In my opinion nothing says Maharashtrian cuisine as does the Goda Masala, a spice blend so unique and complex that it cannot be replaced with any other combination of spices. Each family recipe may have enough differences that interchanging them makes a remarkable difference to the final dish.
I hardly delved deep into the masala that was used everyday in the house, being content in just learning to use it. I understood that it was a mix of many spices that were roasted and then ground. There were always large glass bottles filled with it that would get replenished annually when my mother-in-law returned from her visit to Pune.
She prepared it for the first time only a few years ago. It was her older sister in Pune who for years painstakingly prepared kilos of Goda Masala for her two younger sisters. My mother-in-law passed away a couple of years back but I still had the goda masala she prepared, for the first and last time, till a few months ago. The last half bottle I hoarded for special dishes only, using store-bought masala for other everyday needs.
But no one was happy with the situation. A search through the Matunga neighbourhood in Bombay last year revealed many kinds of goda masalas that were neither kala (black) nor did they have the vital ingredient – khobra (coconut) – that would make them authentic Goda Masala. The shopkeepers would tell me they didn’t add coconut because that makes the masala spoil sooner. But I had had mine last over two years. The writing was on the wall – I was going to have to make some.
I looked at the ingredient list on the family recipe that we had noted from TH’s aunt in Pune. I had everything in stock except the shah jeera and the dagad phool. I keep only a tiny bit of shah jeera in stock since only a few recipes call for it. Dagad phool I was hoping to find at the INA market where you can find anything.
So ask I did for ‘pathar phool’, literally meaning ‘stone flower’, half expecting to be handed star anise. Imagine my surprise when I was handed something that looked very much like lichen! As soon as we reached back home I took it out of the packet and I smelled the unmistakable fragrance that makes up the Goda Masala! At last I had put my finger on the note in the masala that I had never been quite able to place. Just a small quantity of this lichen gives the masala its distinct aroma. If you cannot find this spice you cannot have goda masala. Don’t believe anyone who says otherwise.
Of course the fragrance of the masala is not that simple to unravel. The individual roasting of all the spices, way beyond the point that is usually considered the limit, brings out a smoky sweetness that is unique to this spice blend. Recipes using this spice blend usually also call for the use of a souring agent, usually kokum, and sugar or gur for sweetening. This masala is the key ingredient in some of the regional recipes that are my favourites, such as masale bhat or vaangi bhaat, the unbelievably delicious way with pumpkin – baakar bhaaji, as also stuffed eggplant.
This is a labour intensive project; take it up only when you have plenty of time at hand. The recipe yields a little over one kilo of masala, so you may find it prudent to halve it. And if you have ever received even a small amount of this spice blend from a friend or family, remember to thank them for their effort. They must really love you.
It took me around 3-4 hours (spread over a whole day) to prepare this quantity. All of the spices could have been roasted further – but it was my first time and as soon as it seemed I had burnt them long enough I stopped. In the evening it all came together and I was quite pleased with myself. Quite the Maharashtrian bahu, I was thinking.
A month later my sister-in-law came to visit via-Bombay. I had mentioned my labour of love so she got me some goda masala from her trusted grocer. It tasted exactly like mine.
In case I run out of the masala, which is not going to happen any time soon, I know I can always have someone send me some from that corner store in Bombay. It is not very heartening to know, but there it is. If you know where to look you could find it.
500gms (8 C) coriander seeds
125gms (1C) cumin seeds
125gms (3 C) grated dried coconut
125gms (1C) sesame seeds
30gms (1/4 C) shah jeera
30gms (1/5 C) cloves
30gms (1/3 C) black cardamom
30gms (about 20) tejpatta
30gms (3/4 C) dagad phool
Using very little oil in a heavy skillet or pan, on medium heat, roast all spices separately till well browned. Grind individually. Mix till well combined. Pack pressing into glass jars, covering with a thin layer of salt on top (only if made in large quantities that need to be stored longer).
Recipes that use Goda Masala:
tondlichi-bhaji-with-goda-masala (stir-fried ivy gourd) (Jugalbandi)
vaangi bhath (spiced rice with eggplant) (Indian Food Rocks)
baakar bhaji (pumpkin curry)