Friday, June 6, 2014

Garam Masala

Spice up your life!
We just LOVE spices at our house. They add so much flavor and character to an enormous range of dishes. No world cuisine would be complete without spices and their leafy cousins, herbs. The term spice usually refers to the dried seeds of different plants, sometimes herbs, shrubs or trees. One spice known the world over is pepper, which are the dried seeds of a vine. Coriander are the dried seeds of cilantro. Cardamom grows on big towering trees. Many spices are imported from tropical climates, but many can also be produced locally or even in your own backyard. Spices are incredibly beneficial for health, stimulating your body and all its systems. In fact, before modern science, spices were medicine and can still be used to that effect. Personally, I like to make my medicine delicious and eat it!

Playing with spices makes me feel like a kid again with my Dr. Dreadful set of beekers and test tubes. It is a science of trial and error working with spices, where eventually you get to discover what you love the most and the least and create your own custom blends according to your preferences. One culture known for its obsession with spices is India. In India, spices are consumed in every household and every restaurant in pretty much every meal. Each family can blend its own spices for whatever recipe they are making, but a few formulas for common blends are kept on hand.
Garam Masala translates as "Hot Mix." It is a blend of warming aromatic spices and is usually contains cinnamon. Every family has their own treasured recipe for garam masala, that can be updated depending on what you have on hand. This is my current recipe, using some unusual spices such as smoky black cardamom and the astringent and aromatic long pepper as well as some more common spices you probably already have. Leave out whatever you want and add extra of anything you especially like. When adding garam masala to dishes, such as curries, vegetable dishes or chutneys, it is best to add it right at the end of cooking so as to preserve its delicate aroma.

Garam Masala
Toasting the spices on a baking sheet makes it easy to control how toasty you want them, but it can also be done in a skillet on the stovetop over medium heat.

1 tablespoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon fennel seeds
1 tablespoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon allspice berries
1 teaspoon black peppercorns
1 cinnamon stick, crushed
 8 cloves
1 large or 2 small star anise
3 long pepper pods
5 green cardamom pods, seeds removed and green husk discarded
3 black cardamom pods

Preheat oven to 325 degrees. Spread all the spices in a single layer on a baking sheet. You can crush or crack the larger spices like cinnamon stick with a mortar or the blunt edge of a knife. Toast for 8 minutes, checking to see a light brown color developing and the aroma of the spices released. Toast an additional two minutes if necessary. If they are too dark they may develop a bitter or burnt taste, so err on the side of less toasty. Allow them to cool fully. You can discard the papery husk of the black cardamom now, I find it easier after toasting. Grind in a coffee or spice grinder, or by hand with a mortar and pestle or grinding stone. Store in an airtight jar and use in your favorite recipes!

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