Masala Paste

A combination of pureed cashews, Kashmiri chiles, and spices gives this creamy paste a punch of flavor. It’s a key ingredient in Cheetie Kumar’s Lamb Biryani.

Masala Paste

Jennifer Causey / Food Styling by Margaret Monroe Dickey / Prop Styling by Nidia Cueva

Active Time:
10 mins
Total Time:
1 hrs 5 mins
1 1/2 cups

Soaked cashews give this versatile and heavily spiced paste a creamy base, allowing it to meld seamlessly with braised lamb while adding bold flavor to Cheetie Kumar's Lamb Biryani. Spices such as cloves, fennel, and coriander join forces with mace blades, the weblike outer membrane that surrounds nutmeg. Dried mace blades impart a subtle nutmeg-like flavor as well as notes of cinnamon and black pepper. Look for them at specialty spice shops or online at Toasting the spices and dried Kashmiri chiles, a mildly fruity and tangy chile, releases flavorful oils, giving the masala paste a deep complexity. Remove the spices and seeds from the hot skillet immediately after toasting so the residual heat of the skillet doesn’t burn the delicate ingredients. The paste can be made up to three days in advance and stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.


  • 1/2 cup raw cashews

  • 1 cup water

  • 8 whole cloves

  • 5 dried Kashmiri chiles, stems removed

  • 2 mace blades

  • 2 dried bay leaves

  • 1 black cardamom pod, smashed

  • 1 tablespoon black cumin seeds

  • 1 tablespoon green cardamom seeds

  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons coriander seeds

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons cumin seeds

  • 2 1/4 teaspoons Tellicherry peppercorns

  • 1 tablespoon white poppy seeds


  1. Place cashews in a small heatproof bowl. Bring 1 cup water to a boil in a small saucepan over medium-high. Carefully pour water over cashews, and let stand at room temperature 45 minutes.

  2. Meanwhile, heat a large skillet over medium. Combine cloves, chiles, mace, bay leaves, black cardamom pod, black cumin seeds, green cardamom seeds, fennel seeds, coriander seeds, cumin seeds, and peppercorns in skillet; cook, stirring constantly, until lightly toasted and fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes. Add poppy seeds, and cook, stirring constantly, until seeds just begin cracking (you’ll hear a slight crackling sound), 1 to 2 minutes. Immediately spread mixture in an even layer on a large plate, and let cool completely, about 10 minutes.

  3. Transfer spice mixture to a blender, and process until mixture forms a fine powder, about 25 seconds; scrape spice mixture from sides of blender. Add cashews and soaking liquid to blender, and process until a very smooth, thick paste forms, about 30 seconds.

To Make Ahead

Masala paste can be stored in an airtight container in refrigerator up to 3 days.


Find mildly fruity and tangy dried Kashmiri chiles at Indian markets or online at

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