1 large/500 g onion
about 30 garlic cloves (about 300 g peeled weight)
7 oz/200 g fresh ginger, peeled
1 2/3 cups/400 ml vegetable oil
2 tsp fine sea salt
1 Tbsp garam masala homemade or store-bought
4 Tbsp sambhar masala, homemade or store-bought (optional)
- In a food processor, one after the other, blitz the onion, then the garlic, and then the ginger to a paste. Keep them separate.
- Pour the vegetable oil into a sturdy-bottomed pot and place it over medium heat. Add the onion paste and the salt, and cook, stirring continuously, for about 15 minutes, until the onions turn brown (see my notes below regarding cooking times). Add the garlic and cook for 10 minutes, until the onions turn a deeper shade of brown and the garlic begins to follow suit. Add the ginger, and cook for 10 minutes, lowering the heat, until the entire mixture is dark brown. Be vigilant and stir and constantly scrape to stop the mixture from sticking and burning at the bottom of the pan.
- Adding the three ingredients in separate stages is important because they have different moisture content. If you added them at the same time, the ginger would burn before the onion had the chance to caramelize – which is what gives the mixture its appealing, sweet aroma (burning paste smells harsh and unappealing).
- Once the paste has darkened, lower the heat to its lowest setting and stir through the garam masala and sambar masala if using, depending on whether you are looking for a spicy, mild, or in-between result.
- The paste will thicken and want to stick to the bottom of your pan, so keep stirring and scraping for about 8 minutes until the spices have become hot and fragrant and the oil begins to seep from the paste. Once your masala paste has cooked out in this way, allow it to cool and place it in a clean, sterilized jar. Store it in the fridge until needed or for up to 3 months.
- I recommend making half the recipe if you plan to make just the prawn kebabs from the Parsi cookbook. But the options to use this spice blend in other recipes like dals, soups, stews, etc., are endless, so you can make the full recipe and use it in your cooking.
- The cooking time for caramelizing the onions will vary. It took me 1 hour to caramelize the onions and another 30 minutes to finish cooking the entire spice paste. It was well worth the time because the flavor is excellent.
- I should point out that the Parsi style of making sambar masala varies slightly from the South Indian version that I used in this recipe. Farokh’s book has a Sambar masala on Page 46 that you can try or use my version.