Garam masala: good spices mean good dishes The spices in garam
masala vary by region and household. Ottmar Diez / Grapheast "You
want spicy? I'll give you spicy!" Saleem Qureshi, the executive chef
for Asha's Restaurant, grins as he offers up this friendly challenge,
then watches as I sniff each tiny earthenware pot. "Fenugreek," he
says, as I inhale the first. "That's mace and green cardamom," as I
smell another. The colours are beautiful, from burnt sienna to olive
green, but the scents of the freshly ground spices are what reach deep
into you, heady and earthy."This is garam masala," he says, pointing
to the last. "Here you have all the spices in one form." The smell is
too complex to adequately describe. I finally (lamely) write
"wonderful" in my notebook.
The most aromatic of all Indian spice blends, garam masala is used
throughout northern India. Garam means "hot", as in temperature (the
whole spices are usually roasted before being ground), and masala
means "spice blend". But which spices? That's a personal question for
most Indian cooks and varies from region to region and household to
household. A Northwest Indian garam masala such as the one created in
Asha's kitchens would probably include cloves, green and black
cardamom, cinnamon and nutmeg. (Many garam masala spices are more
widely used in the West for sweet baking). But in Kashmir, fennel,
cumin, turmeric and chillies would also be added to the blend. And
it's not just for meat curries. "Use it with vegetables, fish,
anything," Qureshi says.
What's most important is grinding the spices fresh. While you can
easily buy garam masala already ground, the mix soon loses its aroma.
Whole spices keep fresh longer and can be ground when needed. All six
of Asha's restaurants in the Gulf (one is located in Abu Dhabi's
Khalidiyah Mall, another in Dubai's Wafi City) grind their spices,
including their signature garam masala."Spices are everything," says
Qureshi. "Indian cooking is very simple. If you have good spices,
you'll have good dishes." The recipes below – the first for garam
masala, the second for a dish featuring it – promise both.Asha's garam
masalaThe original recipe calls for mace and dried rose petals, both
difficult to find locally. I've eliminated the rose petals and
substituted nutmeg for the mace (they come from the same fruit).
Makes 35 grams.
Ingredients2 tsp whole cloves
1 tbsp cumin seeds
1 medium cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
2 tsp green cardamom pods
1½ tsp whole black peppercorns
1 whole nutmeg4 bay leaves1½ tsp coriander seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
4 black cardamom pods
Heat a small, dry frying pan over medium-high heat, then add the
spices, stirring frequently until they are several shades darker and
fragrant. Be careful not to let them burn, cooking and stirring for
six to seven minutes. Cool, then place in a blender and grind.
Transfer to a spice or coffee grinder and grind to a fine powder.
Store in a clean jar with a tightfitting lid at room temperature.
Chandni chowk ka keema (lamb curry)
Asha Bhosle, the beloved Bollywood singer, is the guiding spirit
behind Asha's restaurants. Now 75 and living in Mumbai, she continues
to perform and record – and cook.
This spicy dish, named for the famed Old Delhi market, features minced
lamb and Asha's garam masala. Serves 6.
180ml corn oil
3 bay leaves
1 large onion, chopped
3 tbsp ginger-garlic paste
1.5kg leg of lamb,
minced150g almonds, whole20ml water
2 tbsp ground coriander
2 tsp red chilli powder
2 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp garam masala
1 tsp salt
2 small tomatoes, chopped 1 bunch fresh coriander, chopped
3 tbsp almond flakes
Heat the oil in a large frying pan. Add the bay leaves and sauté for 2
minutes over medium heat. Add the chopped onions, stirring and cooking
until golden. Add the ginger-garlic paste and cook for 3-4 minutes.
Add the minced lamb and sauté for 10-15 minutes over medium-high heat,
stirring to break up the pieces.While the meat is cooking, put the
whole almonds in a blender and grind to a smooth powder. Transfer the
powder to a small bowl and add the water to make a paste. Add the
ground coriander, chilli powder, cumin, garam masala and salt to the
meat in the frying pan and cook for another 15-20 minutes. Add the
chopped tomatoes and fresh coriander and cook for 10-15 minutes.
Remove the bay leaves. Add the almond paste and cook for another 10
minutes. Garnish individual servings with almond flakes. Serve with
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