Chaat masala

 

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If you don’t already know the spice company, Seasoned Pioneers, let me introduce you. Based in Liverpool and run by two innovative guys, Mark Steene and Matt Webster, it strives and succeeds to provide the freshest spices, roasted and blended on site and sealed in small airtight packages capturing the aromas and flavours of the different culinary cultures around the world. I have ordered from Seasoned Pioneers for years and particularly love their range of dried chillies and their various spice blends, such as Moroccan ras el hanout with rose petals, Ethiopian berbere, Middle Eastern baharat, Japanese shichimi togarashi and the characterful Indian chaat masala.

 

With the pungent aroma of kala namak (black rock salt from north India), the sour notes of amchoor (dried green mango powder), and the warming flavour of roasted cumin, chaat masala is a delightful hot and sour spice. It keeps raising its head on the Kitchen Café Curry Club, the spice-driven show on BBC Radio Scotland that I co-present with the lovely Sumayya Usmani who is regarded as the voice of Pakistani cuisine. It is not surprising that it crops up a lot when Sumayya is cooking as it has become a ubiquitous flavouring in Pakistan but its roots are in India, particularly in vegetarian dishes, which is where I tend to use it. In Hindi, the word ‘chaat’ refers to special vegetarian snack food with a hot-sour seasoning and chaat masala is the blend of spices that provides those particular flavour notes. As it is such a versatile spice blend it has been adopted by Muslims throughout India and Pakistan and used to enhance almost any kind of dish – tossed into savoury fruit and vegetable salads and snacks, sprinkled into rice and lentils, and rubbed over meat and fish kebabs.

 

If you want to make your own chaat masala at home, you can use the following recipe to get kick-started – the individual ingredients are all available from Seasoned Pioneers as is the versatile spice blend itself.

 

4 tsp roasted cumin seeds, ground

1-2 tblsp amchoor

2-3 tsp cayenne pepper/chilli powder

1 tsp black pepper, ground

1 tsp black salt, ground (kala namak – strong smelling rock salt in N. India)

1 tsp salt

 

Simply combine all of the ingredients and store in an airtight container.

 

Dukkah

 

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As I’ve just finished making a fresh batch of dukkah spice for a workshop I’m running at the weekend, I thought I would share it with you – it is such a handy little mix to have in the kitchen. When discussing a new project with Claire Macdonald over lunch the other day, I was delighted to see her sprinkle it all over her restaurant-cooked food!

 

Derived from the Arabic word for ‘to pound’, dukkah (duqqa) is prepared by pounding the ingredients, using a mortar and pestle, rather than grinding so that there is texture as well as flavour in the spice mix. For a quick, traditional Middle Eastern snack, you simply bind 2 tablespoons dukkah with 2-3 tablespoons olive oil and dip chunks of warm, crusty bread into it.

As a regular kitchen spice, it is delicious tossed through stir-fried or roasted vegetables; combined with oil or melted butter it makes a fabulous dressing or sauce to drizzle over grilled and roasted meat, poultry or fish – just add a little finely chopped preserved lemon and parsley and you have the taste of North Africa in a few seconds; or simply sprinkle the dry mix over quick snacks like fried or poached eggs and fried hallumi while they are still in the pan to get the maximum flavour

4 tablespoons hazelnuts

2 tablespoons sesame seeds

1 tablespoon coriander seeds

1 tablespoon cumin seeds

1 tablespoon fennel seeds

2 teaspoons fine chilli flakes

2 teaspoons dried mint

1-2 teaspoons sea salt

Dry roast the hazelnuts in a heavy based pan until they emit a nutty aroma. Tip them into a clean dishtowel and rub off any loose skins. Using a mortar and pestle, crush them lightly to break them up.

Dry roast the coriander, cumin, fennel, and chilli flakes together, until they emit a nutty aroma, and add them to the hazelnuts. Crush them all together lightly so that they are well blended but uneven in texture – some almost ground to a powder, others in crunchy bits.

Stir in the mint and sea salt to taste and spoon the mixture into a sterilized, airtight jar. Keep the jar in a cupboard, away from direct sunlight. The fresh roasted, nutty flavours will last for 4-6 weeks then they begin to fade.

 

 

 

Introduction to this blog

 

 My interest in spices is not solely related to food – their medicinal and cultural uses are just as important. For over 30 years, I have researched and written about them and how they are used in different cultures. I have been dubbed ‘the original spice girl’ in the press and I have talked regularly about the origins and uses of spices on Radio Scotland and on radio shows in the US and Europe but at home in my kitchen I love roasting and pounding them, dreaming of journeys through India, Southeast Asia, the Middle East and Africa, the warming aromas and flavours transporting me from busy street markets to sundowners in the bush.

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Come and join me on the spice workshops I run in my remote highland kitchen with a glorious view to the hills and cooking utensils from around the world. Here is what some people are saying:

‘When we arrived I was wondering how this Scottish lady would teach me about Middle Eastern and North African cooking. As we went along I could see that she has the knowledge of a native of both.’ Hassan Choucair, chef in London, Africa, Middle East

‘My husband made it his mission to answer my prayers and find me a cooking course that would teach me about spices. We have accomplished this today and more.’ Stacey Wooliscroft, Canada

‘Thanks for allowing us to feel the rhythm and sense the freedom of flavours. Excellent therapy.’ Fraser and Siobhan, Glasgow