Sunday, March 01, 2015

My DIY Spice Blend

Dear Foodies,

Yet again its been a silent few months here though I most certainly promised myself it wouldn't be that way. I've still been cooking a lot for myself and friends every chance I get. Oddly enough, pausing to take photos started to takeaway from the food experience...that's my story for being lazy. I even have a hard drive full of unused photos to find their way here anyway. It's not that I got busier but time that I previously spent updating my blog now got used reading many others. My bookmark list just keeps growing and keeping track of my to-try recipe list is seemingly impossible. I find new blogs almost every other day filled with photographs fit for a magazine spread. We don't even have to go into cookbooks authored by bloggers that are on my library list. I must admit it did put a damper on my spirit, questioning the need for continuing my little space here. I'm keen on shaking that feeling off though and will continue to journal my favorites here leaving the eye candy as an added bonus, if it happens.

Last year I spent quite a few weeks at by brother's place during summer and that meant having plenty of occasions to grill outdoors on their patio. I experimented with cooking on the grill -  pizza's, summer corn, grilled paneer and veggies and of course all with had an Indian twist. I was also trying out different spice blends and ended up with one that was a clear winner and versatile enough to go with paneer, veggies or even meat.

Every few weeks I make a batch of cumin, coriander and fennel powders just enough to half fill those bottles you see in the photos. I put together this spice blend as well and have them ready to go.This lasts me a month or so and ensures that they remain fragrant and potent for when I need them.

When I don't want an overly spiced dish but just something to accentuate the flavor of fresh ingredients this is the mix I go to. Its a mild blend with lots of citrusy, fresh notes from coriander and fennel. Roasted cumin and turmeric add a earthy note while the chaat masala brings more brightness and twang. This is blend that works for me and I encourage you to play with it and make it your own too. If you don't like much heat replace some of the red chilli powder with mild paprika or even smoked paprika. On occasion I've added freshly ground cardamom for added citrusy notes when using it in long simmered gravy curries. Use some powdered cloves or allspice for a warm, spicy kick without direct chili heat.

Roasted vegetables
I find this masala goes really well for roasting veggies. Here I have a rainbow of peppers, carrots, summer squash, red onions and Brussels sprouts. You could use cauliflower, eggplant, sweet potatoes, butternut squash, pumpkin, fennel and pretty much any other hearty vegetable of your choice. Coat evenly with your spice blend, some oil and roast in a 450F pre-heated oven for 25-30 mins tossing 1-2 twice in between. I used about 2 tsp of masala for the tray of veggies shown.

On an episode of Jamie at home he insists on using vinegar or citrus juice when roasting veggies and I became an instant believer after the first time I tried it. It immediately brightens the flavor and gives them a finger licking quality. I add a splash of vinegar in the last 5-10 mins of cooking instead of at the beginning though. I'll share more about my technique and how I re-purpose these roasted veggies to make multiple meals in a separate blog post.

Masala roti
Combine 1 tsp of spice blend with 2 tsp of oil and lightly brush the mixture over roti or tortillas before toasting them on medium-low heat for an instant flavor boost! Go ahead and use your spiced up roti/tortilla to make wraps and tacos and sit back to receive compliments :) Apply the same technique when using up tortillas to make homemade chips. I do this with plain appalams for a chatpata version that can then be used as chips or topped up with a mix of chopped onions-tomatoes-cilantro turning it into masala papad.

I don't have photos but can tell you it makes for a great marinade when combined with thick plain yogurt. If you have time go a step further and cook down pureed onions, ginger+garlic paste and our spice blend with a bit of oil until caramelized. Add some sour yogurt to this mix and cook a little further to end up with a thick paste that when cooled can coat the paneer/veg cubes. A few hours of this marination does wonders to the final flavor. Mildly sweet from the caramelized onions, slightly sour from the yogurt and combined with the mix of spices will make it an instant party favorite.

Go ahead, make your own spice blend and come back to share your recipe with me :)

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