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Grind Your Own Fresh Garam Masala For Zingiest Indian Curries


As a girl on her family’s farm in Punjab, India, Kinder Gill tended the open wood fire beneath a tandoor (or oven), and her mother trained her in how the bread was baked at high heat.

Fast-forward to here and now: Gill and partner Navi Kang  just opened a bright, casual, indoor-outdoor restaurant in Portland on North Williams Avenue’s commercial strip, dotted this summer with construction sites. Open Tandoor’s intrigued customers watch puffy naan and sizzling skewered chicken and lamb kebabs being pulled from its two gas-fired clay tandoors. 

Clove is added to garam masala for channa masala (garbanzo bean curry).

Clove is added to garam masala for channa masala (garbanzo bean curry).

John Rosman/OPB

“My family’s culinary tradition includes making our own spices” says Gill. “I don’t use the same spice blend for everything — each dish has a different combination, usually stronger for meat and milder for vegetables.”

Gill avoids ground spices because “you don’t know what’s in there or how old it is.”

With an ordinary small home-kitchen coffee grinder, you can whir up  your own fresh spices for one of Gill’s family recipes. Note: Unless you want Indian spice-flavored coffee, you might designate one grinder for spices only.

For a garam masala with depth, look for fennel seeds that are green (like the ones on left), not dull or pale.

For a garam masala with depth, look for fennel seeds that are green (like the ones on left), not dull or pale.

John Rosman/OPB

Quality is essential, Gill says.

For the best flavors, she advises looking for fennel seeds that are green, not dull or pale, and coriander seeds varied in shade, light to dark, not all the same color. She shops at local retailers such as India Sweets and Spices or India Supermarket, both in Beaverton; India Imports in Hillsboro; and Sridar India Imports in Southwest Portland.

Open Tandoor Garam Masala

4 generous tablespoons
[Enough for 1 recipe each: garbanzo bean curry and chicken curry]

Prep: 3 minutes | Easy

Note: For consistency, Gill uses a small scale to weigh spices; she finds grams more accurate than ounces.

Ingredients

  • 3 tablespoons/15 grams coriander seeds
  • 1 tablespoon/8 grams cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon/3 grams fennel seeds
  • 1/4 teaspoon/.60 gram ground ginger
  • 1/4 teaspoon/.65 gram ground black pepper*

*Use commercial ground pepper; the flavor of fresh-ground whole peppercorns will be too strong.

Directions

  1. If weighing ingredients instead of using measuring spoons, set the scale to grams. Place a small container on the scale and adjust weight to 0.
  2. Measure or weigh out each ingredient and empty into a small coffee grinder. (If you prefer, measure ingredients into a bowl and then empty contents into the coffee grinder.)
  3. With cover in place, process until all seeds are finely ground, about 30 to 45 seconds.


Cooking with garam masala

Additional spices for the channa masala (garbanzo bean curry) and chicken curry dishes can be added to the garam masala and ground into fully flavored spice blends at this point. Or you can use 2 tablespoons of garam masala in each dish and add the other spices whole while cooking — just be sure to remove them before serving.

For channa masala: Place 2 tablespoons garam masala back in the coffee grinder. Add 2 large or 3 small cloves. Grind until the sound of cloves hitting against the side of the bowl stops, about 15 to 20 seconds.

For chicken curry: Place 2 tablespoons garam masala back in the coffee grinder. Add 2 green cardamom pods and 1 clove. Grind until the sound of whole spices hitting against the side of the bowl stops, about 30 to 40 seconds.

Open Tandoor Channa Masala

(Garbanzo Bean Curry)

About 4 (3/4-cup) servings

Prep: 15 minutes | Cook: 30–35  minutes | Easy | Gluten-free, vegan

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 small yellow onions, chopped
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 6 or 7 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced or grated
  • 1 medium tomato, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground chili pepper, such as cayenne, or chili powder (increase to 1/4 teaspoon if you want it spicier)
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala blend for channa masala
  • 2-1/2 cups water
  • 1 (15-ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped

Directions

  1. Add cumin seeds, vegetable oil, onions, salt, garlic and ginger to a medium saucepan (less stirring needed in a nonstick pan). Cook uncovered over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onions soften and caramelize slightly, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add tomato, turmeric, chili pepper, 1 tablespoon of the garam masala blend for garbanzo curry and 1/2 cup  water. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add garbanzo beans and 2 cups water. Continue cooking, stirring frequently, until curry thickens, about 15 to 20 minutes.
  4. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of the garam masala blend for garbanzo curry and stir until incorporated.

Serve hot (typically over white or brown rice but can be spooned into a bowl on its own) and garnish with the cilantro. Naan on the side is optional. Suggested beverages: Pilsner, riesling or plenty of water.

Refrigerate any leftovers in a tightly sealed container for up to 3 or 4 days.

Open Tandoor Chicken Curry

About 3 to 4 (3/4-cup) servings

Prep: 20 minutes | Cook: 25 minutes | Average  | Gluten-free

Ingredients

  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/4 cup vegetable oil
  • 2 medium yellow onions, chopped
  • 1-1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 8 to 10 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 tablespoon fresh ginger, peeled and minced or grated
  • 1 teaspoon jalapeño pepper, seeds removed, finely chopped (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon ground turmeric
  • 1/8 teaspoon ground chili pepper, such as cayenne, or chili powder (increase to 1/4 teaspoon if you want it spicier)
  • 2 tablespoons garam masala blend for chicken curry 
  • 1-1/2 cups water
  • 1 pound chicken breasts or thighs, cut into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 1 tablespoon fresh cilantro, chopped, or kasoori methi (dried fenugreek leaves, not seeds), crumbled

Directions

  1. Add cumin seeds, vegetable oil, onion, salt, ginger, jalapeño and garlic to a medium saucepan (less stirring needed in a nonstick pan). Cook uncovered over medium heat, stirring frequently, until onions soften and caramelize slightly, about 8 to 10 minutes.
  2. Add turmeric, chili pepper, remaining 1 tablespoon of the garam masala blend for chicken curry and 1/2 cup water. Cook 3 to 5 minutes, stirring frequently.
  3. Add the chicken and 1 cup water. Cook, stirring occasionally, until curry thickens and chicken is completely cooked, all white with no pink in the middle (check with a knife), about 10 minutes.
  4. Add remaining 1 tablespoon of the garam masala blend for chicken curry and stir until incorporated.

Serve hot (typically over white or brown rice, but can be spooned into a bowl on its own) and garnish with the cilantro or fenugreek. Naan on the side is optional. Suggested beverages: Hefeweizen, pinot noir, riesling or plenty of water.

Refrigerate any leftovers in a tightly sealed container for up to 2 days.

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