Mama’s Punjabi Recipes: Seven Spices Garam Masala


By popular demand from many readers, below is a reprint of Mama’s Garam Masala recipe. Its mama’s own recipe, and seeing how expensive garam masala is in the stores, it may well be the best way to go!

Garam masala (literally “hot mixture”) is a blend of ground spices which are common in India, Pakistan and South Asia. The word “garam” is used in the Aryuvedic sense to mean “heat the body” or elevate the body temperature because its origin lies in agni or the digestive fire. It is an essential ingredient in all Indian dishes and adds aroma to the food, especially if it is freshly made.

The composition of garam masala varies with the region and the recipes in which it is used. In North India, the spices are blended in a powder, but in other parts of India, they can be ground with water, vinegar, coconut milk or other liquids to make into a paste. Some South Indian recipes use nuts, onions or garlic and others may use hing (asafoetida), chili, dagadphool or kalpasi (stone flower) which releases a strong woody aroma and flavor; and kababchini (cubeb) which smells a lot like cloves. When toasted, the masala releases its flavor and aroma.
Each of the ingredients have their own influences on the body, but as a whole, garam masala has at least 9 benefits, according to Aryuvedic medicinal claims. It fights disease and builds immunity; is an effective pain killer; slows-down the aging process; promotes weight loss; increases the ability to absorb vitamins, minerals, and proteins; relieves gas, heart burn, and soothes an upset stomach; lowers blood-sugar levels and educes bloating and aids in detoxification.

This recipe is for the Punjabi style of garam masala that I grew up with in my ancestral homes in Lyallpur and Jhung.

You will find many variations of it in the bazaars in Delhi, and of course many ready-made ones sold in grocery stores.

The important point to remember is that it sprinkled on top of the prepared dish and not into it while cooking.

When making garam masala, do not add too many cloves as it will they will color the dish and make the food appear black. If you do not want the too much aroma, you can avoid using jaiphal (nutmeg). Also, you can go easy on the jeera (cumin) if you like. This is my own tried and true recipe and once you use it, you’ll discover you can save a lot of money over retail garam masalas.

150gm kali mirch (black pepper)
150gm jira (cumin seeds)
50gm motti illachi danna (large black cardamom seeds)
50gm dal chini (cinnamon)
50gm saunth (ginger powder)
20gm jaiphal (nutmeg)
20gm loung (cloves)

1. Remove the seeds from the cardamom and place in a bowl. Break the cinnamon sticks into small pieces and set aside.
2. Combine the ingredients and crush them into a fine powder in a mixee or blender.
3. Pour the powder into a tight fitting glass jar to keep out humidity and keep in the aroma.
4. Use a small amount per dish, but always add it at the end by sprinkling it on top, especially on dals (lentils) and other curries.



Indian food is all about the flavor and the spices that give them their unique taste and aroma. Most spices are ready to use from the grocery store, like haldi (turmeric) and lal mirch (red pepper), but others can be made on the spot, like seeds plucked from illachi (cardamom) or freshly cut adrak (ginger) to add flavor to tea.
Garam masala also falls into the category of spices that can be made on the spot to add the last bit of flavor and aroma. Some renowned chefs crush the ingredients by hand right at the end to ensure that the spices bring more allure to their dishes. Though that is going too far for most daily use, it is a good idea to make garam masala in small quantities that can be replenished frequently so that it stays fresh.







Shakuntla Malhotra is a skilled cook of Punjabi dishes made in the old-fashioned style that she learnt as a young woman in her ancestral home in Lyallpur (since renamed Faisalabad), India before it became part of Pakistan after the Partition in 1947. People have often admired her cooking for its simplicity and taste that comes with each mouthful. Even in her mid-eighties, she continues to cook daily and agreed to share some of her delectable Punjabi recipes.