Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Kerala meat masala

Row 1 from L -cinnamon, poppy seed
Row 2 from L -star anise, fennel seeds, cloves
Row 3 from L -cardamom, ground nutmeg, black peppercorns
Kerala/ Malabar has been the land of spices from ancient times, as early as King Solomon's times. And Malayalis obviously use a lot of spices in their food.

Like I keep saying, the masala mix varies according to the family, the region, the community, the state etc. etc. Google it, and you'll get many entries. But for the Malayali, the most common basic meat masala mix is the same, more or less.

Here I am going to share my mom's basic mix (picture above). We can always add to this, the other usual culprits  -- turmeric, coriander, red and green chili, cumin, asafoetida, fenugreek, mustard, poppy seed, ginger, garlic, bay leaves, curry leaves etc. according to the recipe. Not all recipes need all the spices.

The basic meat masala mix is somewhat like the Chinese five-spice, except that we have about 8 spices in the mix. I have the Malayalam words for each too :

cloves -- karayampu or grampu
cinnamon -- karukapatta
fennel -- perumjeerakam
black pepper-- kurumulaku
star anise-- thakkolam
cardamom -- aelakka
nutmeg+mace -- jaathikka + jaathipathri
poppy seed-- kashakasha

Now, the proportions  -- for one or two ( or 3 -- I am not trying to be difficult, but will make sure next time) tablespoons of masala mix: 8-10 cloves, 3-4 1" flat cinnamon pieces, 1 tsp of fennel seeds, 1 tsp of black peppercorns, 3 star anise, 6 cardamoms, 1/8 tsp of nutmeg, 1 tsp poppy seed, a pinch of mace. ( normally we use 1-2 tsps of the mix for a 2 lb. meat dish.)

Sometimes fennel is omitted, at other times, poppy seeds. So it's kind of personal, you see? Back home, we buy spices in bulk from a wholesale spice store, and get them ground and mixed by the shopkeeper. That's an easy way for  moms to send it with their children who live far away. But when you have the time, the spices are dry roasted and ground and packed in airtight bags. Refrigerating the mix is recommended in such cases, when you have larger quantities. The ideal way is to dry roast and grind your spices right when you are making your dishes -- which is what most households do back home. I do that when I feel like going that extra mile. But for nutmeg, I use the ground version, which is not ideal, they say.- :)

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