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A Versatile, Homemade Spice Blend

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Recipes, cookbooks, and kitchen inspiration from celebrated author Scott Hocker

 

A Versatile, Homemade Spice Blend

Scott Hocker

Whole spices: the foundation of a vibrant spice blend 

Whole spices: the foundation of a vibrant spice blend 

A blizzard swept through New York City over the weekend.

Drifts of snow fell outside floor-to-ceiling windows, as a few pals and I danced the afternoon away on Saturday to celebrate our friend Elandria's birthday.

The cold; the wet; the sludge: I started craving Indian spices.

Making Indian spice blends at home used to paralyze me. What if I didn't have the correct spices? Then I regularly reminded myself that a cook uses what is available. No terror, only functionality.

So when I landed at our apartment the snow had yet to mutate into sleet, and I turned to one of my most reliable books about the cooking of the Indian subcontinent: Niloufer Ichaporia King's My Bombay Kitchen.

Her recipe for dhana jiru features more than 10 spices. It means "coriander cumin" and is a cousin to garam masala, that spice-blend fixture of north Indian dishes like saag paneer. I figured I might have most of the required spices on-hand. So I started assembling the ingredients, unscrewing the lids and culling the measuring cups and spoons.

I did not have a few spices, like white poppy seeds, black cumin and mace. So I skipped them. Then it hit me: I was almost out of coriander seeds, and this was a spice blend that is fundamentally about coriander seeds. Too late now, I thought.

I toasted the spices, whirred them in a coffee mill, and strained them through a sieve and into a large jar.

I tasted the finished blend. It was warm and complex, ready to combat the long nights and cursory days of winter in a variety of stews and braises.

Toasting concentrates the spices' essence.

Toasting concentrates the spices' essence.

Dhana Jiru (Parsi Garam Masala)

Makes about 1 pint

This blend has many of the familiar notes associated with north Indian cuisine served in so many North American restaurants: cinnamon; cardamom; cloves; cumin; and black peppercorns. This recipe is my adaptation of Niloufer King's recipe, using the spices I had in my pantry. Feel free to use what you have. More kinds of spices is certainly better, but having fewer at the ready is no reason to avoid making the blend.

  • ½ cup coriander seeds
  • ¼ cup bay leaves
  • ¼ cumin seeds
  • ¼ cup dried red chiles
  • 2 tablespoons broken cinnamon sticks
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon cardamom pods
  • 4 black cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • ½ ground turmeric
  • Pinch of saffron
  • 1 whole nutmeg

In a large heavy skillet, toast all the spices except the turmeric, saffron, and nutmeg until the spices smell toasty. Be sure the spices do not change colors much. Let the spices cool.

Using a clean coffee mill or spice grinder, whirr the spices with the turmeric, saffron, and nutmeg. (You will probably have to do this in batches. Most coffee mills—like mine—are not large.) Using a sieve, press the spices through the sieve into a bowl. Transfer the sieved spices to a jar and store in a dark, cool place.  Use in your favorite stews and braises, whether Indian or otherwise.