Saturday, January 7, 2012

Making your own spice blends + Rasam Zoa

Making your own spice blends is easy, allows you to customize the flavours in your dishes according to your own taste, adding more of the things you like, and less (or none) of those you don't; you can enjoy so many different blends that are unavailable pre-mixed; and they save time--if you've ever been daunted by the simple physical effort required to find and assemble all the different spices for an Indian recipe, you know what I mean.  Often those lists of spices can simply be bracketed out of a recipe if you have a spice mix on hand that you know you'll like in a given dish, or you can add just a few more spices along with the mix if the dish you're making has a special flavour that you want to accent.

This blend is the Rasam podi from Neelam Batra's large and wonderful 1,000 Indian Recipes which is in stores now so I won't reproduce her recipe, but there are plenty of similar ones online, for instance here.  The typical rasam podi ingredients in the image above, for the curious are, starting with the easily identifiable curry leaves in the upper left, curry leaves, hot pepper, black pepper (an essential ingredient in rasams), coriander seed, chana dal (dried, split, hulled chickpeas), cumin seed, fenugreek, black mustard, [and spiraling into the middle beside the curry leaves] toor dal (dried split pigeon peas), asafoetida, and turmeric. 

To make the blend, simply collect them all in a heavy (cast iron preferred) frying pan, and roast them over medium heat until they're fragrant and beginning to change colour, about 3 minutes.  You'll hear various snaps, crackles, and pops which tell you that some of the seeds are exploding into added flavour.  I guarantee that the smell alone makes creating your own spice mixes worthwhile. 

The roasted spices will look like this:

Let them cool, then blend them up into powder:

Beautiful, yes? 

Rasams are generally thin, very spicy soups, and this powder is hot.  Good for what ails you in general, and a perfect food if you're cooking with a cold...though if you're making this spice mixture with a cold you're going to want a supply of tissues handy, for you will sneeze.

A very plain rasam is thin enough to be drunk, and might be composed simply of a small amount of dried split dal, tomato or tamarind, the rasam podi powder, and a few additional spices, but of course there are infinite variations.  I didn't follow a specific recipe for mine, but plumped it out with lots of vegetables and thickened it with red lentils and the very non-Indian quinoa.  There are no rules outside the composition of the spice blend itself.  Here's what I did:

Start with frying half an onion, two cloves of garlic, and about two teaspoons of minced ginger in a little vegetable oil.  When they're softened and beginning to brown, add a quarter cup of red lentils.  You can also add about a tablespoon of the rasam podi at this stage, along with any other dry spices you're using, and roast them for a few minutes.

...before adding say three cups of water or vegetable broth (I used water with vegetable broth powder, which worked well).  Let those simmer together for 20 minutes or so, while you chop your vegetables:

As you can see, I used some of those adorable little eggplants whose adorableness I retained by leaving them whole, but quartering them right up to the stem.  Add the vegetables to the soup along with a cup of canned diced tomatoes with their juice, about a quarter cup of chopped cilantro, including stems, some more finely chopped curry leaves if you have them, a tablespoon or two of tamarind paste (or to your taste, obviously; the bottled stuff is much stronger than the reconstituted-from-squished-tamarind-blocks-and-pushed-through-a-sieve that I use).  I also very untraditionally added three tablespoons of quinoa at this time, as I was not going to serve this, as would be traditional, with rice or flatbread and other foods but was making a single-pot meal:

 Let this simmer until the vegetables and quinoa are just tender, then, right before serving, stir in some fresh spinach and a little more cilantro if you like:

So good!  So fresh-tasting, colourful, and healthy as well as fun to make and, if you have the spice powder already, comes together in about half an hour in a single pot.


  1. Oh boy. Both the spice blend and the soup speak my language. I'm picturing myself eating the soup as I type. I have to say that I did a double take on the adorable eggplants, which look just like mussels!

  2. Wow, this looks especially good. Beautiful! Wish I could say more, but I've been rendered speechless!

  3. Yay spice blends! I need to do more of this, since I'm about to move and anticipate being poor for a while. And grinding whole spices is waaaay cheaper than buying the pre-mixes! And as you said, the smell of toasting spices is beautiful. Those are the cutest eggplants ever!

  4. Fantastic!!! wonderful colors and a mouth watering photo!!!

  5. This is way outside the realm of normal vegan blogging. It's too much to ask for a level playing field, but this is not fair.

  6. Honestly, I can't believe you consistently make stews look so beautiful. Ever since I found an awesome spice retailer, I've been dying to make a good blend. Love the little eggplants!

  7. Wow - all those colours are so gorgeous! I've made a few spice blends but never curry powder nor rasam. I should remedy that!

  8. Wow! That looks gorgeous and delicious!

  9. Mmmmmm of my favorite things in the world. Yours is, of course, beautiful.