Indian cooking in the eyes of the Western world has become synonymous with garam (meaning “warm,” as in the internal warmth generated by the body when it imbibes certain spices) masala (“blend”). In India garam masala is known as a blend of warming spices that is prepared in homes all around the northern, eastern, and western regions of the country. Each cook weaves in his or her personal cooking style and regional ingredients, resulting in thousands of signature blends. Punjabis from northern India have made great strides in the culinary world, placing Indian restaurant cooking on the Western map, and have made their garam masala a household name. This version toasts whole spices, and when they are ground, the blend is amazingly complex.
- 1 tablespoon coriander seeds
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
- 1 teaspoon whole cloves
- ½ teaspoon black peppercorns
- ½ teaspoon cardamom seeds from black pods
- 3 cinnamon sticks (each 3 inches long), broken into smaller pieces
- 3 fresh or dried bay leaves
1. Preheat a small skillet over medium-high heat. Add all the spices and the bay leaves, and toast, shaking the skillet every few seconds, until the coriander and cumin turn reddish brown, the cloves, peppercorns, and cardamom turn ash-black, the cinnamon and bay leaves appear brittle and crinkly, and the mixture is highly fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Immediately transfer the nutty-smelling spices to a plate to cool. (The longer they sit in the hot skillet, the more likely it is that they will burn, making them bitter and unpalatable.) Once they are cool to the touch, place them in a spice grinder or coffee grinder, and grind until the texture resembles that of finely ground black pepper. (If you don’t allow the spices to cool, the ground blend will acquire unwanted moisture from the heat, making the final blend slightly “cakey.”) The ground blend will be reddish brown and the aroma will be sweet and complex, very different from that of the pre-toasted and post-toasted whole spices.
3. Store in a tightly sealed container, away from excess light, heat, and humidity, for up to 2 months. (In my opinion, refrigerating the blend adversely affects its flavor.)
Nutritional information is based on 4 servings.