Mr. Cheese and I headed out to hunt for and gather the needed spices for the masala and found no such luck at the local grocer’s. One small jar of cardamom seeds displayed a hefty price of $13.99, so we dumped our cart and headed to Lotte, the international market down the street. We struck gold. This enormous building which held markets inside of a market displayed every bit of produce and spice known to man.
Most of the recipes I found for masala actually provided the process for cooking a chicken curry, with a step marked “add 1 tsp. garam masala”, but no detail as to what is in the masala. I clearly understand why, since we American folks are a lazy group of people in general when it comes to cooking, and typically will not seek out the spices, toast them properly, grind them down and store them for later use. Why, that’s caveman stuff! Oh, but the pay off.
We find commercial blends to be overly salted, so when made at home, we can control that. I enjoy more clove and coriander with lighter hints of cumin. Again, this we can control. Once the painstaking process is done, you have a beautiful earthy, spicy, warm, complex blend of flavors that you made with your own hands in your kitchen, that will last for up to about four months. Well worth the trouble, I’d say.
The sources most helpful to me in my quest to conquer the great Masala Mystery, were Sheila Lukins’ All Around The World Cookbook, which has three or four variations of masala blends. None of which are listed here, but she helped give me a basic idea as to the end result. Wikipedia and Ochef were also a great help, telling of the spices in the mix and how different ingredients are often used in different regions of India.
After much experimenting and research, I decided on the recipe below, which is for Garam Masala, Garam meaning hot or spicy. I left out the black peppercorns since Mr. Cheese is just like those characters you see in comedies who have sneezing fits when they are near black pepper.
2 teaspoons cardamom seeds
1 cinnamon stick
1 teaspoon cinnamon
2 teaspoons whole cloves
2 Tablespoons coriander seeds
2 Tablespoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon ground mace
1 teaspoon ground nutmeg
1 teaspoon whole black peppercorns
How to Make It!
Place all ingredients except the ground mace, nutmeg and cinnamon, in a frying pan and toast over medium heat until lightly browned, about 10-15 minutes. *Do not grease the pan with anything. Stir occasionally.
Let cool completely, then add fresh ground nutmeg, cinnamon and mace. We noticed the cinnamon stick was nearly impossible to break up when putting into the pan to toast, so we let the flavor cook into the others, then removed it rather than grind it and just used pre-ground cinnamon.
Once cooled completely, using a mortar and pestle or a clean coffee or spice grinder, grind the spices down into a powder, then cover and store in a cool, dark place for up to three or four months. Makes about 1/2 cup.