MASALA : AN INTRODUCTION TO INDIAN SPICE MIXTURE
There is no taste in Indian food without Masala! It is true statement. Masala is so important for Indian cooking and every Indian household uses various spices that form masala in various ways for cooking. Masala is nothing but a blend of fragrant Indian spices in dry or paste form used to flavor many traditional foods and beverages throughout the region. Several different variations of the mixture exist, each with its own unique spice blend and specific use. Indian cooking is incomplete and tasteless without masala. The word masala can be seen can be found on the menus of many restaurants, both in the Eastern world as well as the West. While most Indian restaurants will carry dishes by this name, many non-Indian venues may also carry a signature dish of this type. These spicy blends can also be used to flavor dishes when cooking at home. While prepared mixtures and pastes are available from some supermarkets and cooking supply stores, many chefs prefer to make their own freshly-ground blends. Some even roast their herbal mixtures for a richer taste.
“With growing culinary industry and interest in tasting various food items many herbs are also introduced in Indian cooking. Apart from chilli, pepper, coriander, turmeric, tamarind, cumin, mustard, asafetida, cinnamon and nutmeg one can find use of various herbs in modern Indian cooking. Still the word “Masala” refers to those basic Indian cooking ingredients”.
Research also shows that most of the spices and herbs that are used in Indian cooking have medicinal property. Many of these herbs gained importance centuries ago in International market because of their healing property.
“Masala” is a very generic term used to describe any blend of spices in Indian cooking. Masala can be dry or wet, chunky or smooth, hot or mild, thick or brothy. Traditional home-style north Indian masala is not cream laden not made with curry powder, does not have cashew or almond pastes & is not silky smooth in texture. It is chunky, healthy & light to eat.
Some of the common mixed spices that Indians uses are called by various names: Garam masala, chai masala, paan masala, saambar, rasam, chatni pudi, molaga pudi, puliyogare paste, vaangibath powder, bisibelebath powder, Curry powder, chat masala, thil powder etc.
Several types of herbal blends are used in Indian cuisine. For pungent spice lovers, garam masala may be a favorite flavoring. This blend often features peppercorns, nutmeg, cumin, star anise, cardamom, cloves, and coriander. This vividly intense seasoning is used in conjunction with other spices or alone in dishes such as chicken curry.
For spice lovers Saambar or rasam powder is taste gift -Used in South Indian cooking both will have types of daals, coriander seeds, asafoetida, turmeric powder, cinnamon, cumin, tamarind and hot red chillies. The varieties of rasam preparation is a skill. A good saambar or rasam odor does not leave your hand easily even after washing several times.
Similarly curry powder has several types of herbal blends. It may contain peanuts, coriander, sessame seeds, nutmeg, cinnamon, turmeric, dry chenna, black pepper and hot red chillies.
A fragrant, flavorful hot tea, masala chai is made by blending a selection of spices with loose leaf tea. Like curry, no set recipe exists for the spice blend itself, though milk, sweetener, and warm spices are commonly used. Each cup will vary, though some standard ingredients may include ginger, cloves, black pepper, cardamom, star anise, salt, almonds, nutmeg, licorice, cinnamon, or rose petals. The herbs are usually added during the brewing process. Lemon grass, mint leaves are other herbs that gives great tast for Indian Chai.
For a sweeter taste, chaat masala can be enjoyed on its own or with traditional Indian fast food dishes, such as golgappa, dahi puri, bhelpuri, and aaloo chaat. The mixture can also be served in drinks or sprinkled on salads and fruits. Some common ingredients in this sweet and sour variation include dried mango powder, chili powder, asafoetida, cumin and ginger.
Clay oven cooking styles often make use of tandoori masala. Often used in chicken and fish dishes, this mixture often contains garlic, lemon juice, cayenne pepper, and other traditional ingredients. Curry, often in the form of a yogurt-based gravy, is made with a masala mixture of coriander, ginger, turmeric, cumin, cloves, and many other seasonings. Onions, garlic, and other ingredients may also be included. It is often used to flavor side dishes made with tofu, chicken, or vegetables served with rice. Chicken tikka masala, another curry meal, is made with a creamy tomato-based orange sauce.
How Indians use Masala in their daily food? Here is a glimpse…
Masala chai or chai, tea made with spices
Garam masala, ground spices used for flavouring food
Chaat masala, ground spices used for flavouring chaat
Tandoori masala, ground spices used in tandoor cooking
Chicken tikka masala, a curry
Masala dosa, a dosa with spices
Paan masala, a paan with spices
For the garam masala:
2 crushed cinnamon (not cassia) sticks
3 crushed Indian bay leaves (or substitute bay laurel)
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon green cardamom pods
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
2 teaspoons coriander seeds
1 teaspoon whole cloves
1 teaspoon ground mace or nutmeg
For the garam masala: In a dry skillet, toast crushed cinnamon (not cassia) sticks, Indian bay leaves (or substitute bay laurel), fennel seeds, green cardamom pods, black peppercorns, coriander seeds, and whole cloves until the spices are fragrant and lightly smoking. Cool and then crush. Stir in ground mace or nutmeg. Makes about 1/3 cup. Store in an airtight jar for three to four months.
For the chaat masala:
2 tablespoons cumin seeds
2 tablespoons fennel seeds
2 tablespoons coriander seeds
2 tablespoons sea salt
2 tablespoons black salt
1 tablespoon amchur powder
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1 teaspoon ground hot chiles
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1 pinch asafetida
For the chaat masala:
In a dry skillet, toast cumin seeds, fennel seeds, and coriander seeds until lightly browned and fragrant. Cool and crush in a mortar and pestle or in a spice grinder. Combine with sea salt, black salt, amchur powder, ground ginger, ground hot chiles, ground black pepper, and asafetida. Makes about 1 cup.
For the chai masala:
4 star anise pods
4 teaspoons green cardamom pods
4 teaspoons black peppercorns
1 crushed cinnamon stick (not cassia)
1 teaspoon cloves
1 tablespoon ground ginger
For the chai masala:
In a dry skillet, combine star anise pods, green cardamom pods, black peppercorns, crushed cinnamon stick (not cassia), and cloves. Toast until fragrant, shaking often. Cool and then grind. Stir in ground ginger. Makes about 1/2 cup.
Below is list of various masala spices and condiments that are used in most of Indian kitchens and restaurants and also in neighboring countries. This list also has introduced herbs to Indian kitchen from other parts of the world .
Alum: A double sulfate of ammonium. It is used as an astringent, as an emetic and in the manufacture of baking powders, dyes and paper; the commonest form is potash alum (potassium aluminum sulfate).
Anise: (herb seed) Sold in seed form. Anise smells like black licorice, though it is actually a member of the parsley family. Anise seeds are used as a flavoring in some cookies. Anise extract is used to flavor the Greek liquor ouzo. And apparently it also has its uses as a medicine for expelling internal gas.
Basil: (herb) Bright green leaves of an herb of the mint family. Special affinity for tomato flavored dishes. Basil is available in both fresh and dried forms. Fresh basil and dried basil are completely separate entities, and may not always be freely substituted for each other. Fresh basil is the key ingredient in making pesto.
Bay Leaves: (herb) Large, olive-green leaves of the sweet-bay or laurel tree. Also “laurel.” Goes with almost anything.
Black Pepper: (spice) Dried, mature berries of a tropical vine. The whole dried berry (peppercorn) is used for black pepper.
Caraway Seed: (herb seed) Hard, brown, scimiter-shaped seeds of an herb of the parsley family. The seed of “seeded rye bread” and German sauerkraut favorite. Most popular in Austrian and German cooking to flavor breads and pastries.
Cardamom: (spice) Most often sold in powdered form. Papery pod and dark brown seeds of a plant of the ginger family. Used in Scandinavian bakery goods, German and Russian pasties and in the Middle East and India. People have been known to chew on the seeds as a digestive aid.
Celery: (dehydrated) Leaf and stalk material of vegetable celery.
Celery Seed: (herb seed) Tiny brown seeds of the small age, or wild celery plant. Strong celery flavor; heavy use in salad dressings, sauces, vegetable cocktails. Aromatic and slightly bitter.
Chervil: (herb) Lacy, fem-like leaves of a plant of the parsley family. Much like parsley, but sweeter and more aromatic; anise-like flavor.
Chives: (herb) Tubular green leaves of a member of the onion family. Normally freeze-dried to protect fragile quality and vibrant green color. Rich in vitamins A and C, flavor is reminiscent of but more delicate than onion.
Cilantro: (herb) Also known as Chinese Parsley and Mexican Parsley. Cilantro has a distinctive flavor, and is an excellent addition to fresh salsa. Cilantro works well in marinades, and a large variety of other dishes. It comes either dried or fresh.
Cinnamon: (spice) Bark of various evergreen trees of the cinnamomum family. Two main types: Zeylanicum (Ceylon) is tan colored, thin bark, mild, sweet flavor. Cassia is reddish brown, thicker bark, strong cinnamon flavor, most popular in U.S.
Cloves: (spice) Dried, unopened flower buds of an evergreen tree. Intriguing, nail-like shape makes exotic garnish. Ground cloves very strong flavored and quite bitter tasting.
Coriander: (herb) Green leaves of a plant of the parsley family. Most frequently called “cilantro.” Strong, exotic flavor. Faint overtone of anise.
Coriander Seed: (herb seed) Small, round, buff-colored seeds of the coriander plant. Mild, delicately fragrant aroma with lemony/sage undertone.
Cumin: (herb seed) Small, elongated, yellowish-brown seeds of a plant of the parsley family. Also “comino.” The aromatic flavor note in chili powder and essential in curries.
Curry: (classic blend) Ground cumin, coriander and fenugreek seeds, turmeric, black and red peppers and such others as cinnamon, ginger, cardamom,nutmeg, allspice, garlic, dill and celery seeds, etc. May contain salt. Imported products often contain such other ingredients as flour, garlic, peanuts, asafetida and kari leaves. . Different curries have different colors, flavors, and levels of spiciness.
Dill: (herb) Green, feathery leaves of the dill plant. Dill weed is much used in sauces for fish, cheese dips, salads, dressings. Adds an interesting flavor to potatoes, sour cream, fish, and the like. Because dill’s flavor isn’t terribly strong, fresh dill can be chopped and sprinkled as a garnish.
Dill Seed: (herb seed) Small, oval-shaped, tan seed of a member of the parsley family. Principal flavor of dill pickles in Western countries; also used in dips, sauces, sausages.
Fennel: (herb seed) Small, yellowish-brown, watermelon-shaped seeds from a bulbous plant, related to the celery and parsley families. Anise-like flavor.
Garam Masala: Ingredients vary but may include black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, coriander, cumin, fennel, ginger and nutmeg.
Garlic: (dehydrated) Bulbs of a perennial plant, cousin to the onion and a member of the lily family. Dehydrated garlic is milled to particle sizes ranging from powdered, granulated and ground to minced, chopped and sliced.
Garlic Salt: (dehydrated) A simple blend of powder garlic and salt. Use Garlic Salt instead of regular salt to enhance vegetables, salads, meats, and other foods.
Ginger: (spice) Dried roots (rhizomes) of a member of the zingiber family. Root pieces are called “hands.” Smooth, straw-colored ones have been peeled, bleached. Ginger is available in several different forms, the most common of which are fresh and powdered. Fresh ginger has a very sharp flavor. Powdered ginger works well in baked goods, and is also useful in making spice rubs.
Juniper Berries: It is the only example of a spice in the botanic group of the coniferae, and also one of the few examples of spices from cold climatic regions, though the best quality stems from Southern European countries.
Lemon Grass: (herb) Available in fresh, dried and powdered forms, lemon grass comes from a strange long coarse grass like plant and is used extensively in Thai and Indonesian cooking. It adds a lemon like yet distinctive flavor. In a pinch, lemon zest can be substituted for lemon grass.
Lemon Pepper: (classic blend) Lemon pepper is a mixture of black pepper with fresh citrus flavor and other seasonings to create a lively all-purpose marinade and table seasoning.
Lemon Zest: (dehydrated) The yellow skin is the zest. The skin contains oils which have a concentrated lemon flavor.
Mace: (spice) Lacy, scarlet-colored aril (orange when dried) which surrounds the seed of the nutmeg fruit. Flavor is a combination of cinnamon and pepper, similar to nutmeg but much more subtle. Ground mace is often chosen for light-colored products, such as pound cake.
Mint: (herb) Dark green leaves of either the peppermint or spearmint plant. Spearmint is the mint usually packed as mint flakes for retail and foodservice; peppermint is also available to industrial customers.
Mustard Seeds: (herb seed) Tiny yellow or brownish seeds of a member of the cabbage family. Yellow (or white) seeds have sharp bite, but no aromatic pungency. Brown (and oriental) seeds are aromatically pungent as well as biting.
Mustard Powder: (spice) Ground Mustard seeds used in such things as prepared mustard.
Nutmeg: (spice) The brown seed of the fruit of an evergreen tree.
Onion: (dehydrated) Bulbs of a biennial of the lily fancily. Dehydrated onion is available as powdered or granulated (for flavor alone) and in such large particle sizes as minced, chopped, diced and sliced.
Oregano: (herb) Light green leaves of members of the mint family. Two distinct types: Mediterranean (Italian/Greek foods); Mexican (chili, Mexican, Tex-Mex foods).
Paprika: (spice) Powder milled from the flesh of pods of certain sweet pepper plants. Extractable color is principal evaluation of paprika. Flavor can range from sweet- mild to fiercely hot. Paprika has a pleasant red color, is used frequently as a garnish.
Parsley: (herb) Bright green leaves of the parsley plant. There are several different varieties of parsley: American, Italian, and Chinese or Mexican (see Cilantro ). Italian parsley has broader leaves, and a stronger flavor than its American counterpart. Fresh parsley, when chopped fine and sprinkled onto a dish before serving, adds a pleasant taste and freshness.
Poppy Seed: (herb seed) Tiny, gray-blue seeds of the poppy plant. The same plant produces opium and morphine, but the seeds have no drug significance. Nutty flavor and crunchy texture.
Red Pepper: (spice) Dried fruit (pods) of various, small, hot peppers. Whole pods are called “chillies.” “Red pepper” is today’s industry designation for any ground hot pepper product. “Cayenne” is being phased out.
Rosemary: (herb) Green, needle-like leaves of a shrub of the mint family. Has natural antioxidant properties.
Saffron (herb) Dried flower stigmas of a. member of the crocus family. By the pound, our most expensive spice, but a pinch does so much flavoring and coloring that it is not prohibitive.
Sage: (herb) Long, slender leaves (silver-gray when dried) of a member of the mint family. Three types: “cut” is used for end products where sage should show. “Rubbed” is minimally ground and coarsely sieved to a fluffy consistency. “Ground” is sieved to a fine degree.
Salt: A mineral or a constituent of seawater.
Savory: (herb) Small, brownish-green (when dried) leaves of summer savory – a member of the mint family. So good with green beans, its German name translates to “bean herb.” Also used in poultry seasoning and other herb blends.
Seasoned Salt: (classic blend) Blend varies widely, according to the manufacturer. Almost any spice or oleoresin can be used. Basically, an all-purpose blend which goes under various names.
Sesame Seed: (herb seed) Small, oval, pearly white seeds of a member of the Pedaliacae family.
Sweet Pepper: (dehydrated) Green and red sweet bell peppers. For industrial use, dehydrated, sweet bell pepper is available as powder, granulated, minced, diced and sliced, including strips. And in green or red alone or mixed.
Tarragon: (herb) Slender, dark green leaves of a member of the aster family. Distinctive for its hint of anise flavor.
Thyme: (herb) Grayish green leaves of a member of the mint family.
Turmeric: (spice) Orange colored roots (rhizomes) of a member of the ginger family. Provides color for prepared mustards, curry powder, mayonnaise, sauces, pickles, relishes.
Vanilla Bean: Vanilla Beans are the long, greenish-yellow seed pods of the tropical orchid plant, Vanilla planifolia. To obtain Pure Vanilla Extract, cured Vanilla Beans are steeped in alcohol. According to law, Pure Vanilla Extract must be 35 percent alcohol by volume. One inch of Vanilla Bean is equal to one teaspoon of Pure Vanilla Extract.
White Pepper: (spice) Light tan-colored seed of the pepper berry from which the dark outer husk has been removed. White pepper has the heat but not the total bouquet of black. Often chosen for light colored soups, sauces.