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Everything I learnt about cooking with whole spices from That Indian Food Guy

by Ann Sammut


Anyone who knows me or has ever read my blog posts knows how much I love spices. So, it is no wonder that Facebook’s algorithm picked up on that and I stumbled across That Indian Food Guy‘s cooking class event one day. As I continued to read more about this event, I discovered that there’s this guy who teaches people how to cook authentic recipes passed down through generations of amazing Indian home cooks BUT with one big difference. All recipes are modified to be plant-based and no animal products are used in class (more on this in another post). This was sounding more and more interesting!

So, I got in touch with Philen, the brains and heart behind That Indian Food Guy, back in December and since then I have been to 3 amazing classes. I learnt so much during these classes and I wanted to share this experience with as many people as possible. I love these classes because I really connect with the way that Philen talks about food and the way he passes on his knowledge.

Oh and we also get to eat all the amazing dishes we cooked plus some more that Philen prepares beforehand. I mean, if that’s enough of a reason to love these sessions I don’t know what is!

The man behind That Indian Food Guy?

What Philen is passing on through these classes is a knowledge that cannot be learned from any recipe book, no matter how good. During his classes, we stand and watch, the way Philen tells us, that he stood and watched his mother cook his favorite recipes over and over again until they are now second nature to him.

Although Philen is of Indian origin, he was born in South Africa, and as an adult, he went on to travel over 36 countries across 20 years. From the age of 9, he stood beside his mother and watched her cooking. He chopped onions, peeled vegetables and washed dishes for about 25 years before his mum let him cook for her! His cooking style has most definitely been shaped by his rich cultural and ancestral lineage (his Mum’s lineage is from Tamil Nadu and while his Dad’s is from Andhra Pradesh), and the fact that he is so widely travelled.

Today his main mission in life is to cook food that makes people as happy as eating his mum’s food has made him. Apart from teaching people how to cook those traditional recipes that were passed on to him from his mum, he also caters yoga retreats in Gozo.


What’s spice got to do with it?

In each class I attend, before we even start cooking, Philen jumps right into the crux of the matter – cooking with whole spices.  He tells us how to unlock the amazing medicinal properties of spices, not to mention make them taste 10 times better than regular ground spices you would buy from a supermarket.

First of all, let’s define what qualifies as ‘spice’. A spice is a dried seed (coriander), nut (coconut, cashew), leaf (bay leaf), root (ginger, turmeric), tree bark (cinnamon) or flower (clove).

So I asked Philen, what’s the difference between supermarket bought ground spices and cooking with whole spices? He explains that the most important step in cooking with spices is that before they are ground up, it is beneficial for them to meet direct heat. This is true for most spices, especially true for nuts and seeds.

So I ask, is boiling them (like in a tea) direct heat.

Nope! Only frying in oil, dry roasting, toasting or grilling them will unlock the all-important ‘Volatile Oils‘ inside each and every seed. Volatile oils are the spice equivalent of Essential oils that are found in certain plants.

While I had already been using whole spices in my cooking, Philen opened up a whole new world and method of cooking with spices. First of all, I will be very selective about where I buy my ground spices from going forward. Philen explains that I can still use ground spices but it needs to have met direct heat before it was ground. Does this mean I need to do this whole process before using any ground spice? Not necessarily. There are Indian shops that would have ‘activated’ ground spices ready to buy, but you should always ask before your purchase.

Spice up your life!

Philen also makes a gorgeous selection of homemade ground spice mixes that anyone can buy from him. He tells me that he’s spent the last 7 years working on a project to create a selection of spice mixes which include what he thinks are the essential 18 spices. The combination of these 18 spices eaten on a regular basis are a great way to kickstart your journey to good digestive health. The spice mixes are Aunty Shanti’s Red Curry Spice Mix, Golden Masala Spice Mix and Mum’s Garam Masala. Philen also makes an amazing Signature Chai mix which you mix with hot water and milk.

Disclaimer: I have bought all 4 of Philen’s spice mixes. They taste incredible and all the dishes I have made make me feel really good too. This is not a sponsored post.  I am saying this because I truly believe in the work that Philen is doing and I want to spread the word to as many people as possible. True story 🙂

Would you like to experience traditional Indian home cooking in a relaxed and social environment? If you do, I would highly suggest that you attend one of Philen’s classes. Philen holds classes on selected Fridays in Selmun.  For more information about his classes and about buying his spice mixes, you can reach out to Philen on Facebook or Instagram at That Indian Food Guy or better still email him on thatindianfoodguy@gmail.com


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1 comment

Karl April 29, 2019 - 1:03 pm

Wow very insightful article… i’m into cooking Indian food, and this seems like a great way to learn from a learned man 🙂 thanks for writing!


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