The Magical Garam Masala

The concept of ‘Secret Recipes’ may sound like a phrase from a western cooking show or a chain of specialty restaurants, but the origins of it are perhaps in the East. If there is one spice mix that is a closely guarded kitchen recipe, it is the Garam Masala. The legendary spice mix of the Indian and subcontinent kitchens. We Kashmiris call it Zavyul Masala.

Garam Masala is to the sub-continent, what the 5 spice mix is to the oriental cooking. There must be thousands of recipes of this spice and each kitchen boasts of their own variations. If you go across various super markets, you may find dozens of brands selling their variant and calling it the best. Sadly, most of these brands sell you a spice mix that’s mainly Red chillies and Coriander seeds (almost always over 50% of the mix) and the other spices are just enough to leave a little scent on your palate. In short, if you use these Garam Masalas, it may be wise to only use it and not any more chilli powder or coriander powder. And if your dish doesn’t nee chilli or coriander, then I would strongly advice against using these mixes. Key is, always check the ingredients.

Here’s my family’s and my recipe of Garam Masala. It’s rich, flavourful, strong, fragrant and MUST be made by hand and in small quantities. This masala is widely used in the Kashmiri Pandit cuisine and never uses chillisor Coriander seeds.

Use a heavy bottomed pan:

Steps for Garam Masala Version 1

And continue the steps as follows:

Steps for Garam Masala Version 2

Crush the cardamom pods (Green and black), star anise and crush the bay leaves before roasting the spice mix. This helps in reducing the time to roast and help bring out the flavors of these spices.

This mix needs to be slow roasted in the pan for 15- 20 minutes and stirred frequently. It is very important that you don’t rush this process, as the spices like Methi dana (Fenugreek) and Zeera(Cumin) turn incredibly bitter if burnt. The best way to know if the spices are roasted well, is my small test (Again, watched mum do it many times). Pick a Elaichi and if you can crush it to small pieces with your fingers, the spice mix is roasted well. It is imperative not to crush this mix immediately, you must allow it to cool down slightly. Alternately, the above process can be done (in summers) by sun drying these spices for a few hours, that way works incredibly well too.

For best results, I use a Granite Mortar Pestle to crush the spice mix and you need not get a perfect fine grind. This spice mix will be great even if it is course. One could also use the small spice grinders or a mixer, but I always recommend the stone Mortar Pestle for the best results. Store the Garam Masala in an air tight container and use within a week.

Granite Mortal Pestle

I highly recommend to make this spice mix in small quantities (Not more than 5-10 teaspoons) and use it in low or moderate quantities in your dishes. It is an amazing Spice rub for BBQ or Tandoori dishes and can spring a dull meat dish to life. But above all, it is the soul of the traditional Kashmiri dishes that my mom and Grandmas cooked for me. Thank you for being a part of this recipe. I really hope you love it and leave a comment for me.


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