Sunday, February 28, 2010

Bump and Grind

Last  I made chili, I threw in a dried habanero. Not wanting to give me, my sweetie or Austin the housemate a burn that would last for a week, I (wisely?) decided to turn it to powder first. Unfortunately, my mini-Cuisinart is in storage, along with half of our belongings, so I had to make do with a glass with a curved bottom and the handle of a butter knife. 

I mentioned this to a friend, and she promptly loaned me her mortar & pestle, which is a beautiful thing. Ken won't let me commandeer his coffee grinder (also in storage) for spices, even though most of the coffee we drink comes from Starbucks.

Next week's blog entry will be tandoori chicken. It was going to be this week's, but I thought I'd do an entire entry about part of the process, which was making my own garam masala, the spice mix that saved the vegetable curry of a couple weeks ago. This was a lot of fun, and I'm really looking forward to trying various combinations.

My search was limited to what I could buy at a Stop & Shop or Trader Joe's in NW CT and what I had in the house. Were I in the southern part of the state, I could have gone to Penzey's Spices, but then I would have missed out.

I ended up with a very nice-tasting blend made from the following:

2 T coriander seeds
2 t mustard seeds
2 t freshly ground black pepper because my pepper was in a grinder that I couldn't easily take apart
1 T ground cardamom (because the pods I bought got lost between the store and the house)
heaping teaspoon of  whole cloves
1 stick cinnamon broken into bits

First, toss your whole spices in a skillet. Toast them over medium to medium-high heat (you don't want them cooking too fast on the outside). Shake the pan a lot. Pretend you're a professional chef. A simple ellipitical back-and-forth method will have your spices dancing the can-can all over your skillet.

Your kitchen is now going to smell fabulous. Inhale, enjoy, but keep an ear as well as an eye on your spices. Not only do you want them several shades darker, but the mustard seeds are going to start popping. When this popping has peaked, remove the spices from the heat.

I learned the hard way that you can only do the grinding of spices a little bit at a time. I mean less than a teaspoon. Any more and your whole seeds can go flying out of the mortar at the speed of light, bury themselves in your kitchen tile never to be seen again. It was my boyfriend who found the perfect amount to be under a teaspoon, and he did most of the grinding. I blended in the spices I had purchased ground, forgetting the cumin, and ending up with a dark brown, rich-smelling blend of spices that will be good in Indian dishes for the next couple of months. I strongly encourage you to try this for yourself at least once. If you don't like the hassle factor, then by all means, buy a blend. I know Penzey's carries one, and I'm pretty sure I've seen it at Whole Paycheck as well.

I wish I hadn't waited to learn how to do this. When I'd seen recipes for garam masala before, it always seemed so intimidating, but it was a terrific experience, and while I didn't get to use a knife, there was fire and there was fun.

Next week! Tandoori chicken.

Questions, comments, recipes? Let's hear from you!  Have a great week everyone!


  1. It was a lot of fun grinding the spices in a proper mortar and pestle. Yes, it gets tedeous, but it releases oils better than chopping them into fine pieces using a food processor or the like. That, and the oils don't go flying across, oxydizing and coating the inside of your coffee grinder.

    Okay, so my coffee grinder is not one of those mini-food processor types. I'm still not letting my $150 (or however much it was -- "overpriced" is a good way of putting it) hand-cranked grinder to be used for spices.

  2. Imagine what it'd be like to make coffee immediately after using the coffee grinder to grind a dried habanero. Your head'd explode!

  3. You have a separate coffee grinder for spices, one for the coffee. I don't do coffee, but I do have a 10 dollar cheapie coffee grinder for spicecs.