Anyone who has prepared more than one or two Indian dishes has surely noticed that a lot of them start out with the same or similar ingredients. Long ago, I came up with a routine for handling these ingredients in my kitchen to ease preparation. First, I'd mince the onion and cook it for ten minutes in a bit of oil while I prepped the rest. Then I'd add minced, fresh aromatics - garlic, ginger, and peppers - and cook for two minutes. Seeds were stirred in next and cooked a minute. Finally, ground spices were cooked in the mixture for a minute.
It's a testimony to the well-balanced flavors of Indian cuisine that dishes made with these same ingredients taste completely different from one another, depending on the main ingredients and sauce. A spinach dish will never taste like a potato dish, and a curry made with coconut milk will seem completely different from one made with tomato puree.
The last time I made an Indian dish, I put together a big quantity of ingredients, ran them all through the food processor, and froze the spicy paste in batches for later. I threw some cilantro into the mix, too, since I often forget to buy it. Later I was able to pull out a batch of my masala paste, which smelled amazingly delicious, and make some soup in a hurry.
I'm sending this to Weekend Herb Blogging. WHB was originally created by Kalyn, is now organized by Haalo, and is hosted this week by Elena of Zibaldone Culinario.
All-Purpose Masala Paste
3 tablespoons canola oil
1 large yellow onion, diced fine, about 2 cups
2 tablespoons peeled, minced ginger
8 cloves garlic, minced
6-8 jalapeños, seeded and minced
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon garam masala
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1/2 cup chopped cilantro
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium hot. Saute onion for 10 minutes until tender and golden. Add ginger, garlic, and jalapeños and cook for 2 minutes. Stir in cumin seeds and cook for a minute. Add garam masala, salt, and cayenne pepper and cook for another minute.
Transfer mixture to food processor. Add cilantro. Process to a smooth paste, stopping to scrape down the sides of the food processor bowl once or twice.
Divide mixture into 4 portions of about 1/3 cup each. Use immediately, refrigerate for up to 3 days, or freeze.
To use the paste, thaw a portion first. Sauté any vegetables your recipe calls for, then stir in the paste just before adding liquid ingredients like tomatoes or broth.