With plans to provide some inside access to one of the best Indian kitchens and offer some delicious recipes from the subcontinent, one must learn the staple of Indian cooking and spices.
That staple being the garam masala. This recipe has been passed on from generation to generation in my family and has been the cornerstone of the delicious curries, spice rubs, sauces, gravies, and has even snuck its way into western foods.
There are many ingredients used in garam masala and even various combinations of these spices. Some include star anise, while others omit. A good garam masala is about the combination of the ground spices blending well together while each flavor stands out and doesn’t overpower.
This is different from the curry spice blends found in your local supermarket. And speaking of markets, I advise going to an Indian, Pakistani, or any ethnic food store to get the best prices and freshest spices.
Personally, I prefer either Patel Brothers or an Apna Bazar, if you find any near you. You can also pick up a small tin of premade garam masala at these stores, though the flavors and the freshness will not be as strong as making it on your own. This is super easy.
What you’ll need:
A small inexpensive coffee grinder, buy one separate from your actual coffee grinder. This one will be specifically for grinding spices not limited to garam masala, but also for barbeque rubs and other blends.
A small container to hold your blend, preferably a stainless steel one you can purchase in the ethnic food store. The best way to store your spices is in airtight containers and in a cool and dark place. You can also purchase a spice dabba, or an Indian spice box, like the one featured on Food Network’s Aarti Party.
- 1 TBS coriander seeds
- 1 tsp. whole cloves
- 1 ½ tsp broken cinnamon stick
- 1 tsp black peppercorns
- 1 tsp black caraway seeds (also known as shah jeera)
- 1 tsp cardamom
Place first four spices in a dry pan and toast until a fragrant aroma fills the air. Let cool for a minute. Add the toasted spices with the caraway seeds and the cardamom into the grinder and grind until fine.
*Note- when using garam masala, a little goes a long way. When seasoning meats, no more than ¼ tsp per pound.
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Since you are dry toasting the spices, it’s best to use whole cloves rather than the ground cloves you find around the winter holidays. Along with use in the garam masala and in Indian curries, there are many beneficial uses to the clove buds such as biting and sucking on one when you have a tooth or a stomach ache.
These are not your typical cinnamon sticks found in the craft store. In order to measure out 1 1/2 teaspoons, figure two or three shards of the stick to add to the toasting spice medley. This is where the “spicy flavor” comes from in the masala. Note, there is no chili powder used in this recipe.
These are whole cardamom pods. They may be difficult to find in a western supermarket, which is why I advice an ethnic market or to even try online. These pods are slightly sweet and are used to balance out the cinnamon. Three or four pods should make up a teaspoon. Because of their sweet nature, they are used in various desserts and to spice chai.
Black Caraway Seeds
These are Black Caraway seeds. Also known as Shah Jeera or black rye seeds. They add a fennel or rye flavor to the blend. They add an element of a licorice flavor without being overpowering. Adding some seeds to a pot of Basmati rice elevates the flavor and the scent of the deliciously aromatic rice.
This is a sample of our spice dabba we use at home. As you can see we have in the smaller tins some chili power, ground tumeric, dried whole red chilis, fennel seeds, etc. Each small tin is placed in a larger tin and covered and kept fresh. Dabbas range in size and in how many small tins they provide. Pick one you feel fits your needs and fill about halfway with your favorite “everyday” spices.