Durban Masala is a blend of spices that make up the charismatic aroma and fiery red colour of Durban Curry. This spice blend is a paradox of sweet spices like cinnamon, cardamon and fennel, combined with bitter cumin and fiery chilli and cayenne pepper and rounded off with coriander. Family recipes for this masala may vary. We grew up with mostly shop bought masala, particularly Pako and Osman’s Spices being Amma’s two favored range of Masala. On the rare occasion that she was out of masala, she ground dried chillies with a mortar and pestle to make homemade chilli powder and combined it with jeera and dhania powder or birth masala. It was my granny who loved drying hoards of chillies or dried onions on the lawn to make her own blend of spices, often knelt over the grinding stone. Having lived abroad for nearly two decades now, I have often adapted recipes to suit ingredients. I have even blasphemously resorted to making chicken liver curry with fresh chillies and yellow curry powder. It’s about time I made my own masala! This recipe has come about through trial and error over a few months now and I am finally satisfied with the results, I hope you will enjoy this too!
Before I get to the recipe I would like to answer a readers question, ‘What is the difference between Curry Powder and Masala?’ Simply put, masala and curry powder are both a mixture of spices. The key difference is the ingredients and quantities used. Curry powder is less complex in its use of spice therefore less pungent and aromatic.
Chilli powder is a powder form of ground whole chillies. Kashmiri chili powder is the most famous in Indian cuisine because of it‘s attractive red colour. It is however less pungent or hot as other chilli varieties and is used in combination with other chillies. Varieties of chili peppers used to make chili powder include Aleppo, ancho, cayenne, chipotle, chile de árbol, jalapeño, New Mexico, pasilla, and piri piri. The use of chilli powder varies from region to region as much as it does with individual cooks. I use chilli powder in combination with other spices, e.g with birth masala to make birth masala chicken soup and with biryani spice to make Durban masala biryani. Or in combination with jeera and dhania powder for most meat curries like a good Durban mutton curry. Chilli powder is an ingredient in Masala.
Curry Powder is a Western spice blend or British invention in the 18th century. It has a characteristic yellow colour from it‘s high turmeric powder content. Other ingredients include ginger, garlic and a low percentage of chilli peppers making a mild spice for a less tolerable palette. Curry powder is used to season stews or casseroles, grilled meat and a key component to Curry Wurst.
Masala by definition is a combination of spices (from Urdu maṣālaḥ, based on Arabic maṣāliḥ ‘ingredients, materials’). Masala or masala spice can be dried roasted seeds ground into a powder or paste form. Common masalas include chicken tikka masala, vindaloo masala. The latter two are a combination of ground whole spices with fresh onion, ginger and garlic. Durban masala is a powdered form. Other popular masalas include garam masala. Common ingredients in masala include chilli powder, fennel, cumin, coriander, cinnamon, fenugreek, pepper,mustard seeds, nutmeg,mace, bay leaves, star anise, cloves in varying proportions depending on its use.
Why make Masala at Home
If you too are a South African expat, finding a Durban masala equivalent may be more difficult than finding a needle in a haystack, depending on the country you’re in, finding any spice may have been equally difficult. Thankfully globalization has made the world a spicier place. My sudden interest in spice comes from a new Indian food store in my neighborhood and since reading The Science of Spice I have been inspired to make my own masala.
I sourced all ingredients for this recipe from a local Indian food store and recommend using whole spices as much as possible. There are several reasons for this the main being that whole spices can be roasted to release flavour and powdered spice may contain less desirable ingredients. One of my main motivations for making my own masalas from now on is the addition of harmful colorants to store bought masala, or sometimes excess salt to bulk up the product.
What is Durban Masala Made From
Yet again, I stress that family recipes vary vastly. This one suits my family, with a balance of sweet and fiery. If you prefer a more pungent version, increase the chilli content. When I first attempted Durban Masala I ended up with a rather brown looking spice, not characteristically Durban Curry. I added Kashmiri chilli powder in addition to cayenne pepper to the mix, this gives this masala its deep orange colour. For a fiery taste I added birds eye chilli.
I used the following whole spices: cinnamon, cardamom, fennel, fenugreek, cloves, bay leaves, curry leaves, bird eye chilli and powdered ginger and cayenne pepper and Deggi Mirch chilli powder (available in most Asian food stores abroad).
How to Make Durban Masala
To make Durban Masala roast all whole pieces on low heat. Alternately you could dry them out in the sun like my granny did, before pan roasting and grinding.
In this recipe I add all whole spice in one pan. Once cool, I ground in a spice grinder. The result was very good I did not need to sieve the masala, it was simply ready for use. Depending on the type of grinder, a sieve may be needed. Any unground particles can be ground with a mortar and pestle.
Once whole spices are ground, add powdered spices. Combine and store in an airtight jar.
Durban Masala Recipe
What to use Durban Masala For
Durban Masala can be used to make meat or vegetable curries, like this Durban Mutton Curry
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