Red Chili and Vinegar Paste (Balchao Masala)

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Red Chili and Vinegar Paste (Balchao Masala)

Fresh spice blends, pastes and sauces are an essential element in many Indian dishes. The longer I immerse myself into the art of Indian cooking, the more I find myself making my own preparations. A complexity is imparted to the food that simply cannot be recreated by using ready-made versions produced outside of the kitchen of the cook looking to add a unique touch. And for the most part, the effort involved is minimal.

This recipe does come with a warning. The spicier the better is my motto, but even I was gulping water and spooning some cooling yogurt into my mouth to ease the heat after tasting a scant 1/2 teaspoon of this pungent, fiery paste on its own. When incorporated into curries and their accompaniments, however, the heat is a necessary and sufficient condition. This potent paste has the advantage of lasting for a couple of weeks in the refrigerator, and can be stored in the freezer too.

I made a small batch in preparation for scalloped potatoes with coconut milk and chilies and also added a spoonful to some scrambled chickpea flour. All three recipes are inspired by Raghavan Iyer's gloriously indispensable 660 Curries. Honestly, I can't recommend this collection highly enough.

Red Chili and Vinegar Paste (Balchao Masala)Red Chili and Vinegar Paste (Balchao Masala)
Recipe by
Adapted from 660 Curries
Cuisine: Indian
Published on April 6, 2009

A simple, fiery and pungent chili and vinegar paste — great for keeping around to add to soups and curries

Preparation: 10 minutes

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  • 1/2 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1 teaspoon tamarind paste
  • 1 cup dried whole red chilies
  • 1 tablespoon cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black peppercorns
  • 1/2 teaspoon whole cloves
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 10 cloves garlic, cut in half
  • 2-inch piece fresh ginger, chopped
  • 6-inch cinnamon stick, broken into pieces
  • Begin by pouring the vinegar into a blender. Add the remaining ingredients and process until you have a thick paste. Scrape down the sides of the blender as necessary.

  • Refrigerate in a sterilized jar for up to 2 weeks or freeze for later use.

Makes 1 cup

More essentials:
Chana Masala Powder
Garam Masala
Tamarind Chutney
Hot Green Chili Sauce


A_and_N said...

Wow! I've never heard of it. This is on the must try list!

bee said...

i agree about the 660 Curries recommendation. if i had to have only one cookbook, it would be this one. i have fond memories of balchao masala eaten in goa spanning several years and meals.

Ricki said...

I imagine that would singe the mouth on its own! But there really is nothing quite as good as homemade, is there?

Johanna GGG said...

it is a rare moment to hear you say you were gulping water because it was so hot - this must burn - sounds too hot for me but interesting flavours!

Anonymous said...

I would like to try this one...real hot and spicy..

Arundathi said...

I can imagine this pairs well with just about anything! Lovely recipe, thanks.

Chutneytales said...

Oh wow..a very spicy curry paste.

Suparna said...

Hi Lisa,
LOL....on ur tasting the masala paste ;) and I am totally with u on ur :) as am planning to shift my sweet tooth to spice kingdom :)
Great one to use in curries n stuff...BTW can I replace the red wine vinegar with the regular vinegar or something heeeeeeeeeeeeeelp ....lemme know coz am sure to try this one :)

Lisa Turner said...

Hi Suparna;

You could use cider vinegar, and I suppose regular vinegar would work too. Hope you like it. I'm so glad I made it.

Soma said...

I am loving this Lisa! I keep homemade harissa at home, & it's really handy even to add to anything i want. This actually sounds even better..

Lavanya said...

nice blog..nice dishes..lovely..i wud love to visit again your lovely dishes!!

Jenn said...

This looks amazing...I can imagine adding it to just about anything! Visiting from Carole's Chatter :)