From the top: cinnamon sticks, star anise, nutmeg, black peppercorns, green cardamon, black cumin. Not pictured: whole cloves
I was making my favorite lamb keema when I used up the last of our garam masala. This is considered a tragedy in our household that must be remedied at once.
This Pakistani-style garam masala comes from 100 Best Balti Curries, and is very different from the cumin- and corriander-based garam masalas commonly sold in the States.
I love the flavor and scent, especially the star anise and nutmeg and cloves. It's easy to make, and there's nothing quite like fresh garam masala that hasn't spent months sitting on a store shelf before making its way to your kitchen.
This recipe uses black cumin seeds, which have an earthy, almost smoky scent to them. Black cumin seeds are Bunium persicum, more commonly known as kala jeera, and have a thin curved shape similar to cumin or caraway seeds. "Black cumin" is often also incorrectly used as a name for Nigella sativa (aka kalonji or "black caraway" or "charnushka"), which is a small black triangular shaped seed similar to onion seeds. They are not the same thing. (But just to make things more confusing, in Bengali kalo jeera means black cumin and refers to the Nigella seed.)
Bunium persicum is harder to find in the States, and you'll more often see Nigella sold as "black cumin". You can get both kala jeera (black cumin) and charnushka (nigella) from Penzeys Spices.
Brown caradamon has a smoky flavor that's quite different than green caradamon. If you don't have black caradamon, substitute green pods. You'll still get a tasty garam masala. In fact, if you don't have black cumin, try the recipe with regular cumin. It'll still be good. Garam Masala is a highly individual thing -- every chef has their own recipe. Use the spices you like, and you really can't go wrong. The basic preparation method is the same: lightly dry-roast the spices then grind to a powder.
A really good garam masala
Makes 2 Tbsp.
1.5 Tbs black peppercorns
3/4 Tbs black cumin seeds (kala jeera)
1.5 tsp whole cloves
4 large brown caradmon pods (substitute some green pods if you don't have brown)
2 inch stick of cinnamon
1/2 a whole nutmeg
2 star anise
Gently roast all spices and grind everything to a fine powder in a coffee or spice grinder. Store in a tightly lidded small jar.
I usually make a double-batch, which will last me a bit. My coffee grinder is small enough that I have to process the spices in batches. It has no trouble with the whole nutmeg. The cinnamon sticks have been the hardest to grind well. I like to break them into smaller pieces before putting them in the grinder. If your coffee grinder does double-duty as both a coffee and a spice grinder, you will need to clean it really well afterward (see below) — unless you want garam masala flavored coffee.
Coffee/spice grinder after grinding the spices for garam masala