You can find thousands of recipes for different kinds of curries online or in cookery books. For novices, it’s often hard to choose which recipe to use. In my earlier, more amateur cooking days, I often used try out recipes given to me by my mum, but they never used to taste as good. Of course I’ll never be as good as my mum but I discovered why mine were lacking the oomph that more distinguished cooks had. There’s something they don’t tell you in the recipe books.
The secret to a fantastic tasting curry is to roast and grind the spices yourself! I know what you’re thinking — I don’t have time for that? Well, it’s not as time consuming as you may think as you grind them in advance then store them in a jar. The shop bought ground spices have less than 50% of the aroma and taste that freshly ground have. All you need is a frying pan and a coffee/spice grinder.
For me, the three most important spices to prepare yourself are coriander, cumin and ground garam masala (translates as warm spices). I promise you, if you prepare these at home, your curry will taste amazingly better and more authentic.
As ground coriander is prevalent in so many curry recipes it’s the one that is essential to making a tasty dish.
How to make homemade ground coriander & cumin
- Use one cup (about 50g) of coriander seeds which should yield about 7-8 tablespoons of powder. For more on dry roasting, click here. You should be able to dry fry this amount in a medium to large sized frying pan. This process should take less than 10 mins: 2-4 minutes to roast and then 5 minutes to cool.
- After roasting if you pour the seeds out of the pan into a separate bowl they’ll cool quicker. Whilst you’re waiting for them to cool, you can roast your cumin seeds. Again 1 cup will fit nicely in the frying pan. The aroma of ‘bhuna zeera’ (roasted ground cumin) is really something else and it makes a great spice to add to side dishes like raita, dhai vada or papri chaat as well as to curries.
- Once the coriander seeds are cool, you can add them to your grinder. You may have to split the seeds into two batches as they won’t fit all into a standard coffee grinder. Press the button for about 5 seconds and it’s done. I like to keep my coriander powder slightly coarse but it’s fine to grind for a bit longer to get a powdery consistency (10 seconds).
- Pour the freshly ground coriander into a jar and don’t forget to label it as these particular spices all look the same in powder form!
- Do the same with the cumin seeds but a finely ground consistency works much better. The smell and colour will be so different to the shop-bought cumin powder, you’ll wonder why you ever bought it in the first place.
Homemade ground garam masala
There are many regional variations but my garam masala is a simple one that doesn’t take long to prepare. Garam masala is used in a variety of dishes but I usually use it as a garnish to sprinkle on top of certain curries or a rub for a chicken or lamb roast.
- 5-10 cardamom pods — use seeds only (peel by hand or use a pestle and mortar)
- 1 black cardamom
- 4 bay leaves
- 1 cinnamon stick
- 5 cloves
- 10 peppercorns
- 1 tbsp cumin seeds
- 1-2 tbsp coriander seeds
- 1 star anise
- 1 whole nutmeg (optional)
- 1 mace blade (optional)
In an ideal world, you could roast all of these in a pan for a few minutes and then leave to cool. But if like me you realise you’ve run out of garam masala whilst cooking then bung all the ingredients in the grinder and press the button for at least 30 seconds. As you’re using harder spices like cinnamon and black cardamoms it can take longer for it to grind down to a fine powder. You might have noticed there’s no chilli in this but if you want to make a hotter version then add a dry red chilli.
Other whole spices you can grind at home are cinnamon, mace and nutmeg. Please note if you grind coffee beans then you may want to invest in a separate grinder for spices otherwise your coffee may end up tasting like garam masala!