Saturday, April 4, 2015

Nepali Garam Masalaa - (नेपाली गरम मसला)

Spice up your food with homemade Nepali Garam Masalaa (spice blends) - the aroma and flavor is outstanding!

Nepali Garam Masalaa - (नेपाली गरम मसला)
Garam Masalaa is an aromatic combination of several toasted and ground spices.  There are many variations of this spice blend.  Each family has their own version according to their preference and taste.  The most common and basic components of the mixture are cumin, coriander, black pepper, nutmeg, green and black cardamom, cinnamon, and cloves.

Making your own spice mix is easy and assures a fresher and more intensely flavored spice mix.  The trick to making a successful spice blend is to purchase whole spices, gently toast them until they give off a pleasant aroma, cool them, and grind them to a powder. The ground spices should be stored in a cool, dry place in an airtight container.  Whole spices have a longer shelf life than ground spices because they have seed coatings and bark to protect the flavors, which are released once they are crushed. Therefore, it is always best to make spice blends in small quantities.  Nepali garam masalaa may be added at the beginning, halfway, or toward the end of cooking process.  It can also be used to make a marinade or to use as a dry rub, and a small amount of garam masalaa sprinkled on prepared food also gives the dish more flavor.

There are premixed and ground garam masalaa or curry powders readily available at the spice section of many supermarkets.  They bear little resemblance in flavor and taste to freshly ground homemade blends.  If not bought from reputable  stores, the mixture may be stale and or include cheap fillers.  If you use ready-made garam masalaa, use less than the amount mentioned in my recipes because they may overpower the dish.  Try to experiment with a small amount to get familiar with the results.

There are four steps in making this aromatic spice blend -- first, gently toast the whole spice mixtures, then cool, grind and store.  Here is my recipe for homemade spice blends; it's been passed down to me from older family members.


Makes 1 1/2 cups

1/2 cup cumin seeds -
1/2 cup coriander seeds -
1 tablespoon whole black peppercorns -
2 to 4 small cassia leaves - (तेजपात)
3 (1-inch) sticks cinnamon, broken into several pieces -

8 green cardamom pods, slightly crushed to break pods -
2 black cardamom pods, slightly crushed to break pods -
1 tablespoon whole cloves - (ल्वांग)
1 small whole nutmeg, broken into several pieces -



Heat a heavy-bottomed skillet (preferably cast-iron skillet) over medium-low heat.  When it is hot, add all of the spices and toast them, stirring constantly and swirling the pan, until they give off a pleasant aroma and darken, 3 to 4 minutes.

 The heat will draw out the natural oils of the spices and mellow the flavors.  Pour the spices into a dry container to halt the toasting.  Let them cool, remove the seeds from the green and black cardamom pods.  Discard the pods and return the seeds to the spice mixture. 

Working in small batches, grind the toasted mixture to a fine powder in a spice grinder, blender, or mortar pestle.  Sieve, and regrind any bits of the mixture that do not pass through the sieve. 

Store the garam masalaa in a sealed container with tight-fitting lid.  It can be stored for up to several months without losing much of its flavor, but make sure to keep the container tightly closed after each use.

Note:  To make a large batch, you can double the amount of spices and toast the spices in batches, if necessary.  The toasting process only takes a few minutes and the spices burn quickly and become bitter if not watched carefully.  Traditionally the whole spices are sun-dried for a few days before grinding.  If you like, you can put the spices on a large tray and place them in the full sun for 3 to 4 days.  Stir the mixture two to three times each day and always bring the tray indoors after the sun has set.  Roasting spice mixture is a personal choices and you will see the difference between sun-dried whole spices mixes or toasted whole spices mixes.

When I was in Nepal last, I went to several spice shops in Kathmandu area searching for the recipe of the most authentic Nepali garam masalaa mixture. There are many versions of spice blends and the ingredients and proportions varies.  Finally,  I found an ancient herbal medicine spice shop called "Baidya Ausadi Pasal" in the Kilagal area of Kathmandu.  Mr. Manik Kazi Shakya jotted down the most popular combination of spice blends  that is widely used all over Nepal and handed down to me.  He told me his combination has right flavor, texture and aroma. While reading his list, I noticed that he uses dried ginger (sutho) and mace (javitri) for his combination of spices. Personally, I have never used these two spices in my home-made spice mixtures.  I decided to make a fresh batch of garam masalaa with dried ginger and mace along with other ingredients, and was very satisfied with the taste and aroma.  I am glad that I tried and found the combination of spice blend most aromatic.

Above is the picture of Mr. Manik Kazi Shakya's hand-written ingredient note for Nepali Garam Masalaa -  (translation from Nepali to English) -- whole cloves (ल्वांग), green cardamom pods (सुकुमेल), black cardamom pods (अलैंची), stick cinnamon (दालचिनी), nutmeg (जाइफल), mace (जाइपत्री), dried ginger (सुठो), whole black pepper (मरिच), cumin seeds (जीरा), coriander seeds (धनिया) - please make a note that Mr. Shakya forgot to add cassia leaves in his list.  

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