Licky spice mix

Sometimes exact translations don’t quite work, do they? Subtle thing, this language business.

Anyway, ‘chaat masala’ — so named because it is supposedly so delicious that one wants to lick — it? your fingers? — at any rate, one wants to lick some indeterminate thing — is today’s topic. ‘Chaat’ means ‘lick’ and ‘masala’ means spice mix in Hindi. Chaat masala is sprinkled on all manner of delicious snacky, faintly junky food, that are often eaten at street vendor stalls in the warm evenings while out on a stroll with your pals. In fact, many would claim, chaat masala is often responsible for the deliciousness. Making one want to lick stuff, is the key.

Here is the mix I use in my kitchen. I always have a jar on hand and hate myself when I don’t. So don’t be that person, and do make this mix.

Modified from 1000 Indian Recipes by Neelam Batra.

Chaat masala

Ingredients for chaat masala

Ingredients for chaat masala



I realize that some of you will have to make a trip to an Indian grocery (if you live outside India) to collect these ingredients. Just be sure you don’t come back with a ready-made mix of chaat masala, though that will probably be available too, because that will wreck the whole point of this post.

Heat a small thick-bottomed pan on a medium-high flame. When it is hot put in the whole spices (cumin, black pepper, carom) — individually, because each of them will take a different amount of time to roast. Stir gently, and roast each spice for a couple minutes until they turn a shade darker. Empty into a bowl.

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Using a clean coffee grinder, powder the three whole spices. Then pour into a clean jar with a funnel along with the other three already powdered spices — asafetida, black salt and dry mango powder. Close the jar tightly and shake to combine. Label it and date it.

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Red chili powder with heat control

What one wants in a red chili powder is for it to be chock-full of that savory, papery chili flavor, but only as hot as one can handle. How to achieve that? The answer is so obvious in retrospect that I almost feel bad about writing it down, but honestly, it has taken me this long to come up with it, so I think it is worth putting down.

There are all kinds of dry chilies available in the market. Some are sweet, some are moderately hot, and some scream. The trick is to combine them. Here is a rough proportion:

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Here I have used 3 large aji amarillo chilies, which is a kind of not very hot Peruvian orange chili, dried; and I have used several of the dried cayennes, which are very hot. Ground up together, the larger ones will add a lot of flavor which harmonizes with the flavor and heat of their smaller cousins, to make a somewhat medium hot spice.

With chilies, by the way, a good rule of thumb is, the smaller the hotter.

Dry saute them in a hot pan for a few minutes, turning with tongs, until they are blackened. As they roast, they might make you cough, so turn up the hood if you have one, or else open windows. Turn off the gas when you have something that looks like this.

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OK. Handling these packets of multi-pronged heat carefully, remove the stems, and if you want, the seeds and ribs. I shake them off, but I am by no means scrupulous about it.

They are roasted so they will break easily. Put them into a spice grinder (I use a coffee grinder I save only for spices) and grind until you have a fine powder.

A few tablespoons powder is what I got, and I believe it will last for about four to five uses. To save, put it into a small glass jar and for god’s sake, label and date it! You will love yourself later.

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