Garam masala is India’s ubiquitous spice blend, the pinch that adds flavor at pretty much any stage during a dish’s evolution, from cooking pot to table. Here’s the blend our February Kitchen Coach, Chef Preeti Mistry of Juhu Beach Club in Oakland, California, uses for her chicken tikka masala and beyond. Note that garam formulas vary by region and according to the cook (Preeti thinks her preference for coriander and cumin gives away her family’s roots in the western Indian state of Gujarat, where the spice blend dhana jeera is king). Let’s get started.

Here’s how to make garam masala:

  • 1. Make sure you start with fresh, good-quality whole spices—read Preeti’s spice-buying tips, and find out Chowhounds’ favorite online sources.

    2. For oven toasting, spread out your spices in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 350 degrees Fahrenheit until fragrant and hot, about 8 minutes. Pay special attention to the chiles—they’ll darken, but don’t let them burn!

  • 3. For toasting on the stovetop rather than in the oven, spread the whole spices into a dry sauté pan large enough to hold them in a single layer. Toast over medium heat until the spices are fragrant and the chiles brittle but not burned, about 5 minutes. Dump into a cool bowl before grinding.

    4. Process the toasted spices in batches in a spice grinder (Preeti uses a coffee grinder she keeps for the purpose). A coffee grinder can easily overheat—chill it in the freezer before grinding so the blades are nice and cool.

  • 5. Grind to as fine a powder as you can and use within three days—nothing loses its pungency like ground spices. Go to the recipe for ingredients and complete instructions.

Photos by Chris Rochelle

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