Parsis are an ethnic and religious group that emigrated from ancient Persia to India in the 10th century. Parsi cuisine has evolved into a delicious fusion of Persian and Indian influences. This recipe for Parsi style garam masala perfectly reflects this unique blend of cultures. The earthy warmth of green cardamom, cumin, and black pepper are perfectly balanced by the sweet heat of cinnamon, cloves, and star anise in this flavorsome mix.
|"Parsis of Bombay" engraving, ca. 1878|
Parsis practice a unique religion called Zoroastrianism. Zoroastrianism encourages wealth creation as well as charity. For centuries, prominent Parsis have shared their success through philanthropy. The names of top Parsi traders and industrialists are a common sight on hospitals, schools, and libraries in India.
|Parsis celebrating Navroze Mubarak|
No Parsi function is complete without good food that has been laboriously and lovingly prepared. The Zoroastrian community gathers for six annual feasts called gahambars and a new year's celebration called Navroze. Weddings too require a lavish multi-course feast called a lagan no bhonu. Parsi dishes reveal traces of their Persian past in a fondness for nuts, dry fruits, and sweetness. The Indian influence on Parsi cuisine is the addition of garlic, ginger, and subcontinental spices.
I've adapted this recipe from Neela Batra's cookbook, 1,000 Indian Recipes. Unfortunately Ms Batra's book has rather incongruent instructions for those 1,000 recipes. The recipes also often result in unsuitably large quantities for the home cook. So I reduced the amounts by half to yield a half cup. The quantities in the original recipe were for ground spices so I've left them that way. I used whole spices and ground them in the same amounts with excellent results. It's the ratio that's most important in spice mixes. Ms Batra's recipe calls for dry roasting the ground spices too. DO NOT DRY ROAST GROUND SPICES OR YOU'LL END UP WITH A SCORCHED MESS. I don't dry roast my spices for reasons listed here. I'll include instructions for roasting whole spices if you are one of those sorts who simply must dry roast though.
2&1/2 TBS ground green cardamom/elaichi
2 TBS ground cinnamon or cassia/dalchini (or four 2 inch pieces of cassia bark/cinnamon sticks)
2 TBS ground black peppercorns/kali mirch
2 TBS ground cumin/jeera
1&1/2 TBS star anise/chakra phool
1 TBS ground cloves/laung
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 that finely ground powdery stuff you see sold at stores. To get the traditional 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 or in the freezer for up to 3 months.
Two methods to dry roast garam masala-
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.
3) Allow to cool completely. Grind coarsely using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder. Store in an airtight container out of sunlight or in freezer for up to 3 months.
(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 over 13 inch by 9 inch baking pan or cookie sheet. Bake spices for 10 minutes.
3) Allow to cool completely and grind coarsely using pulse button in mixie, food processor, or coffee grinder. Store in an airtight container out of sunlight or in freezer for up to 3 months.