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Author Topic: East Indian Bottle Masala  (Read 3577 times)

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Online DalPuri

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East Indian Bottle Masala
« on: January 30, 2013, 02:39 PM »
How bottle masala made by East Indians of Bandra makes any dish taste good

I don't think I could have had a better introduction to bottle masala. I was working in advertising and one of my friends from work, Rajesh, invited me for lunch. He had just moved into a paying guest room in Mumbai's Bandra neighbourhood and had acquired one of those small gas burners. He said his girlfriend, Genesia, would cook us lunch and all we had to do was buy chicken and some rotis from a place that made them fresh in a tandoor oven near Bandra station.   


Rajesh and I managed to muddle our end of the job; when we got back to his room we discovered we'd lost the chicken and spent ages trying to find it, before we realised we had left it dangling in its plastic bag from the handle of his motorbike. Luckily the crows hadn't got to it, and we got it back to the room where Genesia had fried some chopped up onions and garlic and then shaken in some dark red masala. She fried it a bit, filling the room with promising aromas, then added coconut milk and when it was bubbling, threw in the chicken and some kokum and in 10 minutes it was all done.

I can still remember how wonderful it tasted. Rajesh and Genesia are married now and I have eaten a lot of wonderful food at their place, but that chicken curry still stands out. Perhaps it was because we were young and hungry and nostalgia is always the best seasoning, but I also think that masala played a role. Because of its potent red shade I assumed it would be dynamite, but the flavour wasn't too spicy at all, but had a beautifully rounded savouriness, with subtle woody and warm notes. Genesia told it was called bottle masala and was made by the East Indians, a community that lived in large numbers in Bandra and whose name demonstrated an admirably individual approach to logic. They were the original Christian inhabitants of region around Mumbai, converted by the Portuguese who had set up settlements in places like Bassein and Chaul as North Konkan counterparts to their stronghold of Goa. Religion apart, this community had remained quite close to its Konkani roots, with many rituals and recipes that were quite close to their Hindu counterparts.

Bombay's growth, in the 19th century, was good news for the local Christians, who were well-positioned to work with the British rulers. But they were less than pleased to find that the city's prosperity started attracting Goan Christians, who were soon competing for the same jobs. To differentiate themselves the locals decided to adopt a new name and the name they chose was East Indians, after the East India Company. The fact that this made them East Indians in Western India didn't seem to matter, though in time a further level of confusion would be added when people abroad started referring to all Indians as East Indians, to distinguish them from the West Indians of the Caribbeans, which would make the community East Indian East Indians from Western India.

But what do these confusions matter when they have bottle masala. This is a special bend of spices that East Indians make every summer, a ritual that can still be seen in a suburb like Bandra, despite the way it has become increasingly built-up and crowded. Somehow, terraces and courtyards are still found where spices can be kept out for drying and then at a particular time these groups of women come with long poles and wooden buckets. They roast and combine the spices in the proportions prescribed by each family's recipe, and then, pounding rhythmically with the poles in the bucket, reduce them to powder, and put the masala in bottles for use through the rest of the year. The bottles are beer bottles, for several reasons: they are dark glass, so light doesn't cause the spice powder to deteriorate, their long-necked shape makes them convenient for gripping and shaking into a pan and, since East Indians have a sensible attitude towards alcohol, there's never any shortage of them around.

A great deal is made about secret spice recipes and the arcane ingredients that go into them. But general recipes have been published in East Indian cookbooks, like the one produced by the Ladies Sub-Committee of the Bombay East Indian Association and a more recent one by Chef Michael Swamy who is part East Indian himself. The recipe in the first book lists 21 ingredients, from chillies to kebabchini (allspice), while Swamy gives two - a simple one with 22 ingredients and a more elaborate one with 27, including ingredients like nagkesar bulbs, mugwort (maipatri) and lichen (dagadful)!

These ingredients add to the mystique of bottle masala, but I have to say, after trying them out both separately and in several different bottle masalas (all from people willing to sell or gift them, since most commercial versions taste like sawdust), I am a bit sceptical about how much they actually matter. Far from being exotic and expensive, most are from plants that grow wild in the region like Artemisia vulgaris, which is maipatri, and the ironwood tree, which produces nagkesar buds. These are the sort of jhadi-buti that find their way into traditional local medicines, and they have no special taste other than various bitter or woody notes. Some of this can be detected in bottle masala, but mostly I think they are added on the why-not principle, bulking up the final masala and perhaps helping each family boast about their secrets.


Looking at the bottle masala recipes, beyond these local herbs, and most of the standard spices, like cloves, cinnamon and cardamom, none of which are present in such quantities as to be dominant, what stands out are two things — a large amount of chillies and a small, but significant amount of wheat. The chillies are mostly Kashmiri chillies, which give an intense red colour, but have only a mild heat. They are the reason for that dark red of the masala, but also the reason why it is deceptive.

The wheat is roasted, just like the spices, so it adds a warm toasty note. But what is even more important is that it will combine with the liquids of the curry to act as a thickener (some blends add ground dal which will also help with thickening). The importance of Indian masalas as thickening agents is often overlooked, but it is one reason why they have large quantities of dried coriander, which gives a mild, citrusy warmth, but which is just as important for absorbing and bonding with liquids to make them thick and good to eat mixed with rice or scooped up with roti.

I think, in the end, bottle masala works so well because it is actually simpler than it seems. It does not seek to seize control of a dish, in the way most other masalas do. Bottle masala is happy to let the main ingredients take centre stage, while it provides a mellow backdrop. You can use it with chicken, mutton, fish, shellfish, beans or other vegetables, and it always taste good and doesn't leave your palate (and, later, other body parts as well) burning. As befits the easy-going East Indian sensibility, it is the most laid-back of spice blends, ready to help make almost any dish taste good, but never by dominating, instead always working in unison with the other ingredients, harmonising for real food happiness.

taken from here:  http://articles.economictimes.indiatimes.com/2012-08-17/news/33249761_1_masala-east-indians-mumbai-s-bandra


A typical recipe: http://cookadoodledoo.wordpress.com/2009/01/12/east-indian-bottle-masala/


www.youtube.com/watch?v=d_BPRhcyJ6s
« Last Edit: January 30, 2013, 02:53 PM by DalPuri »

Online livo

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Re: East Indian Bottle Masala
« Reply #1 on: December 07, 2018, 02:11 AM »
If, like me, for some strange reason, you want to do your head in searching for the mysterious "guarded secret family" recipe, try this one. :o  This is one hard nut to crack.  I thought Basaar / Bassar / Kashmiri Masala was tricky.  I've managed to track down and spreadsheet 7 different East Indian / Bombay Bottle Masala recipes and one for a Goan Xacuti Masala (which is very similar but main ingredient is Coriander seed instead of Chilli with the ratios being almost reversed).  The recipes I have found all contain between 20 and 30 spices but apparently some family formula can have up to 60.  They must just raid the spice cupboard and put a bit of everything in it.  Of course the ones I've been able to locate are no longer "Secret" and you have to wonder just how different the guarded ones really are.  The history and the fact it is still made the traditional way (but not as much) is very interesting.  The Masala of choice in the East Indian Christian (Roman Catholic) community.  This makes 11 secret herbs and spices look like child's play.


I'll do a bit of tidying up of my spreadsheet analysis and standardise to a base quantity of the main ingredient, Chilli, and post the result.  It sounds like this masala has some merit and I look forward to trying it.  One of the biggest problems will be locating the more exotic spices and there are some that will be straight out impossible here.  That's after trying to decipher the different dialect / language names of some of these weird spices and the non-standardised spellings. It seems that as long as you have some letters the same it will do. ???  Or you can use all the same letters but just mix them up a bit.  ???
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Online livo

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Re: East Indian Bottle Masala
« Reply #2 on: December 09, 2018, 06:48 AM »
I've done some spread-sheeting around and I'm about to make up a 140g batch of LCD (lowest common denominator) averaged East Indian Bottle Masala.  As I want to use it to cook in about an hour I'll be using powdered spices where possible. I have adjusted the Coriander content down to take consideration for the extra in the Xacuti formula.  I have also included the recipe in DalPuri's OP.  I'll post the formula and my spreadsheet analysis later.

The LCD method of evaluating multiple posted recipes / internet formulae has been working pretty well so far for me so why not try it on this one?

I had almost all spices already in powdered form, so I only needed to dry roast and grind a few things. The only Dagar Phool I had was in a masala that contained some of the other main ingredients as well so some of that went into the mix to get the Dagar Phool.  A few obscure things like Mugwort and Cassia Buds are missing.  The smell of the blended masala is fantastic and does remind of fresh home made Kitchen King Masala but it is different.  To make this from all freshly roasted and ground spices must be fantastic on the nose.

I'm about to do some East Indian / Bombay Bottle Masala Salmon fillet portions.  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=esYuj6RC2Tw

Here are a couple of pics of The Home Made Bombay Bottle Masala.  As you can see I had nearly all of it already ground.  Took all of 1/2 an hour to make 140 g (about 5 oz). It is wonderful stuff.
« Last Edit: December 09, 2018, 08:18 AM by livo »
Whiskey is the answer, but what was the question?

Online livo

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East Indian Bottle Masala
« Reply #3 on: December 09, 2018, 08:32 AM »
"IN ENGLISH"

40 g Kashmiri Chilli
25 g other Chilli (hotter) or use all KC  (Deggi, Madras or use Paprika for milder version). I did a bit of all. 3.
15 g Coriander
7 g Turmeric
5 g Cumin
5 g Sesame seed
5 g White Poppy seed  (I only had blue)
5 g Mustard seed
1 g Caraway (not proper black cumin)
4 g Black Pepper corn
2 g Chana dal
1 g Fenugreek
2 g Cloves
8 g Fennel (this seems a lot. one recipe used aniseed, others had more Star Anise / less Fennel)
1 g Indian Bay leaf
2 g whole wheat ( I used wholemeal flour)
1 g Black cardamom ( I used 1 small one)
3 g Cinnamon
1 g Green Cardamom
0.5 g Asafoetida
0.5 g Mace
0.5 g Star Anise
0.5 g Sichuan pepper
0.5 g Allspice
0.2 g Nutmeg
0.5 g Stone Flower
1 g salt ( I used 50 / 50 Himalayan Pink / Black)

Also rans in some formula but not included in mine was Ginger and Saffron.  I have them but just forgot. In the averaging they didn't show up really.

So that's 29 ingredients counting different chillies as 3, and 31 if you add the Ginger and Saffron.

« Last Edit: December 09, 2018, 10:47 AM by livo »
Whiskey is the answer, but what was the question?

Offline Sverige

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Re: East Indian Bottle Masala
« Reply #4 on: December 09, 2018, 08:41 AM »
Please do not change the subject line when replying to threads Livo. This makes no sense when viewed, especially since you're also using abbreviations without defining them. Only by ploughing through the whole thread can we make sense of what you're on about.

If you just replied to the thread leaving the subject line unchanged, we would at least have a chance.

Offline Peripatetic Phil

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Re: East Indian Bottle Masala (was: The LCD formula)
« Reply #5 on: December 09, 2018, 08:46 AM »
Thanks, Livo.  I couldn't work out exactly which sort criteria you used, so I re-sorted by descending proportion (see below),  A few questions, if I may ?
  • Is there such a thing as "Madras chilli" ?
  • What colour mustard seed ?
  • What is the connection between caraway and kala jeera ("black cumin")[ ?/li]
40gmKashmiri Chilli
25gmother Chilli (hotter) or use all KC  (Deggi, Madras or use Paprika for milder version). I did a bit of all. 3.
15gmCoriander
8gmFennel (this seems a lot. one recipe used aniseed, others had more Star Anise / less Fennel)
7gmTurmeric
5gmCumin
5gmSesame seed
5gmWhite Poppy seed  (I only had blue)
5gmMustard seed
4gmBlack Pepper corn
3gmCinnamon
2gmChana dal
2gmCloves
2gmwhole wheat ( I used wholemeal flour)
1gmCaraway (not proper black cumin)
1gmFenugreek
1gmIndian Bay leaf
1gmBlack cardamom ( I used 1 small one)
1gmGreen Cardamom
1gmsalt ( I used 50 / 50 Himalayan Pink / Black)
0.5gmAsafoetida
0.5gmMace
0.5gmStar Anise
0.5gmSichuan pepper
0.5gmAllspice
0.5gmStone Flower
0.2gmNutmeg

** Phil.
« Last Edit: December 09, 2018, 10:55 PM by Peripatetic Phil »
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Online livo

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Re: East Indian Bottle Masala
« Reply #6 on: December 09, 2018, 10:48 AM »
Please do not change the subject line when replying to threads Livo. This makes no sense when viewed, especially since you're also using abbreviations without defining them. Only by ploughing through the whole thread can we make sense of what you're on about.

If you just replied to the thread leaving the subject line unchanged, we would at least have a chance.

My apology. Fixed. I hope. 

And I do sincerely apologise Sverige. I was unaware that changing the subject line caused any issues.  It doesn't for me and the Thread Title remains the same in the forum index. I just assumed it was simply changing the subject line to preface the particular post.  It is something I've seen done before and used on other forums. It has never occurred to me that being an allowable function of the software, this caused any issues.  I would very much like to understand what is actually does on your end that make it such a pain.  Genuine interest so please elaborate.  PM is fine if you'd prefer.
« Last Edit: December 09, 2018, 09:17 PM by livo »
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Online livo

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Re: East Indian Bottle Masala
« Reply #7 on: December 09, 2018, 11:02 AM »
Phil, the ingredients were not sorted in any way. This was the order they were added to my spreadsheet when compiling from the different recipes.

 I'll check back tomorrow about the chilli but part of the mystery around this Masala comes from the multiple chilli types used. One recipe refers to Madras but it could be referring to a regional cultivation. Kashmiri and bayagdi (sp) are the most commonly stated. Acclaimed recipes purport to use 4 or more different types. I used Kashmiri, Plain Chilli powder (whatever that is) and some Paprika.

Most don't stipulate mustard colour but one says red (brown). I used powdered this evening for a quick batch and it was fine. I don't think it's critical. All recipes call for white poppy seed but I used blue.

The recipes call for the use of Black Cumin as in Caraway (Shahi Jeera). My understanding is that Black Cumin and Caraway are not the same, although often confused. I have both and they are not the same.  The recipes clearly call for Caraway.

One of the claims made about this Masala is that even with the chilli content, it is not spicey.  Much to my surprise I found this to be absolutely correct. Tonights salmon fillets were delicious.
Whiskey is the answer, but what was the question?

Offline Peripatetic Phil

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Re: East Indian Bottle Masala
« Reply #8 on: December 09, 2018, 11:20 AM »
OK, thanks.  One quick comment —

The recipes call for the use of Black Cumin / Caraway (Shahi Jeera). My understanding is that Black Cumin and Caraway are not the same although often confused. The recipes call for Caraway.

This is odd.  To my palate, caraway and black cumin (which I know as kala jeera ) are as different as chalk and cheese (I love the latter, detest the former).  Dr J S Pruthi [1] (whom I think of as authoritative in such matters) writes :

Quote
Caraway (Siah Jira) Carum carvi
Cumin (Safid Zeera) Cuminum cyminum
Black cumin (Kalijira) Nigella sativa

All very different.  What is odd is that he then goes on to say that black cumin is also know as kaloonji.  Now kaloonji s also black, is sometimes wrongly called onion seed, and tastes completely different to all three of caraway, cumin and black cumin ...

** Phil.
--------
[1] J S Pruthi, Spices and Condiments, National Book Trust, India, 1976++ (my copy dated 2006), ISBN 81-237-2243-5
« Last Edit: December 09, 2018, 10:56 PM by Peripatetic Phil »
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Online livo

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Re: East Indian Bottle Masala
« Reply #9 on: December 09, 2018, 11:32 AM »
Translations of some listed spices in these recipes is difficult to say the least. I think, with almost certainty, that they are using Caraway but calling it Black Cumin. It is not unknown for this to be misunderstood and the different seeds to be confused. I've come across it before.  The seeds of Cumin, Black Cumin and Caraway are similar shape but slightly different size and colour. I can provide the actual wordings of the original recipes and you can interpret as well. This might be helpful. I'll post tomorrow.

Yes, and I've come across kalonji being called Black Cumin as well.  Not what I have here at home. The joys of spice names.
Whiskey is the answer, but what was the question?


 


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