Sunday, December 4, 2011

Garam Masala or Wah Baharaat?

Yesterday, TLC aired the Sino-Australian restaurateur, Kylie Kwong's show Cooking With Heart & Soul recently in which she cooked up a Moroccan meal - a lamb tajine with salads and rice.
To make her tajine, Kylie used an Arab spice, Baharaat (بهارات‎), which she said was used to give a unique flavouring to Arab cuisine.
I did a quick websearch on the Baharaat on Wikipedia after the show was over. The Baharaat is a spice blend used in Arab and Middle Eastern cooking to season meats, fish and gravies.
Peppercorns, cardamom, cloves, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, cinnamon sticks and paprika form the essential ingredients of the Baharaat.
Ohhh, that is much like our own garam masala (गरम मसाला), which is ubiquitous in North Indian cuisine. Now cardamoms, cloves and pepper originated in the spice plantations on the Malabar coast, right here in India. Arab trading dhows which had been visiting Malabar for over a thousand years would have taken these spices to their lands, so today what we call garam masala is known as Baharaat in the Arab lands.
My Mom used to and still makes her supply of garam masala. She used to dry roast all these spices on a griddle, with a wonderous, exotic aroma filling the whole house. The roasted spices would then find their way into the mixer, making the aromas even more potent. The ground spices would their way into airtight bottles. The treasured spice would then be used to spice up dry vegetable preparations, chickpeas, red kidney beans and non-vegetarian gravies.
When I moved out of the nest and set up the first home at Delhi, I used to buy vacuum sealed packs of garam masala from Malviya Nagar market. That wasn't even half as good as Mom's concoction. And then Mom visited. She was shocked to see the kind of mild, tasteless garam masala we were using. That was it! She then ensured we get an endless supply of Mom's special concoction, which she would get on her monthly visits to Delhi! Homecooked food, all of a sudden, underwent a magical transformation!
And then I shifted to Bombay, got married and things took a healthier turn. Salt intake was reduced, fat intake was greatly minimised, food became less spicy, with a greater emphasis on fruits, salads and yogurts! So intake of garam masala greatly reduced.
But the magical smell of Mom's garam masala wafting through the air will still make me go crazy!

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