Jeff & Linda's Kitchen of Diversity
Balti Garam Masala and Aromatic Salt
Before we can get down to the process of making a vegetarian Balti meal we’ll need to make five spice mixes. We’ve given recipes that make much more of these than you’ll need for a single meal. The reason is that it takes little extra effort to make a larger batch. And, because these mixes keep for months, you can then make future Balti meals almost instantly.
Garam Masala is used to perk up dishes at the very end of cooking and just before they are served. While mixes from further south tend to be very spicy and hot, those used in Baltistan are much sweeter and more aromatic, being inspired by the spices flowing back and forth along the Silk Road.
The following recipe will make about 7 ounces, and will keep for months if kept in a sealed container in a dark cupboard. The main process involved in making this mixture is to dry roast the spices to bring out their full flavor. If they scorch or burn (you’ll know from the acrid smell), throw the mixture away and start over.
Balti Garam Masala
4½ tablespoons whole Coriander seed
2½ tablespoons whole Cumin seed
1 heaping tablespoon whole Anise seed
1½ tablespoon whole Cardamom seed
1 tablespoon while Cloves
1½ teaspoon dried spearmint leaves
6 bay leaves, crumbled
1 tablespoon dry rose petals
1 teaspoon saffron threads
1 heaping tablespoon ground Cassia bark
Mix coriander, cumin, anise, cardamom, cloves, spearmint leaves, bay leaves, rose petals, and saffron together. Heat a dry skillet over high heat. When the pan is hot (you may see some whiffs of smoke), add in the above mixture. Shake pan continually until steam rises and the mixture gives off an aromatic smell. Take immediately off of the heat, and continue shaking pan until the mixture cools to the point that it is no longer steaming. Let mixture cool completely.
Grind the roasted spices in 2-3 batches in a clean coffee grinder (if it’s not clean, your garam masala will end up tasting like coffee; in fact, you may want to consider using a mill dedicated to spice grinding). Sift the ground spices through a narrow-mesh sieve to filter out unground bits. Return these to the mill and process until all is finely ground. Mix in the ground cassia, and store in an airtight jar. The flavors will continue to meld after grinding, and will reach their optimal flavor after about a week.
Cassia is the bark of a tree related to true cinnamon, and is what we call ‘cinnamon’ in the USA and Canada. However, true cinnamon is a different species with a different flavor, and should not be substituted.
Rather than using plain salt, Balti cooks often use the following seasoned salt to add a little more depth of flavor to their food. It is very easy to make:
4 oz coarse sea salt
1 teaspoon ground cassia
1 teaspoon ground allspice
Grind above in a spice mill, and store in an airtight jar.
You should consider growing your own herbs and spices. While a number in the above recipes are not easily grown at home (unless your home is in the tropics and you have space for a large tree -- like allspice, cassia, and cloves), some can be easily propogated in a temperate zone home garden. These include anise, coriander, cumin and spearmint. Allspice, Cardamon, Cloves, Bay, Saffron, and Cassia are available at most groceries, although you’ll get higher quality at a better price if you buy them in bulk from an ethnic grocery or through a spice merchant. Rose Petals are available at most Middle Eastern markets.