A curry is basically a casserole of vegetables, chicken, fish, lamb, or ground meat cooked in a masala ( a combination of several spices in a paste). Garam-masala literally means ‘hot spice,’ and it is made by roasting and grinding a variety of dried spices to achieve different flavorings. The basic art of Indian cooking lies in the careful blending of different spices to yield subtle variations in the flavor of foods. The khansamas, or chefs, of India have always been true alchemists, capable of mixing myriad spices that intensify the flavors of almost every kind of food.
There are three very simple, yet extremely important steps to remember when roasting spices for a curry power, paste, or masala:
- Constantly stir the spices as they roast to avoid burning them.
- Spices have roasted once they become a shade darker than their original color.
- As spices become roasted and change color, they will give out a distinct aroma, and the pan being used will emit light fumes of smoke.
To derive the exact flavoring desired, roast spices over medium heat for three to four minutes – no more, or the spices will burn.
Curry powders and dry masala blends retain their flavor for up to six months when stored in airtight jars. Pastes must be stored in the refrigerator in airtight containers, and they retain their flavor for about one month.
Spice Powder for Vegetables (Sabzi Masala)
4 tablespoons coriander seeds
4 tablespoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dry ginger
2 dried red chilies
1 tablespoon ground turmeric
After roasting, grind to a fine powder and store in an airtight container.
India’s Unsurpassed Cuisine: The Art of Indian Curry Cooking (Editor’s Choice, 2016)
Feast of India: A Legacy of Recipes and Fables (1991, 2015)