Garam Masala literally means ‘warm spice’. It’s not a hot/chilli spice, but an essential spice mix that’s used for so many Indian dishes. It’s made by grinding together whole spices, but if you only have pre-ground spices then you can definitely blend them together to suit your palate (just won’t have the smokiness of this recipe).
The stuff you buy from the supermarket or Indian grocer is likely to be mostly cumin and coriander powder but a homemade garam masala is rich and earthy. My recipe is a slight divergence from other recipes I’ve seen in that it’s more aromatic and, most importantly, has a smoked flavour. It’s surprisingly easy to make as long as you have a decent grinder – a coffee bore grinder is the best (but then your coffees will taste like garam masala for a while, so not really recommended…or maybe it’ll be awesome – I’m not game enough to try).
The key to a good garam masala is having lots of cardamom, cinnamon and cloves – other flavours you can add or subtract as you like. Here’s my recipe with approximate proportions but adjust it as you need.
30 (Approximately) green cardamoms
4 black cardamoms
4 cms of cinnamon bark
1 tablespoon of cloves
2 teaspoons cumin seed
1 tablespoon of coriander seed
2 star anise stars (pods?)
4 dried bayleaves, crushed
2 teaspoons black peppercorns
A pinch of ground dried ginger (DON’T use fresh ginger – it’ll rot and kill your spice)
A pinch of ground nutmeg (I don’t have a whole dried nutmeg, but use one if you do have it)
Smoking the spices:
If you don’t want a smoked garam masala then skip to the grinding stage 🙂
Start by putting all your whole spices into a heavy set pan and put over a medium heat. Keep your eyes on it – you don’t want it to overcook or the whole thing will go from aromatic to bitter!
Keep stirring your pan and then placing back on the heat – you want everything to warm gently and not have half the stuff burn. In particular, you want the cumin to start to smoke. It should only take about 3-4 minutes before the cumin smokes.
When you start to see smoke take the pan off the heat…
And cover with a lid…if you don’t have a lid then put a plate on top to trap in the smoke. The smoke will permeate all the spices and the alchemy will begin.
Leave the spices to cool whilst covered until you’re ready to start grinding.
Both black and green cardamom have hard, coarse shells.
The shells are not easy to grind so the proper way to deal with this is to break each shell, keep the rich black seeds, and chuck the shells away. But that’s a lot of work with 30 or so cardamoms, so I cheat.
Put all your spices into the grinder, even the cardamoms…
Fire the grinder up to maximum power for a couple of minutes – my Bosco has 1200 watts of blending power, so plenty of grunt for the job. You could do it manually with a mortar and pestle, but that’s far, FAR too much work.
Now add in your dried pre-ground ingredients – I’m adding in ginger…
…and some nutmeg (take a second to appreciate this photo – pouring with a left hand and shooting with about 4kgs of camera gear with my right isn’t easy :P)
Give it one more whizz in the grinder and check your mixture…You can see there’s lots of coarseness to it, which is primarily from the husks and shells
Rather than pick these bits out in advance, I just sieve my mixture. Yes, it’s traditional to make a bloody mess while you’re doing this…
Discard the shells and throw your mix through the blender one more time, if you want to. The texture of mine was ok, so I left it.
Now, rather than a pale, insipid spice mix I have a rich, dark brown garam masala that smells beautiful. The garam masala is at the bottom of this picture and it’s far darker than the cumin (to the left of it) and the coriander (above it), as it draws on the richness from the cinnamon and black cardamoms. It’s flecked with black peppercorns that have been broken open and a warmth that will add richness to your next curry. Give it a go – it’s worth the effort. As cool as a dani looks, if you’re not going to use your ground spices quickly then airtight containers are best to retain the flavours.