Always remember that you add more spice but you cannot take it out. So if you are making an Indian, North African, or other spicy dish, add the spice a little at a time allowing it to cook out and then tasting, and adding more if necessary. Alternatively, separate out a portion before you add spices and cook it without so that if the dish tastes too spicy you can balance the flavour by adding some or the entire plain version.
Remember that your tolerance for spicy food may be higher than that of the people, who will be eating it. When cooking a curry for a dinner party or other gathering, it is wise to cater for all tastes by serving the main dish fairly mildly spiced along with some mild side dishes and preparing one highly spiced side dish for those, who enjoy a spice high. Do warn diners that the dish is very spicy so that those who do not enjoy such food can enjoy their meal without incident. Indian cuisine also has some highly spiced chutneys, for those who like their food very highly spiced.
It is better to serve a mild chilli or curry than a dish that no one enjoys eating.
Different brands of dried spices have different heats no matter what the label says. You cannot rely on two brands of curry powder for example having the same strength even if they both are labeled as Tandoori. Curry powder is a spice mixture and different manufacturers put different combinations and amounts of spice in their products. Indian people do not use curry powder preferring to use raw and dried spices to their own taste.
Even two jars of the same brand of spice may have different strengths depending on how long it has been in the jar.
Always measure spices out properly with a proper measuring spoon, never just guess. If the recipe says half a level teaspoon of cumin, it means filling the bowl of a half teaspoon measure and then taking a flat bladed knife, and slicing it across the edge of the spoon’s bowl removing any excess back into the spice container.
There is a huge difference between a level teaspoon, a rounded teaspoon and a heaped teaspoon, especially when you are measuring hot spices.
As with all cooking you should taste the food constantly as it cooks. Do remember that if you are cooking a spicy dish your taste buds may become insensitive after several tastings and the dish may be spicier than you believe it to be. If anyone else is available, get the other person to taste the dish too.
If you make a mistake, or accidentally add too much spice, there are ways to remedy the situation. Sour cream, plain yogurt, and cream sauces can calm an over spiced meat or vegetable dish. Cream, milk or cheese can temper an over spicy soup. Mixing in suitable extra ingredients can temper an overly spiced dish. For example, potatoes, vegetables, carrots, peas, coconut milk, yogurt, sour cream, cream and ground almonds can temper a fiery curry. Sweet peppers, courgette (zucchini) tomatoes, beans, corn, or sour cream will ameliorate a too spicy chilli.
Always be cautious with spices, especially the more fiery spices. Err on caution’s side, when cooking for people, whose palates are unfamiliar to you. For example, M is renowned for her ginger biscuits (cookies); however, when M cooks them for her family she uses more ginger than if she is cooking them for a party. By following a few guidelines, you can use spice properly to make food interesting and enjoyable, without making it inedible.