Zoe, you do need to saute ground spices first to cook out the raw
flavour. First saute finely-chopped onion until soft (in stock or
water - I wouldn't advise using wine), then add minced garlic or
ginger and saute 1 minute. Now add your ground spices. They will
absorb some liquid so add more if necessary. Now you need to continue
sauteing for up to 5 minutes, basically until it smells done. Taste
it if necessary - you will be able to tell if it needs more cooking.
You can get away without sauteing in some situations.
For example, if you want spiced rice, try adding ground turmeric,
whole fennel seed and whole coriander seed right at the start of
cooking (ie put it in the water with the rice). The seeds will be
cooked when the rice is - though I have only tried this with brown
rice. White rice may not have a long enough cooking time. Also if you
are making dhal, just put lentils in a pot with your favourite ground
spice mix and some water and simmer for an hour or so.