THE ART OF INDIAN SPICES: UNDERSTANDING THE KEY INGREDIENTS OF INDIAN MASALA
"Masala" is a Hindi word meaning "a blend of spices." A masala powder is the powdered form of a whole spice mixture. According to Ayurvedic medicine, these powders elevate body temperature. Indian cuisine uses different types of masala powders on a day-to-day basis.
Each type of masala powder comprises vital ingredients that provide a unique aroma and flavor to the dish it is used in.
To prepare a masala powder, lightly toast ingredients in a pan with or without oil or ghee. You cool it and ground the blend to a fine powder in a blender or mixer.
Let's now look at the most innovative masala powders of Indian cuisine.
Garam Masala is legendary in the Indian subcontinent. It's the most popular and widely used masala blend in India. “Garam” is “hot” in Hindi.
In the West, Garam masala is produced commercially and is widely available in supermarkets and grocery stores.
- Origin - North India
- Use - Daily cooking
- Ingredients - Coriander, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, black peppercorns, fennel seeds, and green/black cardamom
Coriander Masala is the most effortless masala powder to make. As its name suggests, the main ingredient in Coriander Masala is coriander. This masala is also a base ingredient in many other masala powders.
- Use - Suitable for daily cooking. Also used in dishes that require a lighter spice blend.
- Main ingredient - Coriander
- Other ingredients - Coriander, cumin seeds, cloves, cinnamon
This tangy masala is standard in Indian street food (chaat). A variant of this masala called fruit chaat masala is used exclusively in fruit salads. Fruit Chaat Masala has less cumin, coriander, and ginger. Instead, it has more pepper, black salt, amchur, and asafetida.
- Origin - Uttar Pradesh
- Use - Chaat (Indian street food)
- Main ingredients - Amchur, black salt, carom seeds
- Other ingredients - Amchur (dried mango powder), cumin, coriander seeds, dried ginger, black salt, black pepper, asafoetida, red chili powder, carom seeds, mint powder (dried and powdered mint leaves)
This masala is extremely important in Punjabi cuisine. Without this spice blend, cooks don't make dishes like Tandoori chicken, butter chicken, and tikkas in Punjab and neighboring states.
- Origin - Punjab (North India)
- Use - All Tandoori dishes
- Main ingredients - Kasuri methi, red food color
- All ingredients - Kasuri methi, Coriander seeds, cumin, dry ginger powder, red chili powder, turmeric powder, peppercorns, cloves, garlic powder, bay leaf, cardamom, cinnamon, mace, amchur powder, red food color, sugar, salt
Biryani Masala has a strong smell and is used in Biryani dishes.
- Use - Biryani dishes
- Main ingredients - Bay leaf, cumin (jeera), black cardamom, nutmeg, and star anise
- All ingredients - Bay leaf, coriander, shah jeera (black cumin), cumin, mace, cinnamon, nutmeg, cloves, black and green cardamom, star anise, black pepper, fennel seeds
Sambar is a famous curry from South India. It is a brown, spicy vegetable stew. There is no sambar without the sambar masala powder.
- Origin - South India
- Use - Sambar curry
- Main Ingredients - Coriander seeds, asafetida, curry leaves, fenugreek seeds,
- All ingredients - Coriander seeds, asafetida, curry leaves, black pepper, red chilis, Bengal gram, black gram, toor dal (pigeon pea), fenugreek seeds, cumin, turmeric
Pav Bhaji Masala
Mumbaikars use this masala while making pav bhaji, a popular street food that originated in Mumbai. "Pav" is bread, and "bhaji" means a curry made with mixed vegetables in Hindi.
- Origin - Mumbai
- Use - Pav bhaji, Mumbai tawa pulao
- Main ingredients - Amchur (dry mango powder), bay leaf
- All ingredients - Coriander, cloves, cinnamon, cumin, black pepper, bay leaf, black cardamom, fennel seeds, turmeric, amchur, red chili powder
This masala blend is quite popular in North Indian cuisines. It's used in making chole curry and Kabuli chana, both of which feature chickpeas.
- Origin - North India
- Use - Chole curry, Kabuli chana
- Main ingredients - Kashmiri red chili, dry ginger, black salt, amchur (dry mango powder)
- All ingredients - Kashmiri red chilis, black and green cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, mace, bay leaf, coriander, cumin, fennel, shah jeera, black pepper, dry ginger, black salt, amchur
In Hindi, "Panch phoron" means "a blend of five spices." ("panch" means "five" and "phoron" means "spices"). Panch Phoron is one of the more unique regional masala mixtures.
- Origin - Eastern Indian states of Bengal, Orissa, Bihar, Jharkhand, and Assam
- Use - East Indian states use Panch Phoron in tempering. They also use panch phoron, mustard oil, and ghee in cooking vegetables, chicken, mutton, fish, lentils, and pickles.
- Main ingredients - Nigella seeds, mustard seeds
- All ingredients - Nigella seeds, fenugreek seeds, cumin, black mustard, fennel (usually in equal parts, though some use fewer fenugreek seeds due to its bitterness)
Goda masala is among the two most popular masalas in Maharashtrian cuisine (the other being Kolhapuri masala). In the Marathi language spoken in Maharashtra, "goad" means "sweet" — and true to its name, Goda masala has a distinctive, subtly sweet flavor that comes from including stone flowers.
Except for sesame and coconut, Maharashtrians roast all the ingredients in one or two teaspoons of oil before grounding them in a blender.
- Origin - Maharashtra
- Main ingredients - Stone flower, cassia buds, dry coconut, and sesame
- All ingredients - Coriander, cumin, cloves, black pepper, cinnamon, mustard seeds, stone flower, dry coconut, dried red chili, asafetida, sesame seeds, fenugreek seeds, cassia buds
Masala Tea Powder
Masala tea is the most popular beverage in India. The Masala Tea powder is the unique and aromatic spice used for getting the "masala flavor" in this tea.
- Use - Tea
- Main ingredients - Cloves, cinnamon, green cardamom, dried ginger, black pepper, and nutmeg
- Optional ingredients - Fennel, saffron, dried rose petals
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