My all-time favorite spice blend: good Indian curry powders can be purchased ready to go, but fragrant homemade garam masala makes anything (even dessert) irresistible and warming. And I love the slightly coarse, rustic texture of this homemade version.

I use a mixture of ground spices and whole spices, which are cheap and plentiful in Indian groceries. Some better-stocked Indian markets may even stock prepackaged whole spices for garam masala, sometimes including whole sticks of cinnamon and both green and black cardamom. These are convenient, but at home you’ll need to sort out the seeds for even toasting (see note).

Working with cardamom pods is easy: with your fingers or the tip of a sharp paring knife, open the cardamom pods and remove the seeds. I usually find it easiest to slice each pod horizontally, break open the pod, and shake out the seeds. Discard the empty pods.

If you don’t care for picking apart cardamom pods, look for cardamom seeds in the spice isle of your Indian grocery.

If you do purchase a package of whole-spice garam masala, empty the bag on a large dinner plate and set aside any large chunky spices (cardamom pods, star anise, bay leaves, cinnamon sticks) from the small seeds (cumin, fennel, coriander, cloves). Toast the fine seeds together, then toast the large spices in individual batches. This will ensure the spices are evenly toasted.

  • 14 green cardamom pods, or 1 teaspoon of cardamom seeds
  • 4 bay leaves
  • 3 tablespoons coriander seeds
  • 2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 2 tablespoons cumin seeds
  • 2 tablespoons whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon black peppercorns
  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1⁄2 teaspoon ground nutmeg

Most garam masala blends feature both small green cardamom and bumpy pods of black cardamom. This recipe uses just green cardamom, but if you prefer, use half green and half black pods, or add up to six pods of black cardamom along with all of the green cardamom.

  1. Remove the seeds from the cardamom pods (see instructions above).
  2.  In a skillet over medium heat, toast the bay leaves for 45 seconds, flipping once and pressing into the pan until fragrant, lightly toasted and brittle. Remove immediately from the pan and crumble into a bowl. Add the cardamom seeds, coriander, fennel, cumin, cloves, and peppercorns and toast for about 2 1⁄2 minutes, stirring occasionally. Remove seeds immediately when fragrant and fennel seeds have darkened slightly.
  3. Grind the bay leaves, toasted spices, and ground cinnamon and nutmeg in a clean coffee grinder as fine as possible. Store in a clean, dry glass jar and cover tightly. Keep in a dark, cool kitchen cabinet and use within 3 months for the best flavor. This makes enough to refill a 1-ounce/30-gram glass spice jar.