Everyone’s heard of garam masala. It is used in countless Indian dishes. And it’s easy to make. There’s no reason at all to buy pre-fab versions. None at all.
Toss a few spices in a dry skillet. Toast briefly. Cool. Grind. That’s it. Seriously. It’s almost absurd that they can get away with selling it.
And the beauty of making it yourself is you know it’s fresh. Maximum flavour. None of this stuff that’s been sitting on a shelf for a year. Or more. Until it tastes like dust.
Garam masala is a warming spice mix
Garam means “warm” or “hot” and masala means spice blend in Hindi. So garam masala translates to warming spices. Spices like cardamom, cinnamon and black pepper. And cumin and cloves and chilies.
I had to look into what “warming” spices mean. I’m not sure about the science behind it but warming spices do just that. They warm you. Heat you up from the inside out.
The fancy word word is thermogenic. The idea is that warming spices boost your metabolism. Gets you burning more calories. And that burn warms you. Thermogenesis. Could be true. I sweat when I eat spicy food.
If you’re really interested look into Ayurvedic medicine. It’s traditional Hindu medicine that deals with balance in the body. Interesting stuff.
What I do know that garam masala is loaded with warming spices. So it lives up to its name.
Garam masala does not mean curry powder
This is not a recipe for generic curry powder. So don’t think of it that way. For starters there is no turmeric. Regular store-bought curry powder is loaded with it. That’s why it’s yellow.
Garam masala is more of a finishing spice mix. It isn’t meant to be the main spice mix. So don’t use it that way. I’m not saying you can’t make a garam masala chicken dish. I’m just saying it’s distinctive. Specialized.
Roast once – grind many times
This is the thing I don’t get about almost every garam masala recipe I’ve ever seen. They all tell you to grind everything up once it’s cooled.
How does that make sense? The second you grind the flavour starts breaking down. Max flavour at first. But then it starts to fade. Not crazy fast mind you. But it does happen.
So I use the mom method. My friend’s mom taught me this. You roast enough spices for a couple months. But you grind as you go. So it’s fresh every time.
It’s so obvious. Makes perfect sense. But I had to be told. And now you know too. Roast your spices once but grind as required. Genius really.
And the fun part is, it will be a little different every time. Some variety. Not a huge difference. But it’s not the same as grinding it all up at once. That would be consistent. Repeatable. Your spice mix would be exactly the same each and every time.
You can do that I guess. If you want. Nothing stopping you. But I like fresh. I can live with a little variety. I’ll take that over stale any day.
Everybody’s garam masala recipe is different
There’s no right or wrong way to make garam masala. It’s a spice mix. Stick to warming spices that you like. Every family probably has their own mix.
I like cumin, coriander, cinnamon, clove, bay, cardamom and black pepper. You might like something different. A bit of mace maybe. Or some whole Kashmiri chilies. I’m not the masala police. Make what you like.
Just remember to toast once and grind often. That’s what I’m trying to get across here. Pick your spices. Make that your own if you want. But grind on demand.
Go for fresh. Every time. Your taste buds will thank you.
- 2 tbsp coriander seed
- 2 sticks cinnamon bark 3 inches each
- 3 tbsp cumin seed
- 1 tbsp black peppercorns
- 2 tsp cloves
- 2 tsp green cardamom
- 1 star anise broken into small pieces
- 2 bay leaves
- Combine the coriander, cinnamon, cumin, pepper, cloves, cardamom and star anise in a small skillet.
- Toast over medium low heat until fragrant. This takes 2 minutes or so. Don't over-toast.
- Let cool. Store in a sealed container in a dark cupboard. It should keep for a few months.
- Add the remaining spices.
- Grind it in a spice grinder as needed. I use one of those blender style coffee grinders. Grind about 1/4 at a time as needed. The ground garam masala should keep about a week or two at maximum flavour.
17 thoughts on “garam masala – india’s most famous spice mix”
Hi Romain, just a quick question regarding garam masala. I see you have this recipe on your site however I don’t recollect seeing any of your recipes that I have cooked saying to add garam masala to the dish at all, do you just take it as a given to add it at the end of every curry & if so how much?
Keep up creating these fantastic dishes & sharing with the community.
Delighted to hear you are enjoying the recipes. I do have garam masala in a few recipes and no, I don’t add it at the end to every recipe. Garam masala, especially fresh ground, is a very potent seasoning blend and I add it only where I think the flavours complement the dish.
You aren’t the garam masala police? 😉
I love the idea of only grinding the whole toasted spices as needed. Genius!
Indian mom genius!
Do you need to peel cardamom once toasted
No need to peel. Just grind it up to order.
“roast once, grind many times”. What a eureka moment! Makes perfect sense, I wonder why I’ve never thought of this before. Lovely recipe.
I had to be taught too:-). Everyone learns from somebody else!
If I don’t have star anise could I use a few fennel seeds?
It won’t be quite the same but it will be fine. That’s the beauty of garam masala. You can tinker with it. Everybody has a different recipe.
I made it with about half a teaspoon of fennel seeds and toasted them along with the other spices. I used decorticated green cardamom and liked the sound of the black cardamom from the commenter above, so I dehusked one pod and separated the individual seeds, so that it’s distributed through the mix for later grinding.
Masala was great and grinding fresh is a game changer!
I use exactly the same spices at the same proportions as you but add 1 black cardamon pod for a lovely smokey note. Fantastic Lamb Saag recipe by the way!
I bet that’s great if you are grinding the whole batch at once. Glad you liked the lamb.
Do you prefer Indian bay leaves or uk bay?
If you can get them I recommend Indian bay leaves (tej patta). The ones in the pictures are the Indian version.
Do you dry roast the bal leaves too?
I do not. Thanks for the hint to clarify:-)