Homemade Garam Masala is a game changer. Follow this easy 10-minute Pakistani recipe to create a smoky, heady, aromatic spice mix that will turn you into a culinary superstar!
A few years ago if you had said to me that I should make my garam masala I would have looked at you with the same polite blankness I reserve for when people tell me that I should always simmer the onions for 45 minutes to break them down before adding the chicken in a Chicken ka Salan. I know that's ideal but....time, priorities, etc etc.
Then I finally caved to my youngest aunts strong suggestions and ...
When I smelled the Garam Masala I had just made I was sold. When I added it for the first time to this White Chicken Curry I was in love. When I compared it to it's store-bought counterpart I knew there was no going back.
So let's talk Garam Masala shall we?
What makes Garam Masala "Garam"?
The word Garam literally translates to hot, but this masala mix is devoid of green chilies and red chilies.
Interestingly, "spicy" isn't a taste sense (on our taste buds), instead what we physically feel when we eat is spicy food is heat activated by the capasacin compound in spicy food.
Does that make us a little masochistic? Maybe. But I digress.
The piperine in black pepper has a different taste than the capsaicin in red chilies, but both will trigger similar responses in our taste buds and brain. Therefore, Garam Masala feels literally Garam (Hot).
What goes in Garam Masala?
There are countless iterations of Garam Masala. They tend to have a handful of ingredients in common, but the spice mixes vary wildly by region and tastes/preferences. As they should.
The 5 base ingredients of Garam Masala are
- Whole black peppercorns
- Cinnamon Bark / Cassia
- Cumin Seeds
- Cardamom - Green or Black (sometimes both)
To the above I like to add a little Nutmeg and a little Mace for their beautiful aroma.
Nutmeg has a slightly sweet, slightly nutty quality that gives food and this spice mix an extra later of depth. Mace has a more floral, slightly citrus like quality that is somehow both savoury and inviting.
I use both spices sparingly in this mix because my philosophy for Garam Masala is in line with my philosophy towards cooking: spices are there to enhance and compliment, not mask the flavor of your food.
What other spices can go in Garam Masala?
Many spice mixes will use a variety of additional ingredients like anise seeds, green cardamom, bay leafs, star anise, coriander seeds etc. Zafrani Garam Masala also used ground saffron.
While I absolutely recommend customizing a mix to taste I have shied away from the ingredients above because they alter the flavour of my Pakistani recipes more than I'd like.
I love to add a little garam masala to my Aloo Gosht and for me personally anise seeds, saffron, and the pungent star anise are unwelcome additions.
Where do Spices come from?
It blew me away when, as an adult, I realized that I didn't actually know where most of the spices I use come from. Here is a quick breakdown of the origins of the spices and a quick recap of what they taste like.
How to Make Garam Masala?
Step One: Dry roast all the spices except cumin seeds, mace, and nutmeg and set aside to cool.
Step Two: Dry roast the zeera
Step Three: Let it cool for a few minutes and grind to a fine powder
How do I store my Masala?
All masalas thrive in darker, drier environments. This means they will do well in air tight jars inside cabinets. When I make this Garam Masala mix I store what I anticipate I will use in the next few months in my spice rack and put the rest in a jar in a cabinet to prolong it's flavor and life.
In certain environments storing in cabinets can be tricky, in which case you can store it in the back of the bottom shelf of your fridge, but please stay away from the naturally humid freezer.
Other MUST Makes for the Pakistani Cook
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Garam Masala Recipe - Pakistani 10 Minute Recipe
- 1 pan for dry roasting
- 1 mini grinder or spice/coffee grinder
- 65 g cumin seeds approx ½ cup
- 45 g whole black peppercorns approx ⅓ cup
- 20 g cloves approx ¼ cup
- 15 g black cardamom approx ¼ cup
- 15 g cinnamon bark approx ¼ cup
- 5-7 g nutmeg one piece
- 5-7 g mace 2 strands
- Put a pan on medium high heat and dry roast the peppercorns, cloves, black cardamom, and cinnamon bark until fragrant and toasty. This takes about 2-3 minutes.
- Transfer the whole spices to a plate to cool and add the cumin seeds to the same pan stirring frequently until evenly toasted - another 2 minutes or so. Add to the same plate as the other whole spices and let cool a little.
- Grind to a powder in a small blender, store in an air tight jar, and use as needed in your recipes.
- Toasting the cumin seeds separately ensures that they don't burn. The larger whole spices need a little more time and space to be able to roast.
- Nutmeg and Mace are delicate spices and don't necessarily need to be roasted.