Garam Masala

Garam Masala is a blend of warming spices for Indian dishes. There are many variations of Garam Masala, and this particular version is a Punjabi style, inspired by the recipes of Raghavan Iyer and Epicurious. I recently used it in a biryani dish for a graduation celebration. 

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About Garam Masala

While some Garam Masala blends have higher (almost minty) or hotter (think peppery) notes, this spice blend has a rich and earthy aroma that adds a mellow flavor to your dish. I used it in Beautiful Biryani, a vegetarian version of this colorful layered rice dish. It struck a perfect balance between two layers of basmati rice, one with Kashmiri chili powder and one with saffron.

A Labor of Love

I made my first batch of Garam Masala by hand, grinding every bit of those spices into submission on my molcajete (a Mexican mortar and pestle). I intermittently sifted the ground mixture through a fine mesh strainer. It was hard work, but I wanted to put some extra love into it because it was for a special celebration. And for whatever reason, these old, manual methods best represent that for me as I prepare a dish for a special occasion.

Great Big Bay Leaves

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention bay leaves here. The  bay leaves you’ll find in an international spice market are “ginormous” compared to the ones you get fresh packed or jarred in U.S. grocery stores. If you want to try your hand at Indian cuisine, I highly recommend a trip to a local international market. My local favorite for Indian cuisine supplies is Spice World International Market. I was delighted to find they had everything I needed to prepare my Indian feast (and items for my “yet to cook” list, too).

An Easier Way

Next time I’ll probably use an automatic spice grinder for this recipe. It worked great for a Bengali Garam Masala I made last week for a shrimp dish. If I don’t like the results, I’ll return to my mortar and pestle. I’ll know soon, because I’ve almost used up my first batch. 

“Spice a dish with love and it pleases every palate.” 

― Plautus
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Garam Masala

This earthy, aromatic warming spice blend adds a rich flavor to vegetable dishes and more. Go old-school and grind it by hand or keep it modern with a powered spice grinder.
Course Seasonings
Cuisine Indian
Keyword garam masala, seasoning, spice blend
Prep Time 20 minutes
Cook Time 10 minutes
Total Time 30 minutes
Author Lisa Kamolnick / Food Passages

Ingredients

  • 2 ½ TBSP coriander seeds
  • 1 ½ TBSP cumin seeds
  • 1 ½ tsp whole cloves
  • 2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 2 tsp green cardamom pods
  • 2 pieces 3-in. cinnamon sticks broken into pieces
  • 2 fresh or dried bay leaves
  • 2 tsp dried miniature rosebuds de-stemmed
  • pinch mace
  • pinch nutmeg

Instructions

Prepare spices

  • Break cinnamon sticks into pieces. Remove and discard any stems on the rosebuds.
  • Place all spices into a small bowl.

Cook spices

  • Preheat small skillet to medium-high.
  • Add the spice mixture into the skillet and toast, shaking the skillet every few seconds until mixture is fragrant.
  • Continue to cook and shake until the bay and cinnamon become brittle. They may crinkle up a little. Coriander and cumin will brown; cloves, peppercorns and cardamom will darken. At this point, remove the mixture from heat.

Cool and complete spice blend

  • Transfer to a plate or dish to cool.
  • When cool, grind until the mixture resembles finely ground black pepper. You can grind by hand using a mortar and pestle or using a spice grinder.
  • Sift the spice through a fine mesh strainer and repeat until you’ve finely ground all of the the spice blend.

Notes

Tips
Chef Raghavan Iyer suggests it is very important to let the spices cool, because moisture in warm spices will change the flavor of the spice blend.
If grinding by hand, add up to another 30 minutes additional time to the recipe.
Store airtight at room temp away from light, heat and humidity. Lasts from 2 to 4 months.