Spice Mixes

Great Indian cooking is as simple as getting your spices right.

There are perhaps as many Indian spice mixes — or masalas– as there are cooks, but here’s my modest attempt at putting down recipes for some of the most commonly used masalas in Indian kitchens. Sure, you can buy these all ready to go at an Indian grocery store or Whole Foods or on Amazon, but there is nothing quite like the aroma and freshness of a spice mix you’ve put together yourself to give your recipe that added zip. All you need are the whole spices and a hardy coffee grinder or blender, and you can make your own masala in minutes.

Most of these recipes make enough masala for several servings. Store any extras in air-tight jars in a dark, cool place. Every Indian kitchen has a spice box to hold everyday spices and my cute one comes from GitaDini. This creative Yin-Yang spice box has cute little steel containers to hold the spices, tiny little spoons to scoop them out, and airtight lids to keep the spices fresh.

This is a living list, meaning I will update it when I have a new spice mix that’s good enough to share. And finally, if you have requests for masala recipes, all you have to do is ask!

Garam Masala

Ingredients:

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds
1 tbsp black pepper

2 dried bay leaves

2 red chilies

1 tsp methi or fenugreek seeds

4 cloves

4 cardamom pods

1-inch stick of cinnamon.

Roast all the ingredients lightly in a dry skillet, about 4-5 minutes. The spices will be very aromatic and a couple of shades darker when they’re ready.

Grind together in a coffee grinder and use immediately or store in an airtight container.

Biryani Masala (wet)

Ingredients:

 1 small onion, very thinly sliced, then fried in a fairly hot griddle for about 10-15 minutes, stirring often, until the onion turns brown and crispy. You don’t want to leave the onion unattended too long because onions contain sugar and will burn.

10 prunes (dry plums)

4 bay leaves

4 1-inch cinnamon sticks

10 black cardamom

10 green cardamom

10 black peppercorns

1 tsp aamchoor

1 tsp red chilli powder

1/2 tsp turmeric

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

Place all the ingredients in a blender, add just enough water to make the blades turn, and let it all roll away into a smooth paste. You will need about half of this paste for the biryani recipe and can store the rest of it in an airtight container in the freezer…for a long, long time.

Chana Masala:

Ingredients:

6 tbsp coriander seeds

3 tsp cumin seeds

3 tsp black peppercorns

  • 3 dried bay leaves

3 cloves

6 green cardamom pods
1 ½-inch piece of cinnamon
Place all the ingredients in a spice grinder and process until you have a powder.

TAMIL:

Sambar Powder

Spices for the sambar and rasam powders are typically sun-dried for a couple of days, then ground into a fine powder. I skillet-roast the spices for expediency and it works fine.

Ingredients:

1 cup coriander seeds

1/3  cup black peppercorns

1/3 cup tuvar dal

1/3 cup chana dal (Bengal gram dal)

1 heaping tbsp fenugreek (methi) seeds

1 heaping tbsp mustard seeds

8-10 dry red chillies

2 tbsp turmeric powder

Roast all ingredients, one at a time, on the skillet. You want them to be aromatic and two or three shades darker than they were, but don’t let them burn or darken too much. Since the turmeric is already powdered, toast it very lightly, for only about a minute– if you toast it last, you can even do this in the already-hot skillet with the heat turned off.

Put all the toasted spices including turmeric into a spice grinder or blender and process to a  very fine powder.

Rasam Powder

Ingredients:

1 cup coriander seeds

1/3 cup tuvar dal

1/3 cup black peppercorns

3 tbsp chana dal (Bengal gram dal)

2 tbsp cumin seeds

8-10 dry red chillies

2 tbsp turmeric powder

Toast the spices lightly on a dry skillet one by one until they turn aromatic and are two or three shades darker. Don’t burn them and stir them constantly. Toast the turmeric lightly and add to a spice grinder or blender along with the other spices.

Process everything into a slightly coarse powder.

MAHARASHTRIAN:

Kolhapuri Masala

Ingredients:

8 dry red chillies

1 cup coriander seeds

2 tbsp cumin seeds

8 cloves garlic

1 large onion

12 cloves

12 green cardamom pods

1 tbsp black peppercorns

1 tsp mace

1/4 cup sesame seeds

1 2-inch piece of cinnamon

4 large bay leaves

2 tbsp poppy seeds

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp turmeric

Roast all the ingredients one at a time (except the turmeric), until they are a couple of shades darker and aromatic. Roast the garlic and the onion until dark spots appear, but don’t let them burn.

Remove everything to a dish to cool, and then place in a blender. Blend into a coarse powder. I sometimes add some coconut milk, blend the masala into a paste and then freeze it.

Goda masala
Ingredients:

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp sesame seeds

4 cloves

4 cardamom pods

2 1-inch pieces of cinnamon bark

2 dry bay leaves

10 peppercorns

1/4 cup coconut shreds

Roast the masala ingredients in a dry skillet until lightly brown and fragrant. Fry the coconut last and keep a close eye on it because it can burn in an instant. Cool, powder in a spice grinder, and reserve.

BENGALI

Panch Phoran

Perhaps the simplest of the spice mixes, because there’s no grinding involved. Also easy to remember– you need the five spices in the same proportions. The five spices of Panch Phoran create incredible culinary alchemy when used together, complimenting and mingling with each other perfectly to enhance the main dish.

Ingredients:

 1 tbsp fenugreek seeds

1 tbsp fennel seeds

1 tbsp nigella seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp black mustard seeds

Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar.

RAJASTHANI

Rajasthani Garam Masala

Ingredients:

1 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tsp coriander seeds

1 tsp fennel seeds

1 tsp ajwain seeds (carom seeds)

1 black cardamom pod

Roast the spices on a dry skillet over medium heat, about five minutes or until the spices turn a few shades darker and fragrant.

Grind to a powder in a spice grinder and store in an air-tight container.

PARSI

Dhansak Masala

Ingredients:

1 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

2 red chillies

2 black cardamom pods

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 1-inch stick of cinnamon

4 cloves

1/2 tsp fenugreek seeds

1 tsp mustard seeds

1/4 tsp turmeric

In a dry skillet, over medium heat, roast all the ingredients except the turmeric. When the spices start to exude an aroma, in about 5-7 minutes, and the coriander seeds are a couple of shades darker, turn off the heat.

Add the spices to a coffee grinder with the turmeric. Process into a fine powder.


NON-INDIAN MASALAS:

CARIBBEAN SPICE MIX

Ingredients:

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tbsp cumin seeds

2 tsp black peppercorns

5 cloves

1 tsp turmeric

1 tsp fennel seeds

2 tsp mustard seeds

1 tsp fenugreek seeds

Heat a dry skillet on medium heat. Toast the spices together until a couple of shades darker. Powder in a coffee grinder.

Trinidadian spice mix:

2 tbsp coriander seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

10-15 black peppercorns

1/2 tsp fennel seeds

1/2 tsp of mustard seeds

1/2 tsp fenugreek (methi) seeds

Roast all the spices together in a small, dry skillet until they turn a couple of shades darker. Be vigilant and stay with them– you don’t want them to burn.

Grind into a fine powder in a coffee grinder or spice grinder. Store any unused spice mix in an airtight jar in a dark place.

Comments

  1. Denise says

    This is great!!!…I’ve just ordered me a masala daba which I’m very excited about!!! Garam masala is one I particularly wanted the recipe for so yea!!!! :)

  2. Jully shah says

    Awesome collection of masala recepie ….. :) just wanted to know from where did u get your spice masala box …… It’s very unique …… Thank you for contributing such valuable info for everyone.

  3. mike says

    Made up a batch of your sambar masala and used it in a spinach and potato Dahl using yellow moong dahl. Beautiful dish which everybody really enjoyed. I also used the garam masala from the recipe on manjulas website which is a really tasty spice mix. Thank you kindly
    mike

    • says

      Hi Mike, so happy you made the sambar masala and thanks for letting me know! Moong with potatoes sounds super delicious — I have to give that a try. I love Manjula’s website, and have to check out her garam masala mix.

  4. Shilpa says

    Hi Vaishali

    These spice blends are awesome. Am thinking of following your recipes and do them at home.I would love to know your recommendations on blenders for both dry and wet grinding. I live in the United States

    Thanks a ton
    Shilpa

    • says

      Hi Shilpa, I love my Vitamix because I can grind all of my heavy Indian masalas and even dosa batter in it. The Vitamix is a little pricey, but well worth the investment, in my opinion. Before I got this one, I had a Cuisinart but it died after about four or five years of blending so I wouldn’t really recommend it for the heavy grinding required for Indian dishes.
      The Vitamix I bought from Costco came with a dry-grinding jar which is good to make garam masala, sambar powder, etc. Or to dry-grind smaller quantities you can use a coffee grinder– I use a Braun one which I got for about 20 bucks and it’s pretty good.
      Hope that helps. :)

  5. Rashna says

    Am looking for a Dhansak masala in paste form. What can I add to the dry ingredients to make it into a paste? Thanks a lot. Lovely page!

  6. Laura Fergusson says

    I’m new to the DC area and I am looking for a good spice market to pick up some Indian spices. In particular I need ajwian and urad dal for a Thanksgiving dish. Do you have any reccomendations for me?

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