Category: Herbs & Spices

Herb and spice mixtures made from scratch

Eleventh hour edible holiday gifts

(Copyrighted) Bill Watterson

Precocious Calvin and his wise toy tiger Hobbes. I’ve been obsessed with them for as long as I can remember. Apparently with good reason, since it looks like I’ve been applying Calvin’s philosophy covertly in some areas of my life without being aware of it. Last-minute panic is an intermittent state of being for me around the holidays. I find myself there in either the matter of holiday cards or holiday gifts. It is rather sad really to discover yourself in this position year after year, surprised to find it is December, even when it shows up without fail, right after November. As it turns out, last-minute panic also led me to realize I had not said a word about holidays on here so far.

All my good intentions pave my path to panic hell when I find my Christmas cards haven’t been bought, let alone mailed. Or we find ourselves with an invitation to a party and have no host gift handy. Then we show up with an apologetic bottle of wine, a default gift I have mixed feelings about, especially around the holidays. There are a couple of reasons for this.
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Parsi Sambhar Masala

When you wandered over to read this post, bet you didn’t think there would be spreadsheets involved. There are. Relax, there are no numbers involved. But if you just hate spreadsheets at their core, numbers or not, then sadly we must part ways for today. Because I got a little too involved and went pseudo-technical. But as a bonus, I also created a nifty “What-do-you-call-that-spice-in-Hindi/English?” solution. Everything in one nifty little table.

In other news, I think my need to organize absolutely everything has gone all OCD.

One of the things I meant to do last month was compare Parsi Sambhar masala (PSM) to South Indian type sambhar masala (SISM? Let’s go with it). My daily posting schedule, however, kept me too busy for the research. I knew they are different, but since I’m very interested in the nature of spices, I wanted to understand how they were different. I looked into it over the past weekend.

While each southern state of India – heck, probably each province in those states – has their own special and secret recipe for their SISM mix, it is for the most part widely agreed that there are certain ingredients to be included. Curry leaves have to be part of it. So do various split lentils. PSM does not have these. But then, SISM has cumin and mustard seeds, which PSM has too. The similarities don’t end there.

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Dhansak Masala

I have early memories of going to the market with my mom with bags of gahu, wheat for atta. There was a chakki (mill) there run by two men. My mom would pass the bag of wheat over to one guy who would pour it into a large metal funnel. A few strategic taps and a drum would be on a roll and within a few minutes we had freshly milled flour. The guy at the other end would scoop the flour into bags. Occasionally puffs of flours would rise up from the pouring process, bathing the entire interior of the shop in a milk cloudy haze. Fine as the best talcum powder, I can still remember how warm those bags would be, filled as they were with the still warm flour. The machine, the process; all of it fascinated me.

While waiting with mom for the flour, I noticed other people walking up with considerably smaller bags, even tins. The contents of those tins were tossed into a much tinier machine and were ground within seconds. Mom explained this was the masala mill, used by people to make their own masalas or ground spices. Sometimes a person would walk up with a bag and walk away with scarlet-hued dusted sack. These were folks getting their very own chilli powder ground. The gold flecked ones were generally garam masala.


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