(Originally published on Scoop Marketplace.)
Years ago, when I was in Thailand, my home country, I was never into spices when it comes to cooking. Either Thai spices, Chinese, or Indian spices. Because I was used to eating food cooked from fresh ingredients that my mom and aunt always cooked for me. They often used herbs from our farm or farmer’s market. So, spices were not my interest. Whenever I thought of them, I thought of tons of different ground, dried herbs. It’s too overwhelming.
I remember one time, when I was in Australia, my housemate cooked his food with some spice (later, I knew it’s cumin). I nearly ran out of the house because I couldn’t stand that pungency. I wondered why people put it in their food. I mean. What good would it do?
The point that changed my perspective towards spices was when I worked at Brave Roasters, the specialty coffee shop in Bangkok. I got to bake many kinds of bakeries, one of them was carrot cakes. The spices we put into the cake are cinnamon, clove, and nutmeg. I was hooked by the smell while it was being baked in the oven. It made me realize that spices are so versatile. They work wonderfully not just with savory dishes but also sweet ones as well if we know how to use them.
There are some interesting opinions about spices in curry recipes. Have you ever wondered what makes curry ‘curry’? I mean, there are tons of curry variations in the world. So, what makes one different from another? Is it the spices used in there? And what exactly curry is? Alex Delany from Bonn Appetit said, “‘Curry’ is, in many ways, a meaningless term. It doesn’t refer to a stew or a sauce, contrary to popular opinion. In fact, in some countries, it was a word popularized by colonizers to simplify what they saw as foreign cuisines.”
Do you agree with him? As a Thai person, I perceive ‘curry’ as reddish, orange, yellow, or green thick sauce with some meat or other protein and some vegetables in there. The difference is Thai curries usually made from a paste of fresh ground herbs, thickened with coconut cream with no tomato puree, and flavored with condiments. Thai curries are delicious. A lot of people find them irresistible, myself included.
However, there is a kind of Indian curry that soothes my crave of authentic Thai curries while living in the US. It is Madras curry. This curry is original to South India. It is heavy on chili peppers and usually contains turmeric, coriander, cumin, cloves, cinnamon, bay leaves, fenugreek, allspice, black pepper, and curry leaves. As the one who loves spicy food so much, Madras is mind-blowing. It’s hot, tasty, complex, and its aroma hooks you. I’m addicted to it and always order it with a garlic Naan (leavened, oven-baked flatbread). I’m now totally open to trying more spiced dishes.
This is why I took on the challenge of using Tikka Masala and Garam Masala in my meal prep. These two popular spice blends are available at Scoop Marketplace where I work. We get these blends from Melissa Aron, the owner of The Kitchen Imp based in West Seattle. She blends high quality, organic, freshly-ground spices, sugars, salt, and teas. I got a chance to discuss with her about the characteristics, the differences of these blends, and how to use them in my recipes. I will make it short and sweet for you.
Tikka (Hindi) means bits and pieces. Masala means blends of spices. Tikka Masala, generally known as a dish of roasted chicken in tomato and cream sauce. Some perceive it as one of Indian’s blends, but some believe it originated in the UK. It is a blend of garlic, paprika, ginger, coriander, cumin, cayenne, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, black pepper, bay leaf (all organic), green mango powder, dried pomegranate seeds, cardamom, black pepper, ginger, ajwain, kala namak, kasoori methi, asafoetida, and fennel. Tikka Masala itself tastes spicy, hot, tart, and flavorful.
Garam Masala – Garam means hot/ warm. This warm, original Indian blend can be used to make a general Indian dish. You can add it to vegetables to make a veggie side or add it to tomato-based sauces to make curry. It’s a blend of coriander, black pepper, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, cumin (all organic). There are many variations depending on families, regions, states the dish comes from. Tandori Masala is one of the variations of Garam Masala. This blend tastes mild, earthy, warm, not spicy hot, full of flavors.
Out of these 2 blends, Tikka Masala is my favorite. I found out that most curry recipes that use these blends suggest a long period of time for marinating the spice with ingredients. So, I wanted to try something a bit different. I want to use Tikka Masala to make a quick curry and Garam Masala for a quick stir fry. Stir fry is my favorite way of cooking because it’s easy and fast.
The principals I follow strictly when I grocery shop are making as little waste as possible by using my own mesh bags or shopping bags, buying seasonal, locally sourced fresh ingredients. I avoid buying packaged food. But if I need to, I will choose the ones which I can reuse the containers or the very least, recycle them.
Here are my recipes:
Tofu Tikka Masala Soba (for 4-5 servings)
1 block of extra firm tofu
2 bundles of Buckwheat soba (I use Shirakiku brand)
2 Bell peppers with different colors
1 oz of minced garlic
1 oz of minced ginger
Loads of fresh chilies
Cilantro (for decorating)
1 can of coconut cream
1 oz of Tikka masala
Note: I bought all the fresh ingredients, coconut cream, buckwheat soba, and tofu from Uwajimaya. Tofu and soba, that’s right, they are available only in package. We all need to be flexible sometimes when we know that we try our best to reduce waste.
1. Cook soba in boiling water for 6 minutes, knock with cold water, set aside.
2. Cut a block of tofu into a single bite-size. Pan fry in vegetable oil till crispy, set aside.
3. Mince garlic, ginger, chiles, then stir fry till soft and aromatic.
4. Add Tikka Masala to bloom the flavors.
5. Add the rest of the ingredients. Add tofu in last.
6. Adjust the flavors with salt.
This quick curry is simple and delicious. The aroma and flavor of Tikka Masala stood out. I used only a can of coconut cream because I prefer less curry sauce. So, the finished dish would look more like a stir fry in sauce. If you want it to be like curry with much sauce, add more coconut cream or tomato puree. Tomato puree will make your dish more like an Indian curry. Try to make a big batch and store it in the freezer. It will save you a lot of time. Also, you can use other plant-based protein like beans or peas instead of tofu. For the level of spiciness, add or reduce chilies as desired. It also goes well with rice.
Broccoli & Pinto Beans Garam Masala Stir Fry over Rice (for 4-5 servings)
1 big broccoli
1 cup of dried pinto beans
Brown rice or white rice
1 oz of garlic
Loads of fresh chilies
1 oz of Garam Masala
Note: All fresh ingredients from Uwajimaya. Pinto beans and rice bought in bulk at Scoop Marketplace.
1. Soak pinto beans overnight. The next day, rinse the beans and cook in boiling water for 15-20 minutes. If you don’t want them to get mushy when stir fry, reduce the cooking time.
2. Cook rice.
3. Cut broccoli into small pieces.
4. Chop garlic and chilies.
5. Stir fry garlic and chilies in a hot pan with vegetable oil, when brown, add the cooked beans.
6. When the beans are brown, add the broccoli. Stir fry and let it sit for a few minutes till the broccoli softened.
7. Add salt and Garam Masala.
8. Serve over hot rice.
This is a super quick dish. You can use whichever beans you want. Broccoli helps clear your mouth when you eat beans. Garam Masala gives you a good kick right away. It warms you up and adds some character into what would otherwise be a boring stir fry.
Now I believe that you have learned more about curry and spices. I know that in the world of spices, it’s still overwhelming to a lot of us. You don’t always have to follow the traditional way of cooking just to experience it fully. Sometimes, it’s just a matter of picking what interests you and add into your regular recipe, whether sides, salads, soups, curry, stir fry recipes. Spices are versatile. If you are open to trying new things, you can discover your new favorite dishes, or turn your boring dishes to the more unique ones.
Apart from Tikka Masala and Garam Masala, we also have Chipotle chocolate rub, Dukkah, Herbes De Provence, Nit’ir Qibe, Turmeric tea, Tuscan seasoning, Vadouvan, Za’atar, which are all from The Kitchen Imp. We have other kinds of spices, too. You can check out the full list of them here. It is recommended that ground spices shouldn’t be kept longer than a year, or they would lose their aroma and flavors. What really cool is, at Scoop Marketplace, you can bring your own container to scoop these spices just the amount you need. If unsure whether the spice suits your needs or not, scoop just a little to try. If you like it, come back for more. We are proud and happy to make your mission of trying new spices joyful and waste free.