CHAAT MASALA (TANGY SPICE BLEND)
In Hindi chaat literally means “to lick”, referring to mouth watering snack salads and finger-licking foods enlivened with chaat masala. This is a tantalizing blend with a distinctive flavor from earthy ground cumin, tart green mango powder (amchoor) and smoky, sulpherous black salt (kala namak) that tastes tangy, like lemon with a hint of egg salad. These are combined and ground with dried mint, dried ginger, nutmeg, cayenne, salt, and pepper for a well balanced seasoning that is tossed with chaat ingredients (boiled chunks of potato and raw fruit are popular), then smothered in sweet, sour and hot chutneys for full effect. If you for any reason, you can’t find black salt, don’t substitute table salt, as the mix will be overly salty without the special tang. Instead, add a little citric acid (sold in small crystals in Indian markets and finely ground Kosher “sour salt” in supermarkets). Commercial chaat masala blends are sold in small boxes in Indian markets and I find most are more than acceptable in flavor with a good spicy-tart-salty taste. Besides adding allure to chaat salads, try this masala sprinkled over yogurt salads and on French fries and other fried snacks, including samosas and vegetable fritters, added to stewed chickpeas and mixed into coleslaw and other creamy salad dressings. In India, it is all the rage to dust grilled kebabs, fried fish or shrimp and tandoori chicken with a little chaat masala.
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Makes about 1 cup
3 tablespoons cumin seeds
1/2 teaspoon black peppercorns
3 tablespoons dried crushed mint
1/2 teaspoon asafeotida (hing powder)
1/2 teaspoon ground nutmeg, grated on a microplane rasp-style grater or other grater
1/2 teaspoon powdered ginger
4 tablespoons green mango powder (amchoor)
2 tablespoons black salt (kala namak)
1 teaspoon cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt or sea salt crystals
ROASTING THE SPICES. Heat a small skillet over medium-high heat and drop in the
cumin and peppercorns. Roast, stirring from time to time with a slotted spoon until the
spices smell fragrant, about 2 minutes. Reduce the heat to low and add the mint,
asafoeotida, nutmeg and ginger and toast another minute, stirring constantly. Remove
from the heat and cool slightly.
GRINDING THE SPICE MIXTURE (MASALA). Transfer to a small electric
coffee/spice grinder and add the green mango powder, black salt, cayenne and salt and
blitz to a fairly fine powder, stopping once or twice to scrape down the sides with a small
spoon, about 2 minutes. Store in a glass jar or tightly sealed container and use within 6 months for the best flavor.