I love Indian foods and have been trying to improve my home cooking techniques mostly with things I improvise with after reading some of the Indian cook books I have. Garam Masala is frequently used in many Indian foods as a very important spice blend, and is essential to Northern Indian cooking. Traditionally it is a blend of four spices; Cardamom, Cinnamon, Cloves, and Black Pepper, but every region of Indian has it's own blend and many times additional spices are added, such as Red Pepper, depending on regional preferences.
I have always used Garam Masala blends which can now be purchased in just about any grocery store. Like all spices, these can be quite pricey. Recently I was in one of my favorite Indian grocery stores. (I have several here in the Philly metro area) While wandering the aisles I noticed some interesting bags of Garam Masala Whole, very reasonably priced at $1.79 for a 7 oz. bag of whole spices.
It occurred to me that by preparing my own Garam Masala I would be saving money and improving my cooking at the same time. This is a very easy process and adds no more than five minutes to cooking prep time. It is also very comforting to me because I feel like my cooking becomes more traditional this way, not to mention the incredible aroma that results from the process.
First thing to do is heat up a frying pan or wok. Dry pan... no oil or fat! When the pan gets hot enough to begin smoking, add about a palm sized amount of spices to the pan. For the first minute not much will happen, but keep a close eye on the spices. As soon as they dry out they will begin to brown. Keep them moving in the pan. You will notice an incredible aroma as the spices roast and brown. Do not let them burn. Just a nice toasty brown is what you are after. 2-3 minutes of roasting usually does the trick.
Remove the spices to a small bowl and allow them to cool down for a few minutes, then place them into a coffee grinder or spice mill. Grind them into a fine powder, the consistency of drip coffee. You may find that some of the pieces of cinnamon remain in big chunks. I just discard those pieces.
Empty the ground spice mix back into the bowl and take a whiff at what you have created! No store bought Garam Masala blend can even come close to freshly roasted! And the whole process takes no longer than about five minutes. Try it, it is so worth it.