Friday, July 15, 2011

How to Build an Indian Pantry: Garam Masala

Garam Masala
Garam masala is one of the few prepared spice blends that Indian cooks use on a regular basis.  Many people believe that all Indian curries are made with curry powder, however this is simply not true!  Garam masala, however, is ubiquitous, especially in North Indian households.  Much as with Indian cuisine, garam masala has variations across the country and from household to household.  Lately, many people have taken to buying preprepared garam masala.  This is a fine option in a pinch, however in our household homemade is a must.

A Nutmeg Just Freed From its Shell
This recipe comes from my great-great grandmother and was passed down directly to my grandmother, my father's mother.  My great-grandmother was far too busy being having many, many babies that she rarely had time to cook.  Thus, it was my grandmother who sat at the feet of my great-great grandmother learning the secret to this incredible recipe.  My great-great grandmother was largely deaf, thus my grandmother spent time learning not by asking questions and writing down the answers but rather by experiencing the amazing sensory experience that is Indian food.  She learned to pound the freshly roasted spices, learned to allow her sense of smell to guide her, and learned that Indian food has no boundaries.  When she was introduced to a strange ingredient in the bazaar--macaroni--she bought it and whipped up a macaroni sabji that become a favorite of all of her kids!

The Ingredients:  Center: nutmeg; Clowise from top:  coriander, black pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin
This garam masala went into almost everything my grandmother made.  It has the unique property of enhancing the flavor of nearly all vegetables and meats.  The flavors are complex and rich, but do not overpower the dish.  Many garam masala blends include black cardamom and mace, flavors that have a tendency to add powerful and dominant flavors to dishes.  This garam masala does not do that.  It is subtle and nuanced and adds those qualities to the dishes it flavors.  This does not mean that it is superior!  Only different.  I, of course, am biased as this has been the garam masala that has been in my family for generations and the garam masala I have consumed all my life.  All recipes that I write in the future should use this garam masala if possible because otherwise the proportion and flavors may be thrown off by using store bought garam masala.  If you do use store bought garam masala, please add a small amount and taste the food before adding more!

This post is dedicated to my amazing grandmother, who sadly is no longer with us today.  She passed away when I was 11 years old.  Recently, I have missed her more than ever before as I never had the pleasure to do with her what she was able to do with her grandmother--sit at her feet and learn the sensory art of Indian cooking.

This recipe is in grams, as this is the way my grandmother learnt it.  I have included ounces for convenience.  Unfortunately, volume measurements don't work quite well for this spice blend.  If I can make it multiple times and come to a consensus I will post an update.

400 grams (14 oz.) coriander seeds (dhania)
250 grams (9 oz.) black peppercorn (kali mirch)
100 grams (3.5 oz.) cumin (jeera)
50 grams (1.75 oz.) cinnamon (dalchini)
50 grams (1.75 oz.) cloves (lavang)
50 grams (1.75 oz.) cardamom pods (elaichi)
1 whole nutmeg

Inspect your spices to ensure that they are dry and there is no moisture clinging to the surface, if there is your blend will not last as long.

Mix all ingredients together and grind either using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.  If necessary grate your nutmeg and cinnamon into smaller pieces to make it easier to grind.

Place in an airtight jar and store in a cool, dark, and dry area of the house for up to 18 months.  Enjoy!


  1. Oh i always wondered what went in garam masala. None of the store bought packs deliver the freshness of home-made masala! Would surely try making this.

  2. I too make garam masala at home but never used nutmeg in it. Should try next time :)

  3. @healthy for better: Homemade garam masala does really make a huge difference! It's incredible. I hope you enoy it!

    @kankana: The nutmeg is delicious! It's a nice subtle sweetness. Let me know how you enjoy it!

  4. It makes me proud to have been the conduits of the culinary genes that you have inherited from your Dadi. Love.

  5. This looks really great! I always thought that the garam masala I bought was especially overpowering and since I'm not skilled at much Indian cooking I thought that was the norm. Looking forward to trying this some day :)

  6. That looks great! Thank you for sharing this, I love using garam masala but I'm sure it way better when made fresh like this :)

  7. @Dad: I'm glad I got her genes, too!

    @souleating: I've had the same experience when I don't cook at my house or my parents house! Whatever you make only tastes like garam masala. I hope you enjoy this recipe!

    @Heidi: I hope you enjoy it! Thanks!

  8. This is a wonderful recipe for your Garam Masala and I will definitely try to make my own now.


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