Homemade garam masala step-by-step recipe with photos.
What is garam masala
Garam masala is a blend of whole spices that is dry-roasted and ground into a fine powder using a spice grinder or a coffee grinder. 'Garam' means hot and 'masala' generally refers to a spice mix. Garam masala is used in many curries (mostly north Indian) towards the end of the cooking. Dry-roasting the spices releases the essential oils from them making the spice blend very aromatic and flavourful. Warming up the spices also increases its health benefits. This spice blend can be called the Indian seasoning for curries and dals. This flavourful spice blend stands out for its warmth because of the pungent spices used. Contrary to the belief, garam masala is called so not because it makes the dish spicy. The aim of garam masala is not to give you a chilli-kick but to provide warmth to the body and a warm flavour to the dish it is being used in.
Garam masala is used mainly in north Indian cooking. South Indian cooking uses a different combination of blends and coconut is an important part of the masalas. Every household has its own favourite combination of spices that they use to make it. The use of spices may vary from region to region too. These recipes are passed down from generation to generation.
Is it the same as curry powder
Let us not confuse it with curry powder. There is no such thing as curry powder in Indian cooking. Of course, it is sold widely in the western world and is thought to be how Indian curries are made. But on the contrary, you will never find a 'curry powder' in any Indian household. Curry powder is definitely not a substitute. Can I just say, there is no garam masala substitute!
Garam masala is made with an array of spices. There is no SPECIFIC recipe. But they have some basic spices in common. These spices are widely used in Indian cuisine and are easily available in all grocery stores in India and in Indian grocery stores outside of India.
My recipe here has coriander seeds, cumin seeds, dried chilli, bay leaf, cardamom, cloves, cinnamon, peppercorn, mace, fennel seeds, mustard seeds, fenugreek, nutmeg, turmeric, and asafoetida. Each of these spices has its own health benefits associated. Here are some of the most commonly used spices.
Coriander seeds: Coriander seeds are the dried fruit of the coriander plant. While fresh coriander leaves are used as a garnish in most Indian dishes, the seeds are used as a spice.
Cumin seeds: Cumin seeds are dried seeds of the herb Cuminum cyminum, which belongs to the parsley family.
Bay leaf: Bay leaf is an aromatic leaf of the laurel tree. There are several varieties of bay leaves that are sourced from different trees. It is very commonly used in rice dishes like pulao and biriyani and has a pleasant and sweet aroma.
Cardamom: Cardamom is an exotic spice that belongs to the ginger family. There are two main varieties of cardamom - green and black. Green cardamom (also called true cardamom) is more commonly used and originates from the western ghats in southern India. Black cardamom is less commonly used and originates from the Himalayan region.
Cloves: Cloves are aromatic dried flower buds of the clove tree. They have a strong aroma and are used mostly to provide warmth to the dish.
Cinnamon: Cinnamon is a spice obtained from the inner part of the tree Cinnamomum. It has a mildly sweet taste and so is used in several desserts and also used to flavour teas too.
Nutmeg and mace: Nutmeg and mace are obtained from the nutmeg tree. Nutmeg is the inner seed of the tree while mace is the outer lace-like covering over the seed. Nutmeg has a milder taste when compared to mace and is used in both sweet and savoury dishes. Mace is known to be a warmer spice and has a very earthy flavour.
Mustard seeds: Mustard is a spice that is very common in south Indian cooking. These tiny seeds come in two varieties - black and yellow mustard. Black mustard seeds is commonly used and is more pungent and stronger than yellow mustard seeds.
Fenugreek: Fenugreek is used as both herb and spice. Fresh fenugreek leaves are used as a herb and is added to dal, stir-fry, and rice. Fenugreek seeds are used as a dried spice. They have a slightly bitter and pungent taste.
Black pepper: Black pepper is one of the most commonly used spice, not just in India but across the world. They offer a unique flavour and add heat to the dish they are used in.
Benefits of garam masala
I don't want to talk about the benefits it adds to the dish (because we know how tasty it makes any dish), but the benefits of garam masala itself - the healing properties it has.
Garam masala is known to be used in Ayurveda for its importance for its therapeutic benefits. Like I said before, 'garam' means heat. In Ayurveda, this heat refers to 'Agni' which is used for digestive and metabolic processes. Agni converts food to energy, which is essential for the body to function. It helps in providing warmth to the body and promotes well-being. The most important benefits are:
- Aids digestion
- Provides strong antioxidants
- Fights disease and boosts immunity
- Lowers inflammation
Store the garam masala in an air-tight container in a cool, dark place. You may also choose to store it in the refrigerator. I prefer to store it that way as it stays fresh for longer. The recipe here makes about 120 grams.
Garam masala is easily available in Indian stores all around the world. But with all the industrial processing it goes through, the health benefits will seldom be present. It is easy to make and store at home. You can even make a large batch and freeze it.
My 'garam masala' journey
Being a south Indian, I don't have garam masala blends passed down to me. In fact, it was never an integral part of my mother's kitchen as her cooking was mostly south Indian based. And for the once-in-a-while north Indian curries she made, she would make me run a little errand to buy a tiny packet from a store nearby.
When I began cooking, I started with store-bought ones too, as I was not very keen on making one at home and not sure if it would work. But slowly, as I began to explore different cuisines, dishes, and most importantly, spices - I began to make it at home. There were quite a few combinations I tried when I began making it and this recipe here is what I loved. I have been making and using this for years.
The recipe here gives me approximately 120 grams. You may half or double the recipe as per your need.
Click here for more spice blend recipes.
Step by step instructions
1. Dry-roast red chilli until they puff up and set aside
2. Next, dry-roast coriander seeds and cumin seeds. Set aside
3. Next, dry-roast bay leaves, green cardamom, seeds of black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorn, mace, and fennel seeds
4. Next, dry roast mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds. Set aside
5. Add kasuri methi and dry-roast for a few seconds
6. Let all the ingredients cool down completely before grinding in a spice grinder
7. Once the whole spices are ground, add the powdered spices to the blender (nutmeg powder, turmeric powder, and hing)
This gave me around 120 grams
Homemade garam masala
- ½ cup coriander seeds
- ¼ cup cumin seeds
- 5 Kashmiri red chilli
- 5-6 bay leaf
- 1 tbsp green cardamom
- 3 black cardamom (discard skin and use seeds)
- 3 inch cinnamon
- 1 tbsp cloves
- 2 tbsp black pepper
- 3 mace
- 1 tsp fennel seeds (saunf)
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- ½ tsp fenugreek seeds (methi)
- 1 tsp turmeric powder
- 1 tsp nutmeg powder
- 1 tsp asafoetida (hing)
- 2 tsp kasuri methi
- Heat a pan and dry-roast dry red chilli until they puff up and become crisp. Set aside
- Next, add coriander seeds and cumin seeds in the same pan. Dry-roast until they are aromatic and golden. Set aside
- Next, add bay leaves, green cardamom, seeds of black cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, peppercorn, mace, and fennel seeds. Roast until they are aromatic. Set aside
- Dry-roast mustard seeds and fenugreek seeds next. Set aside
- Add kasuri methi and dry-roast for a few seconds
- Combine everything together and let it cool down completely
- Grind into a fine powder in a blender or mixie
- Once the whole spices are ground, add the powdered spices to the blender (nutmeg powder, turmeric powder, and hing)
- Blend for a few seconds so that everything combines well
- Store in an air-tight container
Click here to watch garam masala web story.