International cooking for the youthful malcontent.

North Indian Garam Masala

It’s becoming increasingly apparent to me that prepared spice blends are a fairly crucial ingredient in great food. At least in a bunch of these Indian dishes I’ve been working with lately. In view of that, I’ve added a “Spices” category to the site to collect spice blends, curry powders and masalas, etc.

This is a North Indian / Punjabi-style garam masala. “Garam Masala” itself is often sold as a separate spice blend, but the name is not necessarily specific to one blend. Garam masala translates as “warming blend” or “hot mix” or something along that line. Different regions of India, however, employ different blends under the same general name. This particular masala is meant to compliment North Indian dishes: for example, the roasted chicken and lamb curries that are popular in North American Indian restaurants are often North Indian in origin or inspiration. Not everyone would suggest toasting this spice blend, but since we’re just making a small amount, why not? It makes the apartment smell fantastic. Anyway, this is a pretty good place to start.

Ingredients:

  • 1 tbsp whole coriander seeds
  • 1 tsp whole cumin seeds
  • 1 tsp whole cloves
  • 1/2 tsp black peppercorns
  • 1/2 tsp cardamom seeds from black cardamom pods (crack the shells and extract the tiny seeds from inside)
  • 3 3-inch cinnamon sticks
  • 3 bay leaves

What you need: non-stick frying pan, small spoon, mortar and pestle or spice-grinder, bowl and a small, clean and dry glass jar for storage

Directions:

  1. Put the frying pan on a burner turned to medium-low heat (4 on my dial).
  2. Measure all the ingredients into the bowl, then add them all at once to the frying pan. It’s good to measure them into the bowl first because you don’t want to be measuring cumin seeds while your coriander is burning!
  3. Dry-roast the whole spices until they become fragrant and the coriander seeds redden slightly. Other indicators are: the edges of the cloves will become ash-gray, cinnamon sticks will gently darken, cumin seeds become darker brown, and bay leaf will become dark and brittle. You will also see very thin smoke coming off the frying pan, if you hold the pan up to the light. This will take 2-3 minutes at most, but do not overcook the spices. If they become burnt or blackened, the flavour will be ruined. If anything, under-toast them to be safe; once you start smelling a strong, warm, smokey spice smell, pour the whole spices back into the bowl to cool.
  4. Allow the spices to cool for about 15-20 minutes. Stir them about 10 minutes in, otherwise the spices near the bottom will stay warm for a longer time (or, preferably, spread them out on a large plate in a thin layer – they will cool faster this way, but it also makes more dishes to clean). If your spices are still warm when you grind them, it becomes more likely that moisture in the air around the spices will collect and give you a clumpy spice-mix.
  5. Using a mortar and pestle or spice-grinder, grind the spices into as fine a powder as you can.
  6. Spoon the masala into the glass jar and seal tightly.

The spices should remain pungent for about 2 months if sealed properly. Hopefully this rather small amount of spice will be used up within that time frame!

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