My great grandmother’s garam masalas. Or whatever.

I was asked about garam masala recipes after my post on Spinach Moong Masoor Dal, so I’ve decided to post the two recipes I use. Garam masala, ground “warm” spices, are generally used as a finishing aromatic touch much like ground black pepper is used in the west. Recipes vary from region to region, household to household, and probably even person to person within households (think in-laws, heh). I wish I could tell a story about how my great grandmother created these recipes to the acclaim of my family, but she died well before I met her, and, more to the point, she wasn’t Indian. But any homemade garam masala will be better than most store bought masalas which have been ground God-knows-when. To keep them fresh, I make small batches at a time.

Cardamom podsConsider these base recipes only, especially as they reflect my personal tastes. For instance, I always avoid black cardamom because the smokiness is overpowering, I reduce quantities of coriander seed because I find the flowery flavor cloying, and I routinely increase green cardamom because I love it so very very much. There are thousands of other recipes, some with mace, saffron, white peppercorn, fennel, ajwain, chili, coconut, and even dals. For the sake of my sanity, I stick to these two recipes alone. Here’s a good life motto: Take life one masala a time. My great grandmother taught me that. She was a wise woman. As far as I know.

By the way, for beginners or even veterans, I recommend the outstanding The Indian Spice Kitchen by Monisha Bharadwaj, which provides full color photographs of spices, herbs, dals, grains, vegetables, nuts, etc., and covers many obscure regional ingredients as well. It even includes medicinal uses for each ingredient and some 200 recipes. My main complaint about the book is that I didn’t buy it early on when I started cooking Indian. It would have saved me many headaches.

Based on recipes by Julie Sahni and Madhur Jaffrey

This is a more classic recipe for garam masala, notable for its use of expensive spices such as green cardamom, which is why this style is not generally commercially available. Of course, expensive is a relative term. If you buy your spices at an Indian grocer, this batch will cost pennies, another benefit of making it at home. It’s lighter, sweeter, and more delicate than most store bought garam masalas and best in cream, milk, or fruit-based dishes, particularly those of northern India. According to Sahni, most of these spices are so inherently fragrant and easy to digest that they do not need roasting, but other sources say roast away. Due to my inherent laziness, I roast only the cumin seeds. To roast spices, shake them in a small pan over medium heat until fragrant and a shade or two darker in color. Cool, then grind all spices and store in an airtight container away from heat and light. Use within three months.

2 Tablespoons cardamom seed
2″ cinnamon stick
2 teaspoons black cumin seed OR regular cumin seed
2 teaspoons black peppercorn
2 teaspoons cloves
1/4 of a nutmeg

Based on many recipes

This is a cheaper and more common garam masala that works well in tomato and onion dishes. It resembles commercial versions more closely than the Mughal version. Roast all spices in a pan over medium heat until fragrant and one or two shades darker. I like to roast each spice separately since they differ in size, but they can be roasted all at once too. Let cool. Grind all spices and store in an airtight container away from heat and light. Use within three months.

2 Tablespoons cumin seed
2 Tablespoons coriander seed
2 teaspoons black peppercorn
2 teaspoons cardamom seed
2 teaspoons cloves
2″ cinnamon stick
1 Indian bay leaf OR 1 regular bay leaf
1/4 of a nutmeg


bullet Link du jour
Lisa has an interesting Pakistani-style garam masala recipe over at Kitchen Chick.

6 thoughts on “My great grandmother’s garam masalas. Or whatever.

  1. Thanks for posting this! I love Indian food and am trying to start to cook some from scratch, but all the spices are confusing to me. I guess I should spend some time just smelling and tasting them all to get to know them a bit instead of just following the directions verbatim on the recipe.

  2. I love the Madhur Jaffrey books and it really is a whole other thing to do up the spices from scratch vs. premade spice mixes. Easy too!

  3. Rachel: Glad I could be of service! I think following recipes verbatim is perfectly fine when you start out because it’s hard to know how spices will taste in the dish when mixed with others. For instance, I really dislike mace but I never leave it out in a recipe calling for it because when I do, something important seems to be missing. I just make sure it’s not the main flavor.

    Callipygia: I know! The smell is so fantastic when it’s fresh.

  4. Thanks for posting these! I copied the marsalas and I will definitely be using them. Oh, cardamom, I love you! I got so excited reading the post that I think I’ll go sniff the cardamom pods in my spice drawer right now.

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