Wednesday, September 02, 2015

Garam Masala Recipe

Once quite by chance I bought the perfect garam masala mix. It was aromatic and light, but also had warm depth, the whole spectrum of spicy notes, high and low. Several favourite recipes became dependent on it... and then I finished the packet. And couldn’t find the same brand again, anywhere. I tried other brands but they were disappointing, with the subtlety and shading of a brick. Eventually after many requests for that spicy bean soup, whose vital ingredient was garam masala, I did what I should have done ages before, I googled garam masala recipes, found two which sounded right and made my own.

There is no such thing as a standard garam masala in India. Every family has their own combination of spices, some more aromatic, some milder, some hotter. So it’s up to you to find the balance that suits you. For me that was aromatic and relatively mild, enough pepper to tickle the taste buds but not enough to sear them, and chilli an optional extra to add to an individual recipe later. Cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, bay leaves, nutmeg provide the aromatics; black pepper, cumin, coriander and ginger the heat and depth.

The recipes I used as a guide were both Punjabi ones, advising you to dry the spices in the sun, once you’ve cleaned them all carefully. It was winter when I was making this, so I took the alternative option and lightly roasted the spices in a hot pan, one spice at a time, so that the smaller seeds didn’t burn. Then once they’d cooled, all I had to do was grind them up in the coffee grinder and inhale the gorgeous aromas.

(TIP: unless you like your coffee chai scented, you might need to grind a few coffee beans and discard them to get rid of all the spice oils before returning the grinder to coffee duty!)

So this is what I used for mine. Feel free to create your own version of garam masala and customise your Indian recipes. I’m never going to buy ready made garam masala ever again, that’s for sure.


½ cup coriander seeds
¼ cup cumin seeds
2 tablespoons cardamom seeds
2 tablespoons cloves
1 tablespoon black peppercorns
8 sticks cinnamon
4 bay leaves
1 nutmeg

Other things you can add: 1 star anise, 1 inch dried ginger, mace.

Once you’ve ground up the spices, store them in an air-tight jar and use within a few months, otherwise they lose their aroma and you might as well have bought that sadly flat, dull brand from the supermarket.

Two favourite recipes that are totally dependent on really good garam masala: my Persian bean soup, and Madhur Jaffrey’s sag aloo.

P.S. Just in case you’ve been wondering where I was in August (thinking of you here, Marcheline, as my most attentive reader!), it was somewhere exciting and I’ve got a ton of photos to sort through before I share some of it here... hint, there were huge sand dunes and lots of wildlife.


  1. AaaaaaaHA! I knew there was something wonderful waiting for me over here once I saw your comment on my blog.... and I was RIGHT! I absolutely *adore* garam masala, and now I have your recipe to make my own? Heaven!! I have some vacation time coming up in a week or so, and I'm going to head out to my middle eastern grocery and scarf up the ingredients and cook up some delicious stuff for Bear and I... thanks a bundle for the info!

    1. Let me know how it turns out, Marcheline. It was a wonderfully therapeutic exercise - so many gorgeous smells as you roast each spice. The only thing that you have to be careful about is not letting the spices burn - the cumin spices took no time at all to toast, so in the end I went by smell, swirled them around in the pan and tipped them out as soon as they smelled right. Maybe this summer I'll try sun-drying them as well. Have fun!

  2. Buried under an avalanche of deadlines,.. and a sea of strawberries needing picking and jamming and selling and doing something, anything with! I do have a post I wrote ages ago, just waiting for a photo to post it. Let me go find it now!


Thanks for your comments - I appreciate every one!