(Almost) All about whole masalas

Mallika Basu - (Almost) All about whole masalas

Posted 28th March 2007

condiments-sm.jpgI just got back from the gym. It’s been a while since I bothered doing anything anything remotely healthy.

So what is it with sullen gym receptionists anyway? You think they’d make an extra special effort to be nice.

After all we’ve forgoed a deep fried meal, evening in front of the telly and rush hour travel to spend a whole hour working up a sweat, with the grand finale of getting verucca and wiping ourselves clean with a crusty complimentary towel.

Ah. And the towel. Said sullen receptionist forgets to give it to me at the door.

No worries. I change into pathetic gym clothes and request her for one.

Sullen receptionist: “What happened to the one I gave you?”

Me: “You didn’t”

SR: “[Pointed look] Really?”

Me: “[Pointed look back] No, I’ve hidden it to take it back home with me”

And they didn’t even give me the £20 they owed me for recommending a colleague!

On the way back home, I decided to start the lessons this week with one about the whole dry masalas used in Indian cooking. The way it works is that you heat the oil and then add these. They crackle, pop and release the most wonderfully aromatic flavours. This is also called tempering or tarka.

Once you get their heady smell, your pot is ready for whatever you need to add next.

There are literally hundreds of dry whole spices but I won’t bore you do death with this post. Instead, I’ll stick to the basics.

These are cloves, cardamoms, bay leaves, whole black pepper, cinnamon, whole dry red chillies, star aniseed, whole cumin and mustard seeds. The first five of these together make up garam masala, which is used in both whole and ground form.

There are enough places on the web that tell you what each of them do and what they taste like. Suffice to say, biting into one of them is not pleasant or clever.

Whole red chillies, in particular are the devil incarnate. You have been warned.

12 responses to “(Almost) All about whole masalas”

  1. Nice pic!

    I can’t wait for the lessons. My cousin Rohan does some experiments with garam masala, but he’s a nut-job who can’t ever remember what the portions really were. It will be nice to learn from a CREDIBLE source.

    Looking forward!

  2. Trupti says:

    Haha..on the towel drama……

    I agree with you on the Chili thing, not pleasant to bite into at all…we have a Canadian slang word that would describes it perfectly- “shit -disturber”.Yeah, that’s what it is.

  3. Shilpa says:

    haha, funny story, and pretty picture! Yep, definitely hate biting into cloves! For some reason, they remind me of dental fillings (and I’ve heard dental fillings contain clove oil) so where possible, I avoid cloves. Too traumatic!

  4. Asha says:

    You should demand your 20pounds as you did bring them a client!! Go back and do it and get your they owe you.

    Good info.I wrote about Allspice at Aroma and made Smothered Chicken.Do you know that spice?It’s not Indian though.

  5. Marc Garneau says:

    Tempering oil with whole spices is the coolest thing! I love doing it. I highly recommend trying this to anyone who has never done it.

    I have bitten into a whole cardamom pod… and that is definitely NOT something I recommend.

    Mallika, what do you do? When I use whole masalas, I count what I’m putting in, and then fish it out once it’s done cooking. Sometimes it’s hard to find that one last clove… Do you have any tricks to gathering your spices out of the recipe after it’s done cooking? If you’re going to say, remove the spices once they’re done snapping and popping and then add your ingredients, would you also say that leaving them in the entire time does nothing for the recipe?

    Great photo!

  6. Mallika says:

    Hi Asha – I’ve come across Allspice but not in Indian cooking. There is some really good info about it here http://www.theepicentre.com/Spices/allspice.html

    Hey Marc – My hubby absolutely HATES biting into the stuff. But you kind of have to leave them in all the way through. I have considered buying little spice bags like the ones for bouquet garni and once the masalas have popped, load them into the bag, but leave them in the pan. It’s probably easier to fish them out of each portion…


  7. Coffee says:

    Lovely info about spices…… I have made a garam masala out of it when I went back to mums house…..

    And like asha said……… go back and remind them that you sent them a client!!!! 🙂

  8. UK Food Blogs – April 2007 List…

    Several new additions warrant an update to the list of UK Food bloggers. In fact this is a food and wine blog list. No UK beer blogs as yet though, which I find surprising, although perhaps I am not looking……

  9. mandira says:

    first of all, belated happy half anniversary. I recently hosted a dinner party and forgot to take the green chillies from the cauliflower. Only found out when a non-desi friend bit into it and asked for numerous glasses of water!

  10. sandeepa says:

    Tumi kon macher jhol jante cheyechile ?

  11. Swee says:

    I’m starting to be interested in Indian Cuisine especially after the trip to a Indian Restaurant that my friends brought me there. The grilled cottage cheese with tandoori spice was so good!! And my fave’s tandoori chicken (that’s because my palate in indian cuisine is not vast enough. Heh..)

    Gotta link ya


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