Showing posts with label dry roast. Show all posts
Showing posts with label dry roast. Show all posts

Oct 27, 2016

Nepali Garam Masala

Nepali Garam Masala recipe szechuan peppercorns timur sichuan nepal

From the Himalayan nation of Nepal comes this version of the classic spice mix garam masala. Garam means heating in the Ayurvedic sense and masala means spices. What makes this recipe for garam masala unique is the use of Himalayan grown spices like zingy timur (Szechuan peppercorns), fragrant cassia leaves, and aromatic brown cardamoms. Try this simple to make spice mix to add some Nepalese flavor to any savory dish!

Nepali Garam Masala recipe szechuan peppercorns timur sichuan nepal
Don't let the use of timur or the Himalayan variety of Szechuan peppercorns in this recipe put you off. You most certainly can use the easier to find Chinese Szechuan peppercorns in place of the Nepali variety called timur. Let me tell you, the Chinese Szechuan peppercorns pack about half the wallop and pungency that the Nepali variety called timur does. This recipe has just the right proportion of black peppercorns to Szechuan peppercorns to give you a mild sensation of what the Chinese call ma la (translates as 'numbing heat').  I choose not to dry roast my garam masala as I usually fry it when adding to a dish but I've added directions on how to traditional dry roast the spices on the stove top or use an oven. Either way make this spice mix to add a bit of traditional Nepali zest and zing to any curry or chutney!

Ingredients:
1 TBS cumin seeds/jeera
1 TBS coriander seeds/dhania
1 TBS black peppercorns/kali mirch
2 tsp green cardamoms/elaichi
2 tsp black cardamoms/kali elaichi
1 inch piece of cassia bark/dalchini, broken into small pieces (or cinnamon stick
1/2 tsp cloves/laung
1/2 tsp Szechuan peppercorns/timur
1 cassia leaf/tej patta, cut into small pieces
Do not dry roast but mix in afterwards-
1/2 tsp grated nutmeg/jaiphal
1/2 tsp ground dried ginger/soonth

Here's what to do:
For raw/unroasted garam masala- 
Coarsely grind all spices until roughly the texture of coffee grounds. Traditionally a mortar and pestle or sil batta was used to get this texture. Garam masala is not supposed to be like the finely ground powdery stuff you see sold at stores. To get the traditional 'coffee grounds' texture we're looking for use the 'pulse' button on your mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder until you get the desired results. If you are using a coffee grinder or small mixie jar you might want to grind each spice separately in batches to get a consistent texture. Breaking the cassia bark (or cinnamon sticks) into smaller pieces before grinding helps also. Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.

Two methods to dry roast garam masala-

Traditional- 
1) Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan or tawa for 7-10 minutes.
2) Dry roast spices one at a time in batches, or toss all spices in and stir frequently until spices give off a fragrant aroma. Do not dry roast grated nutmeg or dried ginger.
3) Allow to cool completely. Grind coarsely (including grated nutmeg and dried ginger) using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.
(The problem with this traditional method is that the temperature isn't really even over a tawa on a gas flame and some spices may scorch while others remain unroasted. Cumin usually roasts faster than the other spices and when burned has an unpleasant bitter flavor.  Roasting spices separately reduces the risk of scorching but is tedious. Why do South Asians still do use traditional tawa method? Because most South Asians do not have any sort of oven in their homes.)

Fast & easy oven method-
1) Preheat oven to 220F/100C.
2) Spread all spices (except grated nutmeg and dried ginger) over 13 inch by 9 inch baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake spices for 10 minutes.
3) Allow to cool completely and grind coarsely (including mace, nutmeg, or allspice) using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.

Here's photo of a beautiful Nepali sunset I took from my roof yesterday evening.
There's Mt Macchapuchre on the right and Annapurna III on the left in the parting clouds at dusk. 


May 4, 2016

Tips & Tools: Why I Do Not Dry Roast My Spices


I'm probably going to draw brickbats but I'm going to say it anyway: 

 Dry roasting spices is unnecessary. *
Unnecessary. Tedious. Superfluous. Yet another dirty pan in Bibi's tiny kitchen.
 Yes I know, Bibi's ever the maverick.  I've found another kindred spirit via the internet who also questions dry roasting spices on her blog Azelia's Kitchen here.


When I first started cooking Desi dishes years ago I noticed some recipes would dry roast the spices before cooking and some would just add the raw spices to the pan and fry them with the dish. I wondered what the point of dry roasting spices was if you were just going to fry them in oil and then cook them even further until dish is finished. That's a lot of cooking for rather delicate spices whose flavors primarily come from heat sensitive volatile oils. I have several cookbooks featuring both recipes that dry roast the spices and use raw spices. They'll often say dry roasting enhances the flavor of spices in one recipe but give no reason why the masala is left raw in another recipe.


The only reasoning I could find behind dry roasting spices in Desi dishes was in Anjum Anand's brilliantly written Indian Every Day cookbook.  
In her book Ms. Anjum states, 
"Spices are roasted for two reasons; first to facilitate the grinding of potentially soggy seeds (India can be very damp) and secondly to change the basic flavour… during the monsoons in India, the damp gets into everything and the seeds would need a light roasting to crisp them up enough to grind them but not to change the flavour."
Aha!
So dry roasting spices makes grinding them to powder easier in the humid weather of the Indian Subcontinent. That makes sense especially if you are grinding spices the old fashioned way with a mortar and pestle or sil-batta. It would seem Ms Anjum is waffling a bit on whether it's to change the flavor or not though.


For a more scientific explanation of what goes on when spices are dry roasted or heated in any way  let's take a look at page in the famed food science writer Harold McGee's famed tome  On Food and Cooking. 
Mr. McGee writes,
"Once the aroma molecules in herbs and spices are released into a preparation and exposed to other ingredients, the air, and heat, they begin to undergo a host of chemical reactions. Some fraction of the original aroma chemicals becomes altered into a variety  of other chemicals, so the initially strong, characteristic notes become more subdued, and the general complexity of the mixture increases… When cumin or coriander are toasted on their own,  for example, their sugars and amino acids undergo browning reactions and generate savory aroma molecules typical of roasted and toasted foods (pyrazines), thus developing a new layer of flavor that complements the original raw aroma." 
"The toasting on a hot pan of whole dry spices, typically mustard, cumin or fenugreek, for a minute or two until the seeds begin to pop, the point at which their inner moisture has vaporized and they are just beginning to brown.  Spices cooked in this way are mellowed, but individually; they retain their own identities."
Hmmmm...
So heating spices mellows and subdues them but can also lend complexity to a mixture. Desi dishes are definitely known for their complexity of flavor, that's true. This still left me wondering if spices really need to be dry roasted if they're also going to be fried, and pressure cooked or simmered in order to bring out their layers of complexity. Seems like that's overdoing it a bit to to me.


Most of the modern Indian cookbooks I've tried have been rather disappointing due to the lack of flavor in the resulting dishes. Most of the modern recipes utilized dry roasting spices first then frying and further cooking them after. After watching my Kashmiri family cook and noticing how different what they did was from what the modern cookbooks advised I started perusing informal "homely" Desi recipe exchange forums online.

I noticed two trends in the older traditional recipes that had the bold flavors I love:

If the masala was dry roasted it was added towards the end of the cooking of the dish.

If the masala was used raw it was fried early on in the cooking of the dish.

I can only conclude that dry roasting all spices regardless of cooking technique was as Azelia puts it "a modern mantra" with not a lot of thought behind it.


So does dry roasting spices prior to cooking really enhance their flavor?
I'd say it makes them different, and not necessarily in a good way. When you're cooking you just have to make the choice as to whether you prefer a more mellow and subdued flavor in your dish. Also keep in mind all the cooking those spices will endure after the initial dry roasting, and whether there's yogurt or coconut in your dish whose fat will dilute the spices' flavor too.



My reasons for not dry roasting spices:

All those gorgeous aromas filling your kitchen as you dry roast the spices is actually flavor lost. You're filling the air with fragrant volatile molecules that could be flavoring your food.

When you degrade those volatile aroma chemicals by heating them you are shortening the spices' shelf life. Spices are far more prone to going rancid or losing flavor after being heated.

Why bother going through the hassle of dry roasting spices if you're going to fry, simmer, or pressure cook them anyway? All that heat in cooking is enough to mellow, subdue, and bring out all the spices' complexities.


*There are only 2 exceptions I'd make in dry roasting:

Coconut meat, there's only one way to get toasted coconut flavor and that's by dry roasting. If toasted coconut's the flavor you're after then dry roasting's the only way to go.

If you're going to add spices to a dish after cooking or to a dish that won't be cooked. There is a practice in some regions and households of stirring a small amount of garam masala into a dish to season it just before serving. Because the garam masala used in this technique doesn't undergo any cooking you must dry roast it previously. I've also seen a lot of South Indian recipes that dry roast the spices and add them to a dish at a late stage in cooking. I don't really think either of these techniques result in enhanced flavor so I don't use them.  I do dry roast cumin to add to raw chutneys also.

Jan 1, 2016

Garam Masala

Garam masala is a blend of aromatic spices commonly used in South Asian cooking. Many regions of the Asian Subcontinent have their own unique blends of garam masala. Garam in this context means 'warm' or 'heating' to the body in the Ayurvedic sense. Masala simply means spices. Garam masala can also be varied to suit personal taste.  Depending on usage garam masala may be dry roasted or left raw. 


Some regional cuisines of South Asia traditionally stir 1/2 teaspoonful of garam masala into a dish just before serving, this requires the garam masala to be dry roasted before use. Other cuisines of the Subcontinent use garam masala during cooking so the spice mix is left raw. I prefer not to dry roast my garam masala as I use it during cooking. Dry roasted spices also tend to not store well & develop an 'off' flavor if not used quickly. (I'll include techniques to dry roast spices if you wish to do so though.) 

Ingredients:
1 TBS green cardamoms/elaichi
7 brown cardamoms/kali elaichi
4 tsp cloves/laung
4 tsp cumin seeds/jeera
1&1/2 TBS black peppercorns/kali mirch
4 one & half inch pieces of cassia bark/dalchini (or cinnamon sticks)
3 mace jackets/javatri (or 1/2 tsp grated nutmeg or allspice)

Here's what to do:
For raw/unroasted garam masala- 
Coarsely grind all spices until roughly the texture of coffee grounds. Traditionally a mortar & pestle or "sil batta" was used to get this texture. Garam masala is not supposed to be like that finely ground powdery stuff you see sold at stores. To get the traditional 'coffee grounds' texture we're looking for use the 'pulse' button on your mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder until you get the desired results. If you are using a coffee grinder or small mixie jar you might want to grind each spice separately in batches to get a consistent texture. Breaking the cassia bark (or cinnamon sticks) into smaller pieces before grinding helps also. Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.

Two methods to dry roast garam masala-

Traditional- 
1) Heat a heavy bottomed frying pan or tawa for 7-10 minutes.
2) Dry roast spices one at a time in batches, or toss all spices in & stir frequently until spices give off a fragrant aroma. Do not dry roast mace, nutmeg or allspice.
3) Allow to cool completely. Grind coarsely (including mace, nutmeg, or allspice) using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.
(The problem with this traditional method is that the temperature isn't really even over a tawa on a gas flame & some spices may scorch while others remain unroasted.  Cumin usually roasts faster than the other spices & when burned has an unpleasant bitter flavor.  Roasting spices separately reduces the risk of scorching but is tedious. Why do South Asians still do use traditional tawa method? Because most South Asians do not have any sort of oven in their homes.)

Fast & easy oven method-
1) Preheat oven to 220F/100C.
2) Spread all spices (except mace, nutmeg or allspice) over 13 inch by 9 inch baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake spices for 10 minutes.
3) Allow to cool completely & grind coarsely (including mace, nutmeg, or allspice) using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder.  Store in an airtight container out of sunlight.


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