Homemade Garam Masala Takes Tikka Masala To The Next Level

It's become increasingly common to make Indian food at home, adding to our repertoires of go-to recipes. From curries to butter chicken, tandoori cooking, and chapati or naan breads, they all bring a welcome flavor boost to everyday meals and palates. And then there's tikka masala, one of the most recognizable and popular Indian dishes in the United States for at least one good reason: its intriguing garam masala spices.  

Garam masala consists of an aromatic, highly flavorful blend of seven or eight dried spices. Others can be added per preference, though that typically only happens when notching up heat levels for an extra flavor kick. The magic of a basic garam masala blend is that it transforms any dish, Indian or otherwise, with a mesmerizing mix of gentle and spicy elements that enhance the dish rather than overpower it. 

Those eight earthy players in a heavenly homemade garam masala are ordinary dried spices available from local supermarkets or specialty stores. They include star anise pods, cumin seeds, cardamom seeds, whole black peppercorns, whole cloves, and ground versions of cinnamon, coriander, and nutmeg. Depending on where you live, it's possible to find bottles of premixed garam masala, but making your own with Tasting Table's homemade garam masala recipe has some distinct advantages.

Creating the spice blend

The very name of garam masala reveals its simplicity, with the words garam and masala meaning "hot" and "spices" respectively. It's important to note that, in this context, the term "hot" refers more to warmth than a fiery flavor blaze on your tongue. Creating your own blend at home accomplishes a few crucial things: It allows control over the exact flavor combination, lets you coax out extra flavor by toasting the spices, and takes dishes like chicken, shrimp, or paneer tikka masala to the next level of fresh deliciousness. And, it's surprisingly easy to make using the eight core spices.  

The individual spices each reach their full flavor potential with some extra attention, specifically dry-toasting the whole spices, seeds, and pods. Just place the cumin seeds, star anise pods, cardamom seeds, black peppercorns, and cloves in a stovetop pan, heat to medium-high, and toast them for up to three minutes. Then, pop them into a food processor or spice grinder along with the pre-ground spices, and let-er-rip. Once it becomes a fine powder, you miraculously have a homemade garam masala.

You have the option of cranking up the heat level using dried chili peppers or cayenne powder or even smokey paprika for a shrimp tikka masala recipe. However, a good practice is to make the basic garam masala mix and then gradually add zingier spices at the end — or even keep them separate and sprinkle them in for specific dishes.