Friday, 24 October 2014

Who wants to make garam and Balti masala?

I learnt to make both these spice mixes from The Balti Bible, which my dad gave me in 1999. I'll be posting a few of the recipes, but if you like curry, and you like cooking, I seriously recommend it. Most of the main-meal recipes use both garam masala and Balti masala, and the side dishes generally get a sprinkling of garam at the end. Nothing compares to the smell (and flavour) of freshly made curry mix; the exorbitant supermarket jars fade to dust in comparison. Little jars of spice mix also make super presents. (Masala means mix.) This is project-cooking, weekend daytimes, holidays: the mix you make will last you plenty of time so you don't mind spending a sunny or rainy Saturday afternoon filling the house with spice smells.

Step one: check the quantities you need. I work off a dirty handwritten list that lives inside my Balti Bible, but here's a nice clean Excel list I made when my Facebook friends protested they couldn't read it:

I'll be making double, as always, because I'll end up giving loads of it away, but you do as suits you. Powdered spices are best in the first 6 months after grinding (and quite like a month to settle), so if this is new stuff, single quantities might be best - unless you're doing Christmas presents. Up to you.

Step two: assess your spice supplies and make a shopping list. WE'RE OUT OF CUMIN! (If you have no spice stocks, skip on to the step after...)

SPICE HEAVEN! The spice road is easier than it once was, but I must still travel to the east for spices. Oxford peeps, Tahmid Stores, Cowley road. Anyone else, if you don't know where your spice wholesaler is, ask an Indian restaurant where they buy. In Cape Town, I used to go the fabulous Atlas Stores on Wale Street, Bo-Kaap, where the spices were kept in huge wooden bins and the shopkeepers deftly packaged them into brown paper bags with origami folds that defied physics, which I'd then decant into glass jars at home. If you like spices, collect glass jars and buy in bulk. Those stupid little supermarket jars are tiny and horribly expensive.

If you can't find the asafoetida, it's usually in a little yellow box and is also known as hing. Plus if you ask for it by either or both names, you get bonus points.

800g bags. That's what I'm talking about! Not this silly tiny jar nonsense. (They also have 5kg bags...)

Tiny little 100g for wusses. But if you're buying powdered spices, esp something you don't use much, still a good idea. (Powdered loses flavour much faster than whole) I got a little wussy bag of garlic powder.

Spice-shop selfie: the spice shop makes me very, very happy.

Danja (that's coriander to you) looking as it should, not in tiny little packets. So of course I impulse-bought 3. And 2 saag. This is not on the list. Feel free to impulse-buy your own random choices at this point.

Back from shops, we start with garam masala. (Actually we start with a cup of tea.) As I said, I'm making double quantities.
A big wok and a scale. Everything except the mint will go in the wok. You can use a frying pan but make single quantities if you do or not enough of the spices will touch the heat.

120g of coriander is a LOT. All the more reason not to buy spices at the supermarket.

Garam masala whole spices in the wok, ready to dry fry.

Get a cool wide bowl ready to tip them into, to stop them cooking when they're ready.
(You don't need to do anything special to make it cool. Just, you know, don't heat it.)

You're basically frying wood. Keep turning it gently. Do not step away.

Hard to photograph this stage, but you're watching for the steam to start rising from the spices. You'll see it. As soon as it does, stir a couple more times and tip it into the cold bowl. You have released the volatile oils.

Set it aside to cool. Meanwhile, we can make a start on the whole spices for the Balti masala. Some of the Balti spices I'll be using powdered - chilli powder, garlic powder, turmeric, ginger, paprika, asafoetida, English mustard. The others I'll be frying and grinding from whole.

The whole spices for the Balti masala, ready to dry-fry - same drill as before.

Don't forget your cold bowl.

Again, as soon as you see the steam start to rise, give them a quick stir more and toss them into the cold bowl. If it burns at this bit it'll ruin the whole thing with burnt flavour and that will suck.

Both mixes will need to cool completely before I grind them up, so I'll probably ground them tomorrow. I can mix up the Balti powders now, though, to get those ready.

Except... WAIT! I FORGOT THE CLOVES! No problem, just dry frying them in my little spices pan (I love this tiny frying pan so much; it's brilliant and has been with me for years and has its own little story which maybe I'll tell you one day) and will add to the mix.

Let the spices cool really properly. Don't hurry. You can do the grinding the next day even.

Grinding the cooled spices in batches. THIS IS VERY VERY NOISY. I use my stick blender for all other blending, and the jug blender only for spices; I'm sure its blades are buggered to hell and back by basically grinding up wood most of its days.

CONFESSION: I didn't actually finish photographing the final stages cos my friend arrived and I was too busy chatting and finishing it up so she could take some home. BUT I also have the photos from when I made it last, so here is a Historical Look Back at Christmas Masalas Past.

 Once all the garam masala is blended up, add the mint.

Look at the loveliness! By now the whole house smells splendidly of spices, but it's still worth getting your nose in there. (And then sneezing violently.)

The Balti powders in their colourful glory. The Balti Masala also gets a goodly amount of your garam masala - 50g of it for single quantities. (That gives the balti masala a total of 20 ingredients, which is pretty cool.)

It's a more orangey-yellow than the garam masala, which is a mid-brown, which is how I tell them apart. But you can label them all prettily for presents:

Not sure this is my finest labelling hour, but they look fairly pretty. One year I'd gathered loads of jars in advance and spraypainted all their lids gold, which was splendid. But the jars were quite big and I've since learnt to give other people much smaller jars of the stuff - unless they're cooking curry regularly, it just goes off otherwise, and if they do run out, you can always top up their jars. I now keep a store of tiny little Kilner-style jars in the cupboard for the express purpose of foisting masalas onto people.

For myself, though...

The bulk of the spices go in clip-lock tupperware (so no air can touch them) in a cupboard above the fridge (cool and dark). Some goes into jars (note the spraypainted gold lids?) to go in my spices drawer, for regular use, and I top it up from the tupperware.

Did I mention my spices drawer?


That's the easy-access spices. The rest of the big bags are in the cupboard above the fridge, in the cool airtight dark, ready to refill the jars.

Happy spicing.

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