If you were to meet any random Indian, discussing curries and kebabs, you will keep hearing references to the ubiquitous "Garam Masala'- that one single blend of spices which sounds oh so mysterious, but is infact so ordinary and everyday ! Then the recipe itself is so varied and yet essentially same, with only a few ingredients here or there. So a billion homes will have a billion variations I think! Or maybe not. Having said that, nearly all homes use it frequently in their everyday cooking without even giving much thought to it, and yet every Indian cook is rather fussy about their choice of Garam Masala. How ironical!
Garam Masala for all it's ordinariness, is not meant to be used liberally in any recipe, be it a Korma or a Kebab or a Biryani or anything else you might be making. If you have used some choice spices, of the finest quality, all you really need is to use just a little. There are again,several ways of using it, sometimes to marinate (rarely) sometimes whole spices without powdering it, sometimes in the beginning of a recipe and sometimes only towards the end, just as your dish is nearly done and is ready to be served. I have over the years, tried many different blends and the one now I tend to favour , is my favourite. I mix and grind my own small batches, and while it doesn't last long, I dont mind because I love the idea of using home ground Garam Masala. I have used store bought ones also, but soon got frustrated when I realized how substandard most of the brands are. Especially when it comes to aroma and I figured this out quite by chance while making Biryanis- whenever I used store bought Garam Masala, the fragrance which is so important in a Biryani would be missing! Soon, I simply stopped buying it altogether.
Before you go to the recipe/method of making your own, remember to keep some tips in mind. A lot of people mix corriander and cumin seeds to their blend, I suggest you either avoid it altogether or just use very little. The bulk of the body ought to be made of fine, expensive spices- like green cardamom, cloves, nutmeg and mace. The commercial ones have a lot of corriander and cumin powders instead of the real stuff, which is probably why the quality is mediocre at it's best. I do use a bit of those two, but mainly for a dark, rich colour. Again, some people dry roast all the spices on a cast iron girdle/pan, believing that the heat makes the oils of the spices more potent. I don't do it. It is really up to you. I like the raw, strong flavor and smell of unroasted spices, I feel it lasts longer too that way. Don't skip on the spices which might be expensive in general, they do add a certain 'grandness' to this grand dame of all spice blends! LOLLLL. For example, use Shahjeera, instead of the usual white cumin... and finally, make a small batch. Don't make a large one because you want to retain the freshness and potency till the end. My recipe here has approximate measures. I eye ball everything and with years of practise, don't need an exact measure...so even if you dont strictly follow my measurements don't sweat please.
Here is what you will need:
1 tbsp heaped, green cardamoms- I generally remove the skin, but you can leave it on too.
4 big black cardamoms, with skin
20 -25 cloves
20-30 black pepper corns
4' inch cinnamon stick
About 1/4 tsp of crushed nutmeg
About 10-15 blades of mace
*1tsp heaped- Shajeera (black cumin) and corriander seeds.(optional)
* I use Nutmeg and Mace for the convenience they provide- esp when I am making rice Pulaos and Biryanis- these dishes need nutmeg and mace, so instead of using them separately as most people do, I just prefer mixing them together with the rest of the spices.
Grind to a fine powder in a coffee grinder/mixer. You will get about 3 tbsps of fine blend. Store in a clean, airtight container. I had to share this with you all urgently because my next few posts will call for garam masala quite frequently, best to get the basics out of the way!