I’ve been intrigued with Indian cooking lately. It’s always fun to explore a new cuisine, and Indian cooking introduces a wide range of spices, some of which I hadn’t known of before, into my repertoire. This kind of adventure is a great way to keep my love of cooking fresh and new. I hope you’re enjoying this journey with me!
My principal guidebook so far is Bal Arneson’s Everyday Indian. For those of you who are not Food Network aficionados, Bal has a program called Spice Goddess which is a great introduction to simple Indian cooking. I bought her book recently (and scored an autographed copy, even though I missed her at the store) and have learned a lot from it already.
In addition to learning about individual spices, I’ve been very much looking forward to making some of my own spice mixtures from scratch. I started by making garam masala. The word ‘masala’ refers to a blend of spices used in Indian cooking, and garam masala is a “mixture of dried spices typically used in the northern part of India,” according to Bal. (I’ve decided we’re on a first name basis since she wrote ‘Warm wishes. Love, Bal” in the front of my book. Okay, yes I know I wasn’t there at the time but it makes me feel good anyway.)
On Saturday I went to a local Asian shop to stock up on ingredients (more about that here) and yesterday I took advantage of a rainy morning to make my own garam masala. I started by assembling all the spices required.
After the photo was taken, I spread the spices out on the cookie sheet (lined with a piece of parchment paper for ease of transfer) and then toasted them in the oven. The fragrance of the heated spices wafted through the house and outside, and was pleasantly aromatic. Once out of the oven, I left them to cool before grinding. You can see from the photo below how the heat intensified the colour of the spices; you’ll have to take my word that it also brought out the aromas. Actually, the Culinary Enthusiast can vouch for this, as at one point I heard him call out from the living room, “Wow, that smells amazing!”
I finely ground the spices in a coffee grinder reserved exclusively for spices (I like these flavours, but not in my coffee please!).
Recently I made an Indian cauliflower and sweet potato dish, and the recipe called for garam masala. Unfortunately, all I had on hand was a packet purchased in the dim and distant past. Like any spice mixture, the fresher the better. I did a sniff and taste test of the older purchased version and my freshly ground mixture. The older mix had a mild fragrance, and when I tasted it the spices were very subdued. In contrast, the freshly ground mixture had a heady fragrance with a toasty note, and the taste of a dab of it was bright and vibrant, with just the right spike of heat for me. Need I say the old packet went into the garbage right away? I can hardly wait to try my cauliflower dish again to see the difference my freshly made garam masala makes.
Here’s how you can make this frequently-used Indian spice mixture in your own kitchen. I recommend you don’t wait for a rainy day.
Recipe from Bal Arneson’s Everyday Indian, with some editing of the method. Her recipe makes 1-1/2 cups. I halved it so I don’t have more on hand than I will use in a few months.
Pre-heat the oven to 325º F.
- 1/2 cup coriander seeds
- 1/2 cup cumin seeds
- 1/4 cup dried curry leaves
- 1/4 cup black peppercorns
- 3 whole cloves
- 2 black cardamom pods
- 2 cinnamon sticks, each 3 inches long
- 2 bay leaves
Combine all the ingredients, spread them on a rimmed baking sheet and toast in the oven for 15 minutes. Let cool and process to a fine powder in a grinder. Store in an airtight container in a cool place for up to 3 months.