Garam Masala Recipe
Here’s an aromatic, flavor-packed Garam Masala recipe made in the authentic Indian & Pakistani way. This recipe makes a balanced blend that’ll enhance your favorite dishes without overpowering them.
Garam Masala Recipe
The word garam means ‘warm or hot’ and masala translates to ‘spices or blend’. As the name suggests, Garam Masala is a warming spice blend made by toasting and grinding whole spices.
I’m quite fluid when it comes to homemade Garam Masala.
I’m not sure there’s any magic ratio of spices. I have no secret family recipe and I probably won’t ever make it in a ‘fixed way’. But, I’ve made garam masala many times with many different recipes and here are a few things I’ve learned:
The 5 Essential Spices in Every Garam Masala Recipe
I analyzed over 10 Indian cookbooks to see what the most common spices are for garam masala. Almost every garam masala recipe had these 5 essential spices:
- Black peppercorns
- Cumin seeds (or sometimes black cumin seeds)
- Cinnamon sticks
- Black cardamom pods (If they don’t have black cardamom, they’ll always have green)
- Whole cloves
After these, you’ll often see green cardamom pods (even if black cardamom pods are used), coriander seeds, bay leaves, and mace. Less common are fennel, star anise, and nutmeg. And even fewer recipes use ground ginger, poppy seeds, and dried chilis.
Interesting fact: The essential 5 also happen to be the main spices used in Punjabi garam masala.
This may be a helpful way to think of Garam Masala:
Each spice has a knob that you can dial up or down to change the intensity of that particular spice. There is no right or wrong, it’s just what you prefer.
Garam Masala Ingredients
Here are the whole spices you’ll need for this recipe. It’s perfectly okay if you don’t have all of these spices. Use what you have and you’ll find the freshness alone makes it better than any store-bought blend.
- Black peppercorns: An essential for garam masala, black pepper lends it warmth and sharpness.
- Black cardamom pods: Another essential. These are larger and stronger than green cardamom pods. Unlike green cardamom pods, they’re always used whole. If you break them open, you’ll find seeds similar to green cardamom pods. Substitute: If you don’t have black cardamom, increase the amount of green cardamom.
- Cumin seeds: Some blends use black cumin seeds (shah zeera or kaala zeera), which are more robust and pungent compared to regular cumin seeds. If you’d like to use them, replace the cumin seeds with 1/2 of the quantity (or 1 tbsp) of black cumin seeds.
- Cinnamon sticks: A garam masala essential. I typically use ceylon, but here we’ve used cassia. Break up the cinnamon sticks to help them toast evenly and make them easier to grind in the spice grinder.
- Cloves: Another absolutely essential sweet and savory spice that adds texture and depth to the blend.
- Green cardamom pods: When using green cardamom pods, discard the pod and use the seeds.
- Coriander seeds: Though too much clutters the aromatic spices, using coriander ‘tones down’ the garam masala and makes it more versatile.
- Fennel seeds: I debated if I should make this an optional ingredient. Fennel is not one of the essentials but it adds a subtle, sweet aroma. (Also used in: Nihari)
- Star anise: Star anise imparts a beautiful, sweet fragrance without actually sweetening the blend. (Also used in: Biryani)
- Bay leaves: I can’t pinpoint any strong flavor of the bay leaves. Like several of the non-essential spices, it simply adds complexity to the final blend.
- Mace blade (optional – not pictured): If you use it, a small blade of the whole flower-like mace piece will be enough. You can also use a pinch of pre-ground mace and add it along with the nutmeg. (Also used in: Korma)
- Nutmeg (optional): Grate nutmeg like you would zest a lemon. You can also use a pinch of pre-ground nutmeg powder.
How to make Garam Masala Powder
Here’s how to make homemade garam masala in 3 easy steps:
- Step 1: First, toast the whole seeds. Most of them will turn deeper in color and become highly aromatic. Be careful not to toast too much as it can create bitterness.
- Step 2: Remove from heat and allow the spices to cool. Blending them when they’re still warm can create moisture in the powder. If you’re using nutmeg, grate some in now.
- Step 3: Grind into a fine powder, shaking the spice grinder as needed to evenly distribute the powder. Store in an airtight spice jar for up to 3 months.
If you’re familiar with Indian & Pakistani cuisine, you know that curry powder is not a traditional blend. Curry powder is used in larger quantities (1-2 tbsp) within recipes in the earlier stages of cooking them. On the other hand, garam masala is often used in small amounts (1/4-1/2 tsp) once a main dish is cooked.
Some garam masalas, especially those made from ‘sweet’ spices that are often used in dessert (cardamom, nutmeg, cinnamon, and cloves) can be left untoasted. However, this recipe requires toasting. If you’d rather not toast it, use it earlier in the cooking process so the spices aren’t left raw.
No. Garam masala is warming, but not spicy or hot. If you’d like to make it spicier, you can add whole dried red chilies to the blend.
Garam Masala Uses
This recipe can be used in any recipe (mine or otherwise) that calls for garam masala. Depending on the recipe, you may have to adjust the amount it calls for.
When to add
Because the spices are already toasted/cooked, you can add garam masala once you’ve finished cooking.
Tip: An indication that a curry has finished cooking is when you can see the oil resurfacing and separating from the masala of the curry. That’s when you’ll turn the heat off and add Garam Masala as a finishing touch along with cilantro, lemon, or other garnishes.
That said, many recipes (such as my Seekh Kebab) call for it earlier in the dish and it can even be used as a marinade.
How much to add
Less is more when adding garam masala. Because it is typically fragrant, it’s better to start with a smaller amount (1/4 tsp) and increase as needed (up to 1/2 tsp). I wouldn’t use more than 3/4 tsp of this blend in any curry as it’ll start to overpower the flavor.
Recipes that use Garam Masala
If you love making your own spice blends, try my easy, 5-ingredient Chaat Masala recipe!
If you get a chance to try this recipe, I’d love to hear from you! Simply leave a comment below and share your thoughts. If you’re on Instagram, please tag me so I can see your creations. Thank you!
Garam Masala Recipe
- 2 tbsp (8 g) coriander seeds, (sookha dhaniya)
- 2 tbsp (16 g) cumin seeds, (zeera)
- 1 tbsp (8 g) black peppercorns, (kaali mirch)
- 1 tsp (2 g) cloves, (loung)
- 1 tsp (~2-3 g) fennel seeds, (saunf)
- 2 black cardamom pods, (bari elaichi)
- 2 (2 g) star anise, (badiyan ka phool)
- 2 3-inch dried bay leaves , (tez patta) – broken up into a couple pieces
- 1-2 3-inch (8 g) cinnamon sticks (preferably ceylon but cassia will work fine), (darchini) – broken up into pieces (I use a mortar & pestle)
- 1/2 tsp (1 g) green cardamom seeds, (from 8-10 green cardamom pods)
- 1 1-inch mace blade (optional), (javitri)
- 1 pinch of freshly grated nutmeg (optional), (jaiphul)
- Spice Grinder, Coffee Grinder, or Small Blender
- Heat a medium skillet over low-medium or medium heat. Add all the spices except nutmeg (if using) and toast, stirring and shaking the skillet often, for 3-4 minutes. Most spices will deepen in color and become highly aromatic. The bay leaves and cinnamon will start to look dry and brittle.
- Remove from heat. If using nutmeg, use a grater to grate a generous pinch into the toasted whole spices. Allow to cool.
- Once cooled, transfer the spices to a spice grinder. Grind to a fine powder, stopping the grinder to help evenly distribute the spices. Transfer the powder to an airtight container and store for up to 3 months.