Maharashtra is the region to which Mumbai belongs. It was once a small fishing village and the Portuguese had aptly named it as such, bom baim or 'nice bay' which was then anglicized by the British to its former name of Bombay. Much of the region is coastal and the food is absolutely fantastic. Having said that, Pune, an inland city, is known as one of the region's best culinary spots and is home to black masala—the spice blend that gives this dish its character. This masala is a combination of roasted spices, sesame seeds and unsweetened dried coconut and gives this dish a delicious nuttiness and background sweetness. A delightful and unusual dish that was inspired by black masala, this recipe has become one of my favorites ever since I first tried it.
Using a blender, make a fine paste of the ginger and garlic with a little water. Heat the oil in a large non-stick saucepan. Add the onion and cook until well browned, around 8-9 minutes. Add the ginger and garlic paste and the chiles and cook for 1 minute over medium heat, then add the chicken, black masala, garam masala and salt. Stir-fry for 5 minutes, then add the pureed tomatoes.
Cook, stirring, until the excess moisture in the pan has evaporated. Add 1 cup water to the pan, bring to the boil, then simmer, covered, for 20-25 minutes or until the chicken is cooked.
Stir in the tamarind paste, then taste and adjust the salt and tartness with more tamarind if necessary. Stir in the chopped cilantro and serve.
This masala blend is from the state of Maharashtra. I recently experienced it at the house of a friend who cooked a dish with such an unusual, unfamiliar taste. I soon discovered and fell in love with black masala, also known as Goda masala. It is a blend of roasted spices and coconut, ground together into a powder. It is sweeter and milder than garam masala, although some versions can be quite peppery. I like the blend when it is harmonious enough to go in anything, and then I add extra chile or pepper if I am in the mood. You can't find all the traditional ingredients for this masala outside India so I have left a couple out, but it is still absolutely delicious. It does require a little patience to dry roast the spices, but once you have spent the 15 minutes or so it takes from start to finish, you will just love the resulting sweet, aromatic blend.
Heat a large frying pan and dry-fry the coconut until it has become quite golden but before it turns truly dark. Scrape immediately into a bowl. Add the sesame seeds to the pan and stir-fry until golden, then add to the coconut. Add the coriander seeds to the pan and stir-fry, over a moderate heat, until well browned but not dark brown. Add to the coconut.
Add the oil to the pan and fry the remaining ingredients together, stirring, over a low heat until they become aromatic and the cumin seeds have changed color. Add to the bowl and leave to cool.
Grind the mixture to a fine powder in a spice blender, then store in a sterilized, airtight container for up to 3 months.
This page created January 2011
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