Garam Masala

Garam masala can be purchased in Indian markets and in the gourmet section of some supermarkets. It’s also easily prepared at home, but should be made in small batches to retain its freshness. As with all spices, it should be stored in a cool, dry place for no more than 6 months. Garam masala is usually either added to a dish toward the end of cooking or sprinkled over the surface just before serving.

[gah-RAHM mah-SAH-lah] Garam is the Indian word for “warm” or “hot,” and this blend of dry-roasted, ground spices from the colder climes of northern India adds a sense of “warmth” to both palate and spirit. There are as many variations of garam masala (which may contain up to 12 spices) as there are Indian cooks. It can include BLACK PEPPER, CINNAMON, CLOVES, CORIANDER, CUMIN, CARDAMOM, DRIED CHILES, FENNEL, MACE, NUTMEG and other spices.

Several years ago I had the opportunity to frequent  a small “mom & pop” shop for my garam masala.  There was, literally, a mom and a pop at the shop, both from India. They sold groceries imported from India as well as hard-to-find Indian produce which was shipped in from a farm in South Florida.

It was a tiny store with a tiny kitchen against the outside wall, and no matter when I stopped by, there was always some wonderfully smelling mixture simmering. The “Pop” was a grumpy old man dressed like a character in a Bollywood movie, and the “Mom” wore a colorful sari, and a sweet smile. She was friendly, helpfully warm, as well as full of advice.

Together we picked out a bit of this and a bit of that for my garam masala which I carried home along with her advice  to ALWAYS toast the spices, cool them slightly and then ground them – of course, with a mortar and pestle.  Well, a spice grounder worked just as well, I thought, so I didn’t follow that bit of advice, but ever since I have made my own spice mixtures following her advice of toasting some of the ingredients right before grinding them.  I don’t use the same recipe every time for my garam masala. I have 4 versions which I have included. Some require a grinder and some do not.



  1. 1 tablespoons coriander seeds
  2. 2 teaspoons cumin seeds
  3. 1 tablespoons. green or white cardamom pods
  4. 1 (3 inch) cinnamon stick, crushed
  5. ¼ teaspoon whole black peppercorns
  1. Toast coriander and cumin seeds in a dry, heavy small skillet over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until fragrant – about 2/3 minutes.
  2. Once the coriander and cumin seeds are cool, finely grind them along with the remaining spices in an electric coffee/spice grinder or with a mortar and pestle.

Version # 2

  1. 1 tablespoon. green or white cardamom pods
  2. 1 (2 inch) cinnamon stick, broken in pieces
  3. 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  4. 1 teaspoon whole cloves
  5. ¾ teaspoon black peppercorns
  6. ¼ whole nutmeg

Version #3

  1. 2 teaspoons chili powder
  2. 1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  3. 1 teaspoon ground turmeric
  4. 1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  5. 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  6. 3/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  7. 1/2 teaspoon cayenne
  8. 1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom
  9. 1/8 teaspoon ground cloves

Version # 4

  1. 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
  2. 3/4 teaspoon ground coriander
  3. 1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
  4. 1/2 teaspoon ground cardamom
  5. 1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
  6. 1/4 teaspoon ground cinnamon

Curry powder

Widely used in Indian cooking, authentic Indian curry powder is freshly ground each day and can vary dramatically depending on the region and the cook. Curry powder is actually a pulverized blend of up to 20 spices, herbs and seeds. Among those most commonly used are cardamom, chiles, cinnamon, cloves coriander, cumin, fennel seed, fenugreek, mace, nutmeg, red and black pepper, poppy and sesame seeds, saffron, tamarind and turmeric (the latter is what gives curried dishes their characteristic yellow color). Commercial curry powder (which bears little resemblance to the freshly ground blends of southern India) comes in two basic styles — standard, and the hotter of the two, “Madras.” Since curry powder quickly loses its pungency, it should be stored, airtight, no longer than 2 months.

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