Spice is nice

Learn to make your own Indian masala dishes.

Tika Masala  (photo credit: BOAZ LAVI)
Tika Masala
(photo credit: BOAZ LAVI)
The Indira Indian restaurant was the first to introduce the intricate, complex and rich Indian cuisine to Israel 25 years ago. This cuisine is especially known for its use of spices. In Hindi, masala means “spice” or “a spice mixture.” In India, every spice store has its own masala, and the mixtures vary from one region to another.
As a tribute to Indian cuisine, here are a few masala recipes the chef of Indira was kind enough to adapt for the home cook. Who knows? You may find just the dish to give your Seder table an Indian twist.
You can buy ready-made masala, or garam masala, in many stores; but if you want to make it yourself, here is a recipe for making your own. All the spices must be freshly ground.
✔ 2 Tbsp. black pepper
✔ 1 Tbsp. ground clove
✔ 2 Tbsp. cinnamon
✔ 1 Tbsp. cardamom
✔ 1 Tbsp. cumin
✔ 1 Tbsp. ground bay leaf
✔ 1 tsp. coriander
Mix all the ingredients together and store in an airtight jar.
Paneer is an Indian cheese. If you can’t find it, use low-fat hard cheese or halloumi.
✔ 250 gr. paneer or other low-fat cheese, cubed
✔ 2 cups water
✔ 3 tomatoes
✔ ¼ tsp. ground cardamom
✔ 8 clove seeds
✔ 1 tsp. black pepper
✔ 3 Tbsp. oil
✔ 1 tsp. ginger-garlic paste*
✔ 1 tsp. green chili paste*
✔ ½ tsp. turmeric
✔ 1 tsp. ground red chili
✔ 1 tsp. cumin seeds
✔ Salt
✔ Cilantro leaves for garnish
Boil a pot with water. Blanch the tomatoes in the water for 15 minutes and peel them.
Mash the peeled tomatoes until smooth.
In a skillet, heat oil and fry the clove seeds, cumin seeds, ginger paste and chili paste. Mix and add the rest of the spices – cardamom, black pepper, chili powder, turmeric and salt – to taste. Mix well so the flavors combine with the oil. Add the mashed tomatoes and bring to a boil.
Lower heat to medium and stir until sauce is thick and smooth. Add water if needed. Add the paneer cubes and cook 1 minute. Before serving, garnish the dish with cilantro leaves. Serve with white rice or nan bread.
Serves 4
✔ 1 kg. chicken breast
✔ 200 gr. onion, chopped (2 cups)
✔ 10 gr. (2 tsp.) ground hot red pepper
✔ ½ cup coconut milk
✔ 5 tsp. garam masala spice mixture
✔ 2 tsp. minced ginger
✔ 2 tsp. minced garlic
✔ ½ tsp. ground cumin
✔ 4 Tbsp. tomato paste
✔ 50 gr. cashew nuts, ground
✔ Olive oil for frying
✔ Cilantro leaves for garnish
In a skillet with a little oil, fry the chicken breasts 2 minutes on each side.
The chicken will continue cooking in the sauce. Set aside.
To prepare the sauce: Fry the onions in oil until golden. Add the dry spices and stir to release the flavors into the oil. Add the minced garlic, minced ginger and the ground hot pepper and continue stirring.
Add the ground cashews and tomato paste and water as needed. Stir and cook until sauce is smooth. Add the chicken and cook for 7 minutes on medium heat until chicken is cooked. If you like, add the coconut milk and cook 2 more minutes. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and garam masala.
Turn the heat off and garnish with a generous amount of chopped cilantro leaves. Serve with steamed basmati rice or nan bread.
This is a vegetarian dish made from chickpeas that can also be served as a side dish at a meat or a dairy meal.
✔ 1 cup chickpeas, soaked in water overnight
✔ 1 onion, chopped
✔ 1 tomato, chopped
✔ 1 green chili pepper, sliced
✔ 2 cloves garlic, minced
✔ 1 tsp. minced ginger
✔ 2 to 3 bay leaves
✔ 1 tsp. red chili powder
✔ 1½ tsp. turmeric
✔ 1 tsp. coriander seeds
✔ 1 tsp. garam masala
✔ 1 tea bag
✔ 3 Tbsp. oil
✔ Salt and pepper to taste
In a pot with boiling water, cook the chickpeas with the tea bag (to color the chickpeas) until soft. Drain.
In a food processor bowl, grind together the onion, tomato, green chili, ginger and garlic to a smooth paste.
Heat oil in a wide pot or wok and sauté the bay leaves for 30 seconds. Add the prepared tomato paste and cook until golden. Add the red chili powder, turmeric, coriander seeds and garam masala, and continue to cook, stirring, for a few minutes.
Add about ½ cup of water to make the consistency of a thick sauce. Bring to a boil and add the cooked chickpeas. Mix well and season with salt and pepper.
Cook over medium heat for 10 minutes.
Serve garnished with cilantro leaves.
Serves 4
Every morning across India, the young chai boys hit the streets calling “Chai masala” to their customers, who wait for their spiced strong milk tea to start the morning with energy. This recipe is for the classical chai masala, but the spices and the ratio among them can vary according to your preferences.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind the following spices together:
✔ 1 cm. fresh ginger root, peeled
✔ 1 tsp. cardamom seeds
✔ ¼ tsp. ground nutmeg
✔ Pinch ground clove
✔ ½ tsp. ground allspice
✔ ½ tsp. cinnamon
✔ ¼ tsp. ground black pepper
Cook the spices in a kettle with 3 cups of water. Let the tea boil for 3 minutes, and then add 2 tea bags and 1 cup of milk.
Sweeten with 4 to 8 tsp. sugar, to taste, and remove from heat.
Strain into cups and serve. 
Recipes and photos courtesy of Indira, 4 Shaul Hamelech Boulevard, Tel Aviv. Not kosher. Open daily from noon to midnight.
(03) 695-4437.