Oh the ubiquitous garam masala, used in so so many dishes and yet, so very misunderstood by so many people. I’m about to (possibly) burst your comfortable food bubble here, but there isn’t a single “classic” or “authentic” garam masala, no master recipe that everyone should use, no divine formula handed down by the gods….sorry, but it’s true. So if you’re searching for such a thing, you can stop now and know you have not failed, it just doesn’t exist.
Garam masala can be translated as “warming spice mix” and there are a few rather common ingredients found in most blends (though, again, this all varies wildly by region, cooking style, personal preference, etc) cumin, coriander, cinnamon, cloves, cardamom, pepper, mace and/or nutmeg, bay leaves (turkish and/or tejpat)….you’ll find these in most blends. The constant here is that they are all warming spices, which doesn’t necessarily mean spicy! just that they bring a rich warmth to the flavors and are typically considered to bring warmth to the body as well.
32g | ¼ cup cumin seed
12g | 2 Tbsp + 2 tsp coriander seed
3.2g | 10 green cardamom pods
5g | 1 ½ tsp caraway seed
3.5g | 1 ½ tsp fennel seed
3.5g | 1 tsp aniseed
5.5g | 1 ½ tsp black peppercorns*
5.5g | 1 ½ tsp white peppercorns*
1g | 15 whole cloves
20g | 5 tsp ceylon cinnamon
8g | 2 tsp mace powder
2.5g | 12 whole turkish bay leaves, crumbled
3g | 6 whole tejpat leaves, crumbled
4.5g | 1 ½ tsp allspice berries
2.5g | 3/4 tsp kashmiri chile powder** (optional)
Toast (individually) cumin, coriander, cardamom pods, caraway, cloves, fennel, and anise, in a small pan over low-medium heat, set aside to cool
Once spices are cool, grind everything together into a fine powder
Will store up to 6 months tightly sealed, or a year in the freezer
*for a milder masala you can either toast the peppercorns, reduce the amount, or use all white **for a less spicy masala, you can reduce or eliminate the kashmiri chile powder, or substitute for a mild chile (like unsmoked sweet paprika)
For me, the perfect garam masala shouldn’t have any one flavour in particular dominating, it should become a whole and complete flavor and aroma all it’s own, warm, woodsy, toasty, with a heady perfumed touch that instantly makes you go “mmmmm…. garam masala…..” it has to be well rounded, robust, without any harshness or heaviness, it should be the flavour and scent equivalent of your favorite comfy blanket.
A huge part of achieving this seemingly lofty goal, is the toasting of the spices. Do. Not. Skip. This. I can not express enough how important this step is. I’m going to try and explain the differences we’re bringing about here by doing this. Toasting the cumin removes some the grassy element of the seed, bringing out an earthy, woodsy quality that is vital to the blend, the coriander seed loses some of it’s punchy, bright citrus notes and becomes sweeter and richer, like the difference between lemon juice and lemonade. The cardamom releases it’s high notes, which can sometimes be overpowering and a tad on the perfume-y or medicinal tasting side, the fennel and anise are transformed into a rich, sweet, caramel flavour (they have the most dramatic shifts in flavor/aroma), the cloves lose their harshness and also develop sweeter more caramelesque notes. Lastly, caraway loses it’s sharp bite, allowing more herbaceous and woodsy notes to flow through instead, helping to lighten the blend a little. I don’t toast the cinnamon and allspice here, though you’re welcome to try that out if you’d like, i just don’t feel it’s necessary and i prefer to keep their top notes intact.
When toasting your spices for this, it’s important to take them just to the edge of scorching, so use a low-medium heat and keep them moving around in the pan to make sure they toast evenly. It is better to let your nose be the guide here, rather than your eyes, once you they stop smelling like their fresh selves and develop rich, caramel notes, they’re done. Remove them from the pan straight away when finished and move on to toasting the next spice. This all may seem like a huge bother and very time consuming, but it’s a magical and rewarding way to connect with your food, the transition from raw to toasted is quite incredible to witness and you should not deny yourself the experience.
If you’re a stickler for ultra-fine spice powders, i suggest sifting after grinding, then re-grinding and sifting, repeating until you get the consistency you want OR until there isn’t enough bits left to grind. If you’re concerned about altering the flavour by throwing out bits, just let the blend rest for a few days before sifting, this gives everything a chance to meld and fuse together.
You can use this totally on it’s own or, as is the case with most recipes that call for it, use it as a base for building your flavours. Also, don’t be afraid to adjust things to your own personal taste!!!! While i absolutely love this recipe, it has slowly evolved to this point over 20+ years, your own recipe should do the same, modifying here and there, adding or removing ingredients, whatever fits for you. [be you]