India’s Salt and Pepper
Chaat masala is one of those spice mixes that I keep by my stove. It is India’s answer to salt and pepper and is used countrywide for flavoring in street snacks and more. Chaat masala’s tangy, hot, sweet, funkiness brightens up so many things: roasted potatoes (or veggie of any kind), egg salad, fruit salad, soups, homemade salad dressing, and anything else that needs a hit of umami and a bit of zing. It is not a spice blend that you cook with, instead, you add at the end of cooking, or in something that doesn’t require cooking at all.
Masala means spices in Hindi. It can refer to both a mix of dry spices or it can be a sauce that has spices in it. An example of a sauce would be chicken tikka masala, which is essentially chicken in a spiced sauce. Priya Krishna, author of one of my favorite Indian cookbooks published in 2019, “Indian-ish” goes out of a limb in an article for Bon Appetit. She contends that chaat masala “is the only acceptable type of store-bought Indian spice blend you should have in your kitchen.” I hate to quibble with the lovely Ms. Krishna, but I think there is also a place for store-bought garam or tandoori masalas, even though they may be better if you made your own blend.
Make Your Own Chaat Masala
So, here is a recipe for homemade chaat masala, in the event you would like to give it a go. I find making the essentials for Indian cooking, a soothing routine on a Saturday afternoon. Replenishing my ginger garlic paste inventory, sharpening my knives, or making ghee make me feel organized and prepared for the weeks cooking to come. Making your own masalas fall into that same category for me.
Chaat masala has a disconcerting smell of sulfur (think rotten eggs) from the black salt (kala namak). Calling black salt highly aromatic is a kind way to describe it, but it adds a mysterious funky note to any dish that is all part of its charm. The ingredients required for chaat masala are not your typical pantry items, but if you are looking for an Indian cooking adventure, give this recipe a go. You will find yourself reaching for this masala, more often than you could imagine.
See the Notes below before you cook.
Chaat Masala Spice Mix
- 2 tablespoons coriander seeds
- 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons fennel seeds
- 1 1/2 teaspoons carom (ajwain) seeds
- 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
- 1 1/2 teaspoons dried mint leaves
- 2 tablespoons black salt (kala namak)
- 1/2 teaspoon sea or table salt
- 1 tablespoon Kashmiri ground red chili ~ Or 1 1/5 teaspoons cayenne; substitutions
- 3 tablespoons green mango powder (amchur)
- 1 teaspoons ground ginger
- Gather all your ingredients.
- In a frying pan or sauté pan over medium heat, add the coriander seeds, cumin seeds, carom seeds, and fennel seeds. Toast until the carom seeds become slightly darker, and the spices become fragrant, taking care not to burn the seeds. This will take about 2 to 4 minutes.
- Remove from the heat and allow to cool.
- Using a high powered blender, spice grinder, or mortar and pestle, grind the spices along with the mint into a fine powder. If using a small grinder, you may have to blend in batches.
- Stir in the salts, chili powder, mango powder, and ground ginger, and thoroughly combine.
- Ideally use a day after mixing up the chaat masala, which gives the spices time to get to know each other. This recipe yields about 3/4 of cup (86g) of chaat masala. Store in an airtight container for up to 2 months.