If there were a secret ingredient to Indian cooking, it would be garam masala (pronounced GAH-rum mah-SAH-lah). That mysterious spice mix cited in nearly every Indian recipe.  Garam means “hot” and masala means “spice mixture”. This doesn’t necessarily mean garam masala is actually spicy.  The word “hot” refers to the warmth of the aroma and taste.

For all you Indian cooking enthusiasts who do not have access to an Indian store, this recipe is for you.  No longer will you need to delay your latest craving for curry.  This frequently called for spice can easily be made at home in less than five minutes.  All you need is a coffee grinder.

Garam masala is a combination of a few favorite Indian spices mixed into one, resulting in an easy to use blend. Garam masala can be easily purchased at your local Indian store.  I’ve also tracked it down at Whole Foods in the “ethnic” aisle.  However, even if you can easily get it pre-made, the flavor and aroma of freshly ground spices cannot be beat.  Best of all, it’s quick and easy.

Every region in India has it’s own version of garam masala.  Most versions use the same foundational spices: coriander seeds, cinnamon sticks, whole black pepper and cumin seeds.  On top of these, a few regional touches are added here and there. All the spices you will need to make your own garam masala can be found at any well stocked local grocer.

When making your own garam masala always purchase whole spices. The flavor is far superior to buying ground spices.  It’s also easier to measure the correct proportions of whole spices than creating your own mixture from powders.

left: coriander seeds; right: cumin seeds

 

Varieties of Garam Masala

There’s Kashmiri garam masala which includes bay leaves, black cumin seeds and fenugreek seeds.

Punjabi garam masala focuses on coriander, cumin and dried red chilies.

A Kerala version uses nutmeg, mace, fennel and star anise.

I tend to go with the Punjabi version since most of the dishes in my kitchen are Punjabi or North Indian, and the Punjabi version is what my Mummy-ji taught me.

I got the recipe for this garam masala during our recent India trip.  Mummy-ji, Hubby and I walked to the local spice shop where Mummy-ji ordered pounds of each spice.  She then took it home, measured out a years worth of whole spices and took it over to the grinding shop where it was ground into powder.

Mummy-ji keeps her garam masala in an air-tight container so the flavor stays sealed and fresh.  She removes a month’s worth at a time and keeps it in her spice box for daily use.

Most of us will not need a year’s worth of garam masala.  So I took Mummy-ji’s recipe and divided it by ten.  That makes enough garam masala to last me a month and most other people about six months.

If you want to make less, feel free to divide the recipe in half.  However, dividing it further than that will make it difficult to maintain the correct ratios.

left: Kashmiri dried red chilies; right: whole black pepper

For making garam masala, always use whole spices.  It’s best to have a kitchen scale when measuring out all the spices.  Since some cinnamon sticks can weigh 5 grams while others only weigh 1 gram, using a scale will help you measure out the correct ratios more accurately.

top left: black cardamom seeds; top right: cloves; bottom: cinnamon sticks

 

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A Recipe for Homemade

Punjabi Garam Masala

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For the most accurate ratios, use a kitchen scale and measure in grams. Cups and teaspoons will get you close, but they are not as accurate.

This recipe calls for simply grinding whole spices, which gives a sharp and fresh flavor. You can also try roasting the spices before grinding them, giving the spice mix a warmer, sweeter taste.  Try both methods to discover your preference.

 

How Many Servings

This recipe makes a little less than 1 cup of garam masala.  This will last about a month for someone who cooks Indian food daily like me.  The recipe can be divided in half but I don’t advise dividing it any further as the ratios are difficult to maintain in smaller amounts.

 

Ingredients

¾ cup   (50 grams)      coriander seeds

¼ cup   (25 grams)      cumin seeds

7 chilies (5 grams)       Kashmiri dried red chilies

½ tsp.   (2.5 grams)    black pepper corns

5 pods   (2.5 grams)    black cardamom

         * if you cannot find black cardamom, use green cardamom instead or just leave it out

½ tsp.   (2.5 grams)    cloves

½ stick (2.5 grams)    cinnamon stick  * use ½ a stick if it’s large and thick, use a whole stick if it is thin and small

 

Equipment needed

a coffee grinder – dedicate a normal coffee grinder just for grinding spices. I don’t recommend using the same coffee grinder for grinding coffee as well as spices. Unless you like coffee that tastes like curry.

 

Directions

Measure out the ingredients into a medium sized bowl, mix well and grind into a fine powder using a coffee grinder.

 

Storage

This spice mixture will keep for up to a year if stored in an air-tight container.  Although the flavor is at it’s best when freshly ground.

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