d returned to Australia from India not 36 hours before. The kitchen in which I was teaching was small and crowded. My spices took up so much bench-space that I struggled to find the room to breathe and to cook. When I reached into my little internal pocket of wisdom to find the correct measure for salt in the pan, I came up empty.
I should have excused myself for a moment. I should have stepped outside. I should have found some space to feel my way into empty space. To reset and find my way back to an emotional zero.
Salt is the most basic taste on the tongue. Yet, it is the most powerful one. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)
I didn’t, and the resulting sabzi was a muddle.
So much of how I use spice stems from a space of emotion — and salt is a counter-balance to that. All emotion, all of the time, means a life drowning in a flood of feeling. It means a cabbage sabzi that tastes of everything and nothing at once.
For me, salt is a heaped teaspoon of perspective. Its very physical nature on the tongue carves away story, so that in every pan I have the chance to start afresh.
Starting afresh brings lightness. It means clearing away congestion. It means yielding clarity. Every day, standing at my pans, I run the risk of monotony and rote spice expression. In the same way that walking dim-eyed through my days would do.
I use salt as my call to attention and my blank canvas.
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It was 15 degrees and gale force winds today. In summer ????. The boys and I spent the afternoon eating two minute noodles and chapatis on the couch - ideal fuel for a high stakes Uno championship. That game is addictive! . .???? @samsfoodiegoods . . . . . . . . . . . #memoir #storyteller #spices #chapati #india #indianfood #poetry #spicemistress #writersofinstagram #poetsofinstagram #margaretriver #writersofindia #authorsofinstagram #portraitphotography @westland_books
In my gobi sabzi, a teaspoon of fine, sweet pink salt means softer notes of cumin, turmeric and fresh ginger call my name. A teaspoon of harsher white salt lays the groundwork for a tough tonal register of tamarind concentrate, hot ground chilli, mustard oil and strongly astringent yellow mustard seed.
If I were a house painter, salt would be my undercoat. If I were a farmer, salt would be my hoe.
Salt is a practical tool that requires me to think about how I feel with objectivity each time that I use it. In so doing, I create the right base to express in my pans whatever story needs to be told.
Needless to say, divining beauty and emotion from a masala dhaba of spice require a steely sense of centre. So, I reach for salt, as salt is where my deepest power sits.
Salt is the true work of the Mistress. It is the hardest work I do.
But I am grateful for it.