Garam Masala literally translates to “warm spice mix”, and it is the quintessential Indian spice blend. It gives warmth and depth to dishes and pairs perfectly with red or green chili for a hearty, aromatic flavor.
Every region (and family) across India has its own version of garam masala. My mom’s authentic garam masala calls for twenty whole roasted spices, some of which can be hard to find. I still remember her yearly ritual of making the garam masala, which involved shopping for the best whole spices, cleaning and roasting them, grinding them and then carefully storing them in beautiful glass jars.
It would be shared with relatives and used for rest of the year. Lucky for me, my mom still makes the blend every year and has a jar ready for me to bring back each time we visit her in India.
Over the past several years, during her visits to the US she taught me how to create a simplified version with a similar authentic flavor using just five whole spices. This is the garam masala I use in most of my recipes that I share on the blog, so you can recreate the exact same flavors of Indian dishes at home.
Why make Garam Masala at home?
Flavors of homemade masala powder has no comparison to store bought spice blend in terms of taste, quality or freshness. Just 1 teaspoon of freshly made garam masala will elevate the taste of your dishes to a different level making it easy to make your restaurant favorite dishes at home. Best of all it takes 10 minutes and 5 basic whole spices from your pantry to make it at home.
Five Spices to make Homemade Garam masala:
- Black Peppercorns | Kali Mirch – These berries which grow on climbing vines are native to southern India. The unripe green berries are harvested when they ripen and turn red and are then dried to what we commonly see in grocery store. Black peppercorns, impart intese aroma, depth and heat to foods.
- Green Cardamom Pods | Elaichi – A sweet and aromatic spice that is critical spice for curries and pulaos. I like roasting and grinding whole green pods for additional flavor and also saves time from having to take teh seeds out.
- Cinnamon | Dalchini – Cassia Bark that is grown in India is the traditional cinnamon used in Indian cooking and is similar to cinnamon sticks. It adds earthy flavors to meat and curries and is essential in making spice blends. Many times I use the easier-to-find cinnamon sticks in recipes, but if you do purchase cassia bark, it can be substituted.
- Cloves | Laung – These aromatic flower buds are harvested from the evergreen clove tree. The lend a slightly sweet yet pungent aroma to Indian cuisine.
- Black Cumin Seeds | Shah Jeera – With anise-like flavors, black cumin seeds are milder than regular cumin seeds. Often confused with nigella seeds or caraway seeds, shah jeera has a smoky, earthy taste. In lieu of shah jeera, regular cumin seeds can be substituted.
- Roast the spices individually on medium heat, stirring them frequently until they start to release aromas. Allow the spices to completely cool down before grinding them.
- Roast and grind the whole green cardamom pods. No need to discard the seeds and they skin also adds additional flavors and aroma to the masala
- Cinnamon – For the full flavor, avoid pre ground cinnamon powder and use whole cinnamon sticks instead. I use a pestle to gently hammer the whole cinnamon so they break into smaller sticks which makes them easier to roast and grind.
- Shah Jeera – Also known as black cumin seeds, these are available in most Indian grocery stores. You can substitute regular cumin seeds if you do not have shahi jeera on hand.
Best way to grind the spices:
- I have a small Indian brand mixer grinder that comes with a small chuteny jar that has low blades which helps grinding smaller amounts of spices to a fine powder.
- A lot of my readers who use a small coffee/spice grinder that works well for making garam masala. Although, stainless steel grinder bowls can be washed thouroughly to remove the spice aromas, you may want to have a dedicated spice grinder in your kitchen.
- Mortar and Pestle, this will take longer time to ground the spices evenly but is a good old way that works.
- Some of my readers have also used magic bullet to grind spices. I do not own one but you may want to give it a try.
Favorite recipes using homemade garam masala:
Aromatic spice blend that brings warmth and depth to Indian cuisine.
Although the spices can vary, my favorite spices for this EASY recipe are: Black peppercorns, Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves and Cumin
Roasting spices allows to release aromas and remove any excess moisture in them. This also helps grind the spices in fine powder.
Coffee grinder works best for grinding garam masala. I would highly recommend having a separate cup just for the spices.
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- 2 tablespoon black peppercorns
- 2 tablespoon cloves
- 1 tablespoon crushed cinnamon sticks
- 0.75 tablespoon green cardamom pods
- 1 tablespoon shah jira / black cumin seeds
- Lightly roast each spice in a small pan until they get hot, about a minute. Stir frequently. Make sure not to burn them by roasting them too long. The goal is to make them a bit toasty so they are easy to grind.
- Cool spices and then grind fine in a coffee or spice grinder. Store in an airtight container away from direct sunlight.
I use whole green cardamom pods in this recipe and not just the seeds. Roast and grind them whole.
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