Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Balti Masala (Fennel-Flavored Toasted Spice Blend)

A Hindi/Urdu word for "bucket" is balti and here it's not a vessel for cooking. This is a coined terminology that originated with an enterprising Pakistani restaurant owner in Birmingham, England, and ended up back in restaurants in India. The food is actually cooked and served in a karhai, not a bucket: a karhai is the Indian version of the wok. Wherever it came from, some of the spices used in this blend are typical in Pakistani cooking. This blend can also be substituted for Kashmiri garam masala for equally satisfying results.

Makes 1/3 cup


2 tsps fennel seeds
2 tsps coriander seeds
1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tsp mustard seeds
1/2 tsp whole cloves
1/2 tsp nigella seeds
3 fresh or dried bay leaves
2 cinnamon sticks (each 30inches long), broken into small pieces
2 tsp cayenne (ground red pepper) or can substitute red chilli powder
1/2 tsp ground nutmeg


Preheat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add all the whole spices (reserving the cayenne and nutmeg), and toast, shaking the skillet every few seconds, until the fennel, coriander, and cumin turn reddish brown, the mustard, cloves and bay leaves appear brittle and crinkly, and the mixture is highly fragrant, 1 to2 minutes. (The nigella will not change color.)

Immediately transfer the nutty smelling spices to a plate to cool. (The longer they sit in the hot skillet, the more likely it is that they will burn, making them bitter and unpalatable.) Once they are cool to the touch, place them in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, and grind until the texture resembles ground black pepper. (If you don't allow the spice to cool, the ground blend will acquire unwanted moisture from the heat making the final blend slightly "Cakey".) The ground blend will be a deep reddish brown and the aroma will be sweet and complex, very different from those of the pre-toasted or post-toasted whole spices. Stir in the cayenne and nutmeg.

Store the mix in a tightly sealed container, away from excess light, heat and humidity, for up to 2 months. (Also refrigerating the blend adversely affects its flavors.)


Priya said...

Superb balti masala!!great!

Sonu said...

Such a lovely and fresh color of Balti Masala!!! Homemade made masala is always rewarding.
Just one Q though, except Paneer Jalfrezi, in what other dishes we can use this masala? Just curious. :)


Ramya Kiran said...

@Sonu, look forward for more recipes coming up using this masala ;)
But once you get to know the kind of taste you get using this masala, you can just play with it in any of your dishes.

Pari said...

Hi Ramya, I have fallen in love with your blog, great recipes dear.
I realise we have quite similar tastes in cooking, especially the northern style.
do drop by and check out mine, and thanks for this masala, I am ready to try.

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