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.
Spices have been used in India for centuries, not just because of the amazing flavor they impart to recipes, but also because they are extremely beneficial to health. An Indian cook’s spice box is as valuable — perhaps more — than a medicine cabinet filled with capsules and tablets. Finger bleeding? Press some turmeric on it and it will heal in no time. Even better, it will minimize the scar. Got a cold? Stir a few warming spices like ginger, cinnamon, black pepper, turmeric and cardamom into some milk and you will be singing in no time. In fact, in recent years, study after study has hailed the healing power of spices, and their amazing natural preservative properties:
-Cinnamon is known as a potent warrior against heart disease and diabetes.
-Ginger not only soothes your digestive system, it can aid in memory.
-Nutmeg is an anti-inflammatory that can fight cancer.
-Chili powder– that vibrant red spice that adds the famous heat to Indian cooking — revs up your metabolism and can lower blood pressure.
-Turmeric, the spice to beat all spices, is an anti-inflammatory, fights cancer, reduces arthritis symptoms, improves the body’s anti-oxidant capacity, can help with Alzheimer’s and depression, and can fight heart disease., among other things.
So what’s stopping you? Go on, add some of the goodness of spices to your kitchen and your cooking. All of the recipes below are individually printable (look for the tiny “print” button under the photo in each recipe), and most make enough masala for several servings. Store any extras in air-tight jars in a dark, cool place.
Over the years, I’ve expanded this list to also include recipes from regions and countries around the world that use their own spice mixes. So you’ll also find here recipes for Thai curry pastes — green, yellow, and red — Harissa and Ras el Hanout from Morocco, Berbere from Ethiopia, and so on.
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!
My special recipe for the most common spice mix used in Indian cuisine, garam masala
- 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.
This Biryani Masala Paste is a great, aromatic spice mix to use in biryani and other rice dishes.
- 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.
A spice mix for popular restaurant recipes like Chana Masala and Rajma.
- Place all the ingredients in a spice grinder and process until you have a powder.
A mix of lentils and spices used to make the south Indian dal, Sambar, or Kuzhambu.
- 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.
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.
A spice mix used to make the aromatic south Indian dal or soup, Rasam.
- 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.
A spice mix made with lavangi chilies from Kolhapur, in India.
- 8 dry red chillies, use Kolhapuri lavangi chilies if you can find them, or replace with any other hot red chili
- 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, which translates to "sweet masala" is a milder version of garam masala used in the kitchens of Maharashtra. It includes coconut, which tamps down the spice a little.
- 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.
- Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight jar.
- 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.
This powdered spice mix is used to make dhansak, an aromatic dal dish that hails from India's Parsi community.
- 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.
This spice mix is perfect to sprinkle into curries and vegetable sides for a striking, Caribbean flavor.
- Heat a dry skillet on medium heat. Toast the spices together until a couple of shades darker. Powder in a coffee grinder.
A spicy mix for curries, stews and rubs.
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.
A vegan Thai red curry paste without fish sauce, but just as tasty.
- ½ onion, diced
- 3 red chillies
- 1-inch piece of galangal, sliced thinly (use ginger as a substitute)
- 1 stalk of lemongrass. Trim off the top and the hard outer leaves and slice finely
- 1 tbsp lime juice + zest of one lime
- 1 tbsp Thai hot sauce, like Sriracha
- 1 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tbsp ground coriander
- 1 tsp ground black or white pepper
- 2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
- 1 tsp sugar
- Up to ¼ cup of canola or other flavorless vegetable oil
Put all the ingredients in the grinder but add just enough oil to keep the blades moving. Add the rest of the oil if needed, to make a fairly smooth paste.
Use this spice paste for aromatic vegan Thai green curries.
- 1 tbsp tamari soy sauce
- 3 stalks of lemon grass. Discard the tough outer leaves and use the lower part of the stalks. Chop.
- 1-inch piece of galangal, grated (can substitute with ginger)
- Zest of one lime
- 4-5 hot green chillies, chopped
- 1 medium onion, chopped
- 6-8 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1/4 cup cilantro, chopped
- 20-25 peppercorns, powdered
- 1 tsp coriander seeds, powdered
- 5-6 cloves, powdered
- 1 tbsp canola or other vegetable oil
Grind all the ingredients in a blender or food processor. If needed, add some more oil. Put in a jar with a tight-fitting lid and store in refrigerator or in the freezer, if you intend to hold on to it for a while.
A vegan Thai yellow curry paste without fish sauce
- 2 hot red chilies, like Thai bird's eye chilies
- 2 stalks lemongrass (use juice of 2 limes and their zest as a substitute)
- 1 tbsp turmeric powder
- 2 shallots
- 1-inch piece of galangal (use ginger if you can't find this)
- 1 small plum tomato
- 6 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1-inch piece of cinnamon
- 2 tbsp tamari or soy sauce
- 2 tbsp brown sugar
- ½ to 1 cup of coconut milk
Place all ingredients and ½ cup of the coconut milk in a blender bowl. Blitz into a smooth paste, adding more coconut milk if needed to keep the blades moving.
Store in an airtight container in the freezer.
A recipe for vegan Harissa paste from Morocco
- 15 red chilies, soaked for about 2 hours and then drained
- 8 cloves garlic, minced
- ¼ cup extra virgin olive oil
- Salt to taste
- 1 tsp cumin seeds + 1 tsp coriander seeds, lightly toasted, then powdered in a spice grinder.
Make the paste by putting all of the Harissa ingredients in a food processor and process until fairly smooth. You can freeze the remaining paste in an air-tight jar.
Berbere is a vibrantly red Ethiopian spice mix used to make recipes like Doro Wat.
- ¼ cup of dry , red chillies
- 1 tbsp paprika
- 1- inch stick cinnamon
- 1 tsp ground ginger powder
- ½ tsp coriander seeds
- 3 cloves
- 2 berries of allspice
- 1 tsp grated nutmeg
- Process to a fine powder in a blender and store in an air-tight jar.
Balti Sauce is a spice paste used in Britain, that originated in the country's Pakistani community. It works great as a base for "meaty" vegetables and curries.
- 1 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 1 tsp mustard seeds
- 1 tsp fennel seeds
- ¼ tsp fenugreek seeds
- 4 green cardamom pods
- 4 cloves
- 2 small bay leaves
- 3 dry red chilies
- ½ tsp turmeric
- 3 tsp curry powder
- 1 tsp garlic powder
- 1 tsp ginger powder
- 1 tsp onion powder
- 1 medium tomato , diced
- 2 tbsp vinegar
- 1 tbsp vegetable oil
- Heat a skillet. Dry-roast the bay leaves, coriander, cumin, fennel, mustard, cardamom, cloves, bay leaves and chilies until they are slightly darker and fragrant, about three to four minutes.
- Turn off the heat, remove the ingredients to a blender, and to the hot skillet add the turmeric, curry powder, onion powder, garlic powder and ginger powder. Stir a bit to roast in the hot skillet without turning on the heat. Add to the blender.
- Add the vinegar, tomato and oil to the blender. Blend into a very smooth paste.
- In a pan, roast all of the dry-roast ingredients until fragrant and the coriander is a couple of shades deeper. Set aside to cool for a few minutes, then grind into a fine powder in a coffee or spice grinder.
- 1 medium red onion , chopped
- 8 cloves of garlic , crushed and roughly chopped
- 1- inch knob of ginger , peeled and chopped
- 2 medium tomatoes , chopped
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 tsp cumin seeds
- 2 tbsp kasoori methi (dry fenugreek leaves)
- 2 bay leaves
- 1 tsp sugar
- 6 green cardamom pods
- 8 cloves
- 1- inch stick of cinnamon , broken into pieces
- 1 tsp coconut or any vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup cashews , soaked for 30 minutes
- Heat the oil in a nonstick pan. Add the cardamom, cloves, cinnamon and bay leaves. Stir until he cardamom begins to turn lightly golden, about two minutes.
- Add the cumin and coriander seeds and stir-fry for a few more minutes until the coriander starts to darken slightly.
- Add the onions, ginger, garlic, a pinch of salt, and sugar. Stir-fry over medium heat until the onions start to turn brown.
- Add the kasoori methi, tomato paste and tomatoes and mix well. Add 1/4 cup of water, cover, and let the mixture cook about 15 minutes or until the tomatoes are really mushy and most of the water has evaporated.
- Let the mixture cool, then transfer to a blender along with the soaked cashews.
- Blend into a smooth paste, adding a little water, a tablespoon at a time, if necessary to keep the blades moving.
- Scrape into an airtight jar and store in the refrigerator if you plan to use within a week, or in the freezer if you want to keep it for longer. Thaw out before using.
- Next, stay tuned for a curry using this tikka masala curry paste.
A fragrant Moroccan spice mix with all spice, coriander, cumin, paprika, and more. Use it in tagines and stews.
Place all the ingredients in a spice grinder and grind into a coarse powder. Preserve in an air-tight jar at room temperature.