Tag Archives: Spices

Indian Food Basics: Homemade Garam Masala

Hello Readers!  It’s been quite some time since my last post–too long, actually. Since returning from India I’ve found myself incredibly swamped.  Between unpacking from our trip and entertaining for the holidays, I simply haven’t had the time to sit down and blog.  I also haven’t had time to moderate comments/emails, so please bear with me.  I’m getting there!

Tonight I am going to show you how to make my version of Garam Masala–arguably India’s most popular spice mix.

If you’ve never heard of garam masala before, no worries! Many people I’ve met have no idea what it is or what it’s used for.  Instead, they think that all Indian curries are made with a singular, yellow spice called “Curry Powder.”  Interestingly enough, this mysterious “Curry Powder” doesn’t actually exist in most Indian kitchens.

In it’s place is the extremely fragrant and warm spice mix known as garam masala.

garam masala, indian spice mix, easy garam masala recipe

The name garam masala literally means “hot spice mixture,” but don’t be confused.  The “hot” refers to the intensity and warmth of the spices and not it’s chili content–so even those with the most sensitive of taste-buds can enjoy dishes made with this spice mixture (eh hmmm…mom!).   Continue reading


Spice Spotlight: Cumin (Jeera)

I use a lot of spices here on My Fancy Pantry, so I reckon it’s about time I talk a little about them.  I decided to feature different spices in a new series called “Spice Spotlight.”  I hope you enjoy!

Today, I want to introduce you to cumin!

You see those tiny little seeds?  They don’t really look all that special; In fact, they look a lot like caraway seeds.

But trust me.  These little cumin seeds (known as Jeera in India) are quite extraordinary!

Flavor and Benefits:

The flavor that cumin seeds add to a dish is so unique, I’d even go so far as to say that it’s irreplaceable!

Cumin has a slightly nutty flavor with a mild citrus undertone.  It can also be described as somewhat “spicy” or “peppery,” which makes it fantastic for adding to curries, fajitas, soups and stews.  Cumin’s peppery taste is due to a certain chemical it contains which is similar to capsaicin–the active component in chili peppers.

Interesting.  I guess that explains why my mom thinks everything I make is spicy–even when I add no chili.   I thought it was all in her head…

Although cumin is primarily used as a flavor enhancer, it also has some added health benefits.  Cumin is an excellent source of iron, offers relief from acidity, and is even thought to aid in digestion.


Cumin is used both as whole seeds and as a ground powder.

Sometimes a recipe might even call for cumin seeds to be added first, and cumin powder to be added later; so I always have both forms on hand.

It is a popular ingredient in Indian, Mexican, Latin-American and Middle Eastern cuisine, and is often used to flavor meat or bean dishes (I’m guessing this has something to do with it’s digestive properties?!…).

To get the most flavor out of your cumin seeds, I always recommend giving them a quick toast in a dry skillet; or letting them cook in oil before the dish is finished.  Not only will this help prevent tummy-aches, but both the aroma and the flavor will also be drawn out of the spice–making your food taste better!

How to toast cumin seeds:

  • Place the raw seeds in an ungreased skillet (I prefer cast iron).  Turn the flame to medium-high and heat until the seeds become fragrant and start to change their color.
  • Keep moving the seeds around, so they toast evenly.
  • Remove from heat at this point, and use in your recipe (or store in a jar).

Purchasing and Storing:

I purchase my cumin seeds whole from a local Indian market.  They’re sold in different sized bags and they’re quite inexpensive.  

If there isn’t an Indian market or other ethnic market nearby, purchase them online or at a c0-op.  You’ll get a much better deal (and probably fresher spices) than buying from your local supermarket.  

Once I get the seeds home, I put some of the whole cumin seeds into a glass mason jar and store them in the cupboard, as is.  They can last a long time there–indefinitely, maybe?

I also take about 1/2 cup of the seeds and toast them in a dry pan (see directions above).  Once they’re warm, lightly browned and incredibly fragrant, I place them in a coffee grinder–which is never used for coffee–and grind them to a fine powder.

Once the seeds are ground, I put the powder into a glass mason jar and it joins my other spices in the cupboard.

Freshly ground cumin will retain it’s flavor for at least 6 months–but if you’re anything like me, it’ll never last that long!

I hope you all learned a little something about this fabulous spice!  I’m definitely not an expert, so if you notice I got anything wrong, please let me know.

I’d also love to hear how you use cumin in your home?  What is your favorite dish using this spice?  

Indian-Style Tea –and a Nathmulls Darjeeling Tea Giveaway!

I remember the first time I had a sip of tea. I was about 7 years old and in second grade. My best friend at the time, Anita, was spending the night and we decided to have a tea party. We raided my mom’s cupboards and found some old (antique) cups and saucers. We also managed to find a few tea bags. I didn’t know how to make tea– my parents never drank it– but we figured it couldn’t be that hard.

Anita turned on the faucet and filled the cups with hot water while I cut open the tea bags. We dumped the tea-dust into the cups of water and put them in the microwave for 5 minutes. While the tea was heating, Anita and I made a couple sandwiches–peanut butter and jelly; I believe. I remember being so excited to sit down, clink our cups together (cheers!) and drink tea. I felt like a grown up.

When our tea was finished in the microwave, we carefully took the very hot cups and placed them onto the saucers. We sat down at the table, giggling, and waited patiently for the tea to cool off enough to drink it. Once it was ready, we clinked the cups together (bad idea!…tea spilled everywhere) and took a sip.

As soon as the tea met my taste-buds, I knew tea was not for me. It was gritty and gross; and the look on Anita’s face showed me that she felt the same. We promptly dumped the tea down the sink, rinsed out our cups, and cracked open an orange Crush soda.

20 years have passed since my first experience with tea, and I’m glad to say it wasn’t my last. Now I enjoy many types of tea; sweetened and unsweetened, loose-leaf and bagged, Darjeeling and green.  Although I’ll drink nearly any kind now-days, I undoubtedly prefer the sweet– and sometimes spicy– Indian style tea.

This delicious beverage, commonly known as chai (in Hindi) or cha (in Bengali), is not the same “chai” you get if you order it at an American coffee shop (I’m lookin’ at you Starbucks!).  In America, Indian masala chai (mixed-spice tea) has become synonymous with the word chai; but chai is just a word for tea.  It’s not a type of tea…and it definitely does not come from artificial syrup (did you know that tea leaves are not even a listed ingredient on some of the syrups your favorite coffee shop uses to make your chai?).

In India, chai is most often made with black tea leaves, way too much sugar, thick, whole milk…and green cracked cardamom pods—if you’re lucky!

sweet, green cardamom pods

It can be found everywhere…and I do mean everywhere!  You can buy it for a couple rupees at the train station, served in tiny paper cups;  or along the roadsides, where scant amounts are poured into tiny earthenware vessels; and if you’re lucky enough to be invited into an Indian home, you’re sure to be offered a steaming glass of creamy chai…with biscuits to dunk!

My mother and father-in-law (Maa and Baba), taught me how to make proper Indian-style tea…and for that, I am thankful!  When preparing tea, they never really used exact measurements.  Instead, they relied on color and taste.  It took me awhile, but I think I’ve finally got it figured out (Baba, if you’re reading this…you’d be proud)!

Not only do I intend to share with you, dear reader, how to make Indian-style chai (and masala chai!), but I would also like to give you a chance to try some Darjeeling loose-leaf tea that I bought in Darjeeling, myself!  This is not the Darjeeling tea you find lining your supermarket or co-op shelves…nooo…this is the real deal!

Darjeeling Loose Leaf Tea...and a strainer! The tea was purchased at Nathmulls in Darjeeling. If you want to learn more about it click here.

If you’d like a chance at trying some Darjeeling tea for yourself, here’s your chance!  I’m having a  giveaway, and one lucky reader will receive the package of tea and tea strainer shown above!

To enter, simply leave a comment telling me how you like to drink your tea!  It’s that easy!

The giveaway ends Friday, April 6 at 7:00 p.m. Central Time.  The giveaway is only open to U.S. residents aged 18+ (sorry!).  Be sure to include a valid email address with your comment…if you win, I want you to know!  I’ll choose the winner randomly using Random.org’s random number generator.  If I don’t hear back from the winner by Monday, April 9 at 5:00 pm Central Time, a new winner will be chosen!

For an additional chance to win: Follow my blog or sign up for email updates.  Be sure to leave a comment letting me know if you did this!

If you already follow or subscribe, I appreciate it and you deserve an extra chance too!  Leave a comment letting me know!

My blog is pretty young yet…so the chances are good!

**The giveaway is now over!  Congrats, Mary Ella!  I hope you enjoy the tea!**

Now, on to the recipes!

Indian-Style Tea (with milk and sugar)

This can also be made using stevia, if you’re concerned about your sugar-intake.  I also make it with soymilk.  If you choose to do this be sure to add the soymilk at the end.  Don’t boil it, it will curdle!

This recipe yeilds 3- 80z. servings.

  • 2 c. water
  • 1 tbsp. loose leaf tea
  • 3 green cardamom pods, cracked (optional)
  • sugar, to taste (if you want the whole “Indian experience” toss in about 3 tbsp–seriously.)
  • 3/4 c. milk (whole milk, if you want to keep it real)


  • Heat 2 c. water in a small pot over med-high heat until it’s rapidly boiling.  Once it’s boiling, toss in the tea leaves (and a couple cardamom pods, if you want), cover the pot, and turn off the heat.  Let the tea steep for about 5 minutes.
  • Add sugar–to taste –and milk.  Stir to combine everything.  Turn heat back on and bring the tea back to a boil.  Once it boils…it’s done!  Don’t cook it for too long or it’ll turn a little bitter and taste funny.  Turn off the heat, strain, and enjoy!

Masala Chai

To make masala chai–  follow the same recipe and method as above, but also add:

  • small chunk of ginger, smashed (use as much as you would like, but remember…it’s strong!)
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 4 green cardamom pods, crushed
  • small sliver of cinnamon
  • 4 peppercorns
  • 3 cloves

Add these spices, whole, to the water when you add the tea leaves.  Experiment with the quantities of spices and find the mix that is just right for you!  …Everyone’s tastes are different!

If you want to make the chai really special for someone, add a whole cardamom seed to the bottom before straining the tea into the glass!  If you could say, “I love you” using spices…this is how you’d do it!

A spice-y surprise!