Indian kitchens are veritable treasure troves of many of the finest culinary enigmas. The magical taste of grandmothers' recipes emerged from their culinary prowess and the secret masalas they painstakingly created.
Our taste buds have evolved through years of infiltration from other cultures and improvisation. Therefore, authentic recipes involving these traditional regional masalas remain elusive and out of reach for the wider population.
If the budding chef in you laments the loss of such age-old hidden/lost gastronomical gems, we have listed some of the best-kept secrets from regional kitchens that define the cherished cuisines of those regions here.
From Kerala's Veppilakatti to Maharashtra's Goda Masala to Manipur's Sha Machal, these unique regional spice blends use unusual ingredients that instantly identify and define the cuisine of these regions.
Ready? Let's dive in:
Goda Masala (Maharashtra)
A staple of almost every Marathi (Maharashtrian) kitchen, this exquisite spice mixture gets its characteristic aroma from a unique ingredient – Dagad Phool (Black Stone Flower). A lichen, this dried black purple 'flower' adds a unique subtle-yet-pleasant flavor to the Goda Masala.
Goda masala is used most in the delicious Maharashtrian masala bhat, usal, and various other daals.
Apart from the Dagad Phool, the Goda Masala also consists of unusual ingredients like Nagkesar or Cassia buds and common kitchen spices like coriander seeds, cinnamon, asafetida (Hing), whole cumin, Ajwain or carrom seeds, peppercorn, etc.
Potli Masala (U.P / North India)
The origins of the Potli Masala are not known. Despite that, be it the mouthwatering Awadhi cuisine of Lucknow or Hyderabad's delicious Nizami culinary marvels, the Potli Masala has been an integral part of Nawabi cuisine.
The name "Potli Masala" comes from the soft Muslin cloth used for tightly tying 15-20 exotic whole spices and herbs and then dropping them into heavenly dishes that require slow cooking for long hours. Most Biryanis, paaya, and even Nihari dishes often use this sensational masala.
Comprising sandalwood powder to betel plant roots, Chinese Allspice (Kababchini) to dried vetiver roots (Khus ki jad) – Potli masala is a bundle of divinity all by itself that can easily transport any food lover to a whole new dimension of taste.
Though the ingredients of Potli Masala might vary slightly according to regional availability or demands of a particular dish, the Potli Masala will stun you with the perfect tinge of royalty on your plates.
Bhaja Moshla (West Bengal)
This spicy wonder from the versatile Bengali kitchen is the only masala blend in this list with the minimum number of ingredients.
Bhaja Moshla is a simple, coarsely grounded blend of roasted cumin, coriander, bay leaves, fennel, and dried red chilies. Just a hint of this masala adds that nostalgic zing to Aloo Kabli, Ghugni, Aamer Chutney, and almost any pickle or evening snacks.
Just a spoonful of Bhaja Moshla can instantly transform that leftover mutton kosha or fish curry, just as much as it can remind a Bengali of home in the first bite of their mother's mango pickle.
Masalas like the Bengali Bhaja Moshla should be on the kitchen cabinet of any cooking enthusiast because of how easy it is to make this delicious masala.
Of all the regional/local masalas on our list, this one comes from Kerala – the undisputed "spice heaven of India." When you pair this delicious curry-leaf masala powder with steamed rice and curd, Veppilakatti becomes the best comfort meal, no matter how far from home a Malayali is.
Even today, Malayali mothers pack Veppilakatti powder when their children leave home after the holidays.
The main ingredient in the chutney is dried and powdered curry leaf, as indicated by its name – "Veppila," the Malayalam word for curry leaf.
Mixed with coconut, chilies, tamarind, and shallots, the most authentic Veppilakatti is made in such a way that it can last up to a month without refrigeration. Though Keralites commonly consume it as a semi-dry chutney, you can also easily pair Veppilakatti with a bowl of fresh idli or plain dosa.
Nalla Karam Podi (Tamil Nadu)
The Nalla Karam Podi from Tamil Nadu resembles the famous gunpowder masala in Andhra and Kannada cuisines. Nalla Karam Podi can be called the spicier version of Andhra gunpowder masala. Usually, Tamilians sprinkle this spicy powder over Idli or Dosa crust, along with a few drops of Gingelly oil.
Packing the strong smell and flavor of masalas like raw garlic, tamarind, and coriander seeds, the term "Nalla Karam Podi" translates to 'black chili powder' in Telugu.
Curry leaves and even lemon leaves in specific variants add to the hypnotic aroma factor of the podi (powder). The coarse texture of the powder comes from roasted Urad dal.
Cafreal Masala (Goa)
This greenish gem from Goa serves as a lip-smacking marinade for meat, poultry, or fish, to cook later to perfection in coconut oil.
The main ingredients of Cafreal Masala are fresh coriander leaves which give it that distinctive olive-green color, and spring onions. Many interesting flavors come into play, with the coriander and spring onion contributing mainly to its mesmerizing aroma.
Cafreal Masala also includes coconut jaggery, toddy vinegar, and rum. You can substitute the rum with diluted regular vinegar if you don't want alcohol.
Sha Machal (Manipur)
This Manipuri spicy delicacy accentuates chicken, lamb, mutton, and fish curry. Another variant – Sha Machal Apouba – is also prepared explicitly for vegetarian dishes.
A spicy concoction of peppercorn, nutmeg, coriander, cardamom, mace, wild orange, and other ingredients, the Sha Machal masala is not that well-known outside the North-Eastern state. However, it is, without any doubt, a culinary wonder.