How to Build an Indian Pantry: Garam Masala

July 15, 2011

Garam masala is one of the few prepared spice blends that Indian cooks use on a regular basis.  Many people believe that all Indian curries are made with curry powder, however this is simply not true!  Garam masala, however, is ubiquitous, especially in North Indian households.  Much as with Indian cuisine, garam masala has variations across the country and from household to household.  Lately, many people have taken to buying preprepared garam masala.  This is a fine option in a pinch, however in our household homemade is a must.

A Nutmeg Just Freed From its Shell

This recipe comes from my great-great grandmother and was passed down directly to my grandmother, my father’s mother.  My great-grandmother was far too busy being having many, many babies that she rarely had time to cook.  Thus, it was my grandmother who sat at the feet of my great-great grandmother learning the secret to this incredible recipe.  My great-great grandmother was largely deaf, thus my grandmother spent time learning not by asking questions and writing down the answers but rather by experiencing the amazing sensory experience that is Indian food.  She learned to pound the freshly roasted spices, learned to allow her sense of smell to guide her, and learned that Indian food has no boundaries.  When she was introduced to a strange ingredient in the bazaar–macaroni–she bought it and whipped up a macaroni sabji that become a favorite of all of her kids!

The Ingredients:  Center: nutmeg; Clowise from top:  coriander, black pepper, cloves, cardamom, cinnamon, cumin

This garam masala went into almost everything my grandmother made.  It has the unique property of enhancing the flavor of nearly all vegetables and meats.  The flavors are complex and rich, but do not overpower the dish.  Many garam masala blends include black cardamom and mace, flavors that have a tendency to add powerful and dominant flavors to dishes.  This garam masala does not do that.  It is subtle and nuanced and adds those qualities to the dishes it flavors.  This does not mean that it is superior!  Only different.  I, of course, am biased as this has been the garam masala that has been in my family for generations and the garam masala I have consumed all my life.  All recipes that I write in the future should use this garam masala if possible because otherwise the proportion and flavors may be thrown off by using store bought garam masala.  If you do use store bought garam masala, please add a small amount and taste the food before adding more!

This post is dedicated to my amazing grandmother, who sadly is no longer with us today.  She passed away when I was 11 years old.  Recently, I have missed her more than ever before as I never had the pleasure to do with her what she was able to do with her grandmother–sit at her feet and learn the sensory art of Indian cooking.

 

Garam Masala

From at

Prep: Cook: Total:

Garam masala is one of the few premade spice blends that Indian cooks use. This is my great-great grandmother's absolutely wonderful recipe. I feel lucky to have it and to be able to share it with you.

You'll Need...

Directions

  1. Inspect your spices to ensure that they are dry and there is no moisture clinging to the surface, if there is your blend will not last as long.
  2. Mix all ingredients together and grind either using a mortar and pestle or a spice grinder.  If necessary grate your nutmeg and cinnamon into smaller pieces to make it easier to grind.
  3. Place in an airtight jar and store in a cool, dark, and dry area of the house for up to 18 months.  Enjoy!

Additional Notes

This recipe was passed down in grams. Unfortunately, volume measurements do not work well, so please try to use grams as much as possible.

This will make a lot of garam masala, so feel free to weigh out your nutmeg, and divide the recipe by whatever number works best.

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14 Comments

  • Reply gabriel July 20, 2011 at 1:54 pm

    Bravo!

  • Reply tanvilu@gmail.com July 21, 2011 at 11:11 pm

    @gabriel: Thanks! 🙂

  • Reply healthyforbetter July 21, 2011 at 11:36 pm

    Oh i always wondered what went in garam masala. None of the store bought packs deliver the freshness of home-made masala! Would surely try making this.

  • Reply kankana July 22, 2011 at 6:06 am

    I too make garam masala at home but never used nutmeg in it. Should try next time 🙂

  • Reply tanvilu@gmail.com July 23, 2011 at 2:47 pm

    @healthy for better: Homemade garam masala does really make a huge difference! It's incredible. I hope you enoy it!

    @kankana: The nutmeg is delicious! It's a nice subtle sweetness. Let me know how you enjoy it!

  • Reply Suresh July 23, 2011 at 7:40 pm

    It makes me proud to have been the conduits of the culinary genes that you have inherited from your Dadi. Love.

  • Reply souleating July 26, 2011 at 1:29 pm

    This looks really great! I always thought that the garam masala I bought was especially overpowering and since I'm not skilled at much Indian cooking I thought that was the norm. Looking forward to trying this some day 🙂

  • Reply Heidi @ Food Doodles July 26, 2011 at 5:20 pm

    That looks great! Thank you for sharing this, I love using garam masala but I'm sure it way better when made fresh like this 🙂

  • Reply tanvilu@gmail.com July 26, 2011 at 10:59 pm

    @Dad: I'm glad I got her genes, too!

    @souleating: I've had the same experience when I don't cook at my house or my parents house! Whatever you make only tastes like garam masala. I hope you enjoy this recipe!

    @Heidi: I hope you enjoy it! Thanks!

  • Reply Anonymous February 25, 2014 at 5:46 am

    This is a wonderful recipe for your Garam Masala and I will definitely try to make my own now.

  • Reply Anonymous July 19, 2016 at 7:41 pm

    First, thank you for sharing your family traditions…and recipes. I’ve been on the lookout for a genuine garam masala, as well as chai (I was relieved with your black tea suggestions, since there isn’t a multi-cultural import shop of any kind where I live), and I’m thrilled to find somewhere it is shared. On the topic, I’ve noticed that some recipes advocate toasting the spices for your garam masala before grinding. Is this a matter of preference?

    • Reply Tanvi | The Hathi Cooks July 20, 2016 at 7:14 am

      I think it’s partially a matter of preference. Toasting helps to release some aromatic compounds, so toasted then ground spices are best used fresh. When you plan on storing the ground spices, it’s best not to toast first. You are, of course, welcome to toast the spices in small batches prior to use and see if you like the flavor better. Or, you could estimate the rough amount of whole spices you need for each recipe and toast those and grind them fresh each time. Or you could use them raw and see how it goes!!

  • Reply Catharina February 4, 2017 at 7:07 pm

    Hello,

    After having been so impressed with your chai recipe, I just made the garam masala. It’s in a jar, smelling lovely and ready to go 🙂 Thank you so much!

    Catharina

    • Reply Tanvi | The Hathi Cooks February 4, 2017 at 7:20 pm

      I hope you enjoy it, Catharina! If you are on Facebook or Instagram, please share any photos of the dishes you might make with me. Would love to see them!

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