Garam masala (Recipe: tandoori-spiced grilled lamb)
What happens when a good-for-nothing handsome hunk like Mac finds himself in possession of an empty flat and access to three gorgeous air hostesses, Priti, Sweety and Puja?
I have no idea, but you will, if you settle in with Garam Masala, a three-hour, Bollywood movie extravaganza. Indian movies that combine song and dance, love triangles, drama, comedy, and daredevil thrills are called masala movies, because, like masalas — spice blends — they are a mixture of many things.
Visit one hundred kitchens in India, and you'll find one hundred different versions of garam masala, the spice mixture at the heart of northern Indian and Pakistani cooking.
One of the few spice blends used in Indian cooking, garam masala is pungent but not spicy-hot, and it's usually added toward the end of the cooking to bring an extra burst of flavor to the dish. Most often made of whole spices that are toasted and then used whole or ground, garam masala varies from one cook to the next, and from one spice seller to another.
The Penzeys garam masala on my spice rack uses a "recipe" brought to them by a customer who grew up in the Punjab; it contains coriander, black pepper, cardamom, cinnamon, kalonji, caraway, cloves, ginger and nutmeg. Garam masala can have as few as three ingredients, or as many as a dozen or more.
In every kitchen, the masala dabba, a spice box with two lids to keep the contents fresh, holds the key to the family's culinary traditions and memories -- and it holds little containers for seven ingredients that combine and recombine to make the masalas and curries that are a cook's trademark.
By the way, a masala dabba can hold any combination of spices in your own kitchen, even if you don't do a lot of Indian cooking. Mine occasionally has Latin flavors -- cumin, chili powder, pepper, oregano -- or baking spices like cinnamon, ground cloves, and cardamom.
And if you're settling in for that three-hour movie, you could fill the little containers in the masala dabba with M&Ms, peanuts, or jelly beans.
Tandoori-spiced grilled lamb
Delicious hot or cold, perfect for a picnic or in pita sandwiches, this recipe, inspired by Indian Food Made Easy, serves 8-10.
2-1/2 lbs boneless leg of lamb, butterflied
2 cups plain whole milk yogurt
1 small onion, diced
6 large cloves garlic, roughly chopped
2 tsp roughly chopped ginger root
2 tsp garam masala
2 tsp ground cumin
1 tsp ground coriander
1/4 tsp ground fennel seed
1/4 tsp fresh ground black pepper
1 tsp olive oil
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper, or more to taste
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1 tsp salt, or more to taste
Using paper towels, dry the lamb, and set aside. In a large nonreactive (glass or stainless steel) bowl, combine remaining ingredients, and mix well. Add the lamb, turn to coat, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for 8 hours or up to 2 days.
To cook, heat a grill (gas or electric, or charcoal, or stovetop) on highest heat. While the grill is heating, take the lamb out of the refrigerator and let it come to room temperature. Wipe off all of the marinade, and discard. If necessary to create a uniform thickness (it usually is not), run some long metal skewers through the meat to hold it flat on the grill. When the grill is hot, cook the lamb for 10 minutes on each side. Then, remove the lamb from the grill and take its temperature with an instant-read thermometer; when the temperature registers 125F (for rare lamb), remove the meat from the grill. Let it sit for at least 10 minutes before slicing. The thicker parts will be rare; the thinner parts will be more well done.