What is Indian food without its spices? We use a mind-boggling variety of spices in the country, each region having a few favourites depending on what is locally grown. Spices are used in different forms - whole, powdered, freshly ground spice pastes along with fresh ingredients like ginger, garlic, coconut etc. or as spice blends.
Some spice blends such as dhania-jeera powder, garam masala and chaat masala can be used in a number of dishes. Some others like chole masala, pav bhaji masala, pan puri masala, and chai masala are used in specific dishes. That, however, does not stop us from experimenting with these spice blends in other dishes. Another point to note is that these spice blends do not have a fixed formula and they differ from brand to brand and home to home.
Out of the many spice blends that I use in my day to day cooking, here are some of my favourites.
A cup of strong ginger chai is a must to kickstart my mornings. A pinch of chai masala added to the brew makes it extra special. Chai Masala is a combination of all the warming spices such as green cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, black pepper and dried ginger, adding a spicy kick to your cup of tea. In the absence of fresh ginger, a pinch of this masala added while preparing tea, gives it not just the aroma but also the digestive and immunity-boosting properties that these spices offer.
I also like using chai masala to tea cakes such as banana, carrot and apple cake. It also adds a delicious flavour to lattes, such as in pumpkin spice latte.
This is an addictive mix, bringing alive the flavour of street food in literally any dish you add it to. Chaat masala is typically a mix of coriander seeds, cumin seeds, carom seeds, black salt, red chillies, dried mango, dried ginger, black pepper, dried mint and asafoetida. The blend of spices in this mix adds a depth of umami flavour to a dish.
The best uses for chaat masala are in raita, sandwiches, as a finishing spice in curries, in drinks such as lemonade, legumes like chickpeas, over boiled potatoes and over cut fruits. Chaat masala, as the name suggests, is one of the main ingredients in all chaats. It can also be added to salad dressings in place of plain salt to add a unique umami flavour.
Pav Bhaji Masala
This is one spice blend that has a characteristic aroma and flavour to the iconic Indian street food - Pav Bhaji. This is one spice blend I like to buy instead of making it because of the variety of 15+ spices used. Spices like stone flower (dagad phool), black cardamom, and celery seeds are a part of some of the blend formulas and it is tough to buy all these spices in small quantities when only a small quantity of each is needed.
Other than pav bhaji, I also use it to do a stir fry with leftover rice along with onions, tomatoes and capsicum. You can also sprinkle this masala over a mix of mashed potatoes and grated cheese spread over dosa.
Gujarati ‘Methi No’ Masala
Made from split methi seeds, split mustard seeds, chilli powder, asafoetida and salt, this masala can be used as an accompaniment as is along with parathas and theplas. I like to use this to make instant pickles by slicing seasonal raw mangoes and tossing it in this masala with some raw peanut oil. It also tastes delicious when mixed with batons of carrot or radish to make instant veggie pickles. The pungent mustard flavour, the bitter-sweet flavours from fenugreek and heat from chillies also makes it a winner to add to a salad dressing, especially for roasted root vegetables.
So, what your favourite spice blends that you use in everyday cooking? Do you use any of these spice blends in creatively? Share your ideas in the comments below.
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