Recipe: Make your own masala

TART UP YOUR DINNER: Chaat masala is a tangy treat.
TART UP YOUR DINNER: Chaat masala is a tangy treat.

Masalas are blended spices that come in two forms. The powdery version uses different dried spices, while the paste combines dry spices with fresh ingredients such as onion, ginger and fresh herbs. The flavours can vary from mild and fragrant to hot and spicy, depending on the type of masala, the dish it is used in and personal preference. These spice mixes are a cornerstone of cooking in India, as well as in Pakistan and Bangladesh.

In New Zealand, the most commonly known example of a dry masala is garam masala. ''Garam'' means hot or warm.

Garam masala is sold in supermarkets and food stores but it's worth making from scratch at home - the result is a far superior product. Add your own personality to any masala by adding more of your favourite spices and herbs. Garam masala is traditionally sprinkled over a finished dish but can also be added at the start.

LENTIL AS ANYTHING: Garam masala and red lentil dhal.
LENTIL AS ANYTHING: Garam masala and red lentil dhal.

Chaat is a snack served in India by food hawkers on the street and can be made of papaya, guava, apples and, as in the following recipe, bananas. Chaat masala is the spicy mixture used to season the fruit. Yoghurt adds a creamy, soothing element to this somewhat tart dish.

Green masala is a fabulous example of a fresh paste masala. Use your imagination and personal taste for this recipe when choosing spices.


Serve as a snack, as part of a banquet or even a simple dessert.

1 tsp black peppercorns

1 tsp celery seeds

1 tsp cumin seeds

1tsp dried pomegranate seeds

1 tsp sea salt

1 tsp mango powder

Pinch cayenne pepper

1/2 tsp garam masala, optional

4 bananas, peeled and sliced

1 cup natural yoghurt

Dry-fry the peppercorns, celery and cumin seeds until fragrant, about five minutes. Place in a spice grinder with the pomegranate, salt, mango powder, cayenne and garam masala (if using) and grind to a fine powder. Mix banana and yoghurt together and sprinkle over desired amount of spice. Serves four as a snack.


This is a versatile and vibrant paste to have on hand in the fridge. Cover the top with a small amount of vegetable oil to prevent oxidisation; it can be kept for up to four weeks.

20 cardamom pods

3 cloves

1 tsp ground turmeric

3 garlic cloves

1 small knob ginger, peeled, sliced

100g mint leaves

50g coriander leaves

4 long green chilli, chopped

200ml vegetable oil


Juice of 1/2 a lime

Use a stick or bar blender to blend all ingredients to a smooth paste. Serve with seafood, poultry, lamb or pork. Makes about 500mls.


Red lentils cook quickly and are a great colour but you can substitute your favourite lentils in this recipe. I like French-style puy lentils that hold their shape. Add some coconut cream for extra richness. Store garam masala in an airtight container for two weeks.

3 tbsp coriander seeds

3 tbsp fennel seeds

3 tbsp cumin seeds

1 tbsp white peppercorns

15 cardamom pods

1 cinnamon stick, broken up

5 cloves

4 dried bay leaves

1/2 tsp ground mace

300g red lentils, rinsed

1 tsp ground turmeric

1 litre water

100g butter

1 medium brown onion, chopped

3 garlic cloves

1 tsp chilli flakes

4 roma tomatoes, chopped


1 cup coriander leaves, washed

To make the garam masala, place coriander, fennel, cumin, peppercorns, cardamom, cinnamon and cloves in a frypan and place over a medium heat. Gently dry fry for five minutes, moving spices around until they are fragrant and refreshed. Place in a spice grinder with bay leaves and mace and grind to a fine powder. Sieve if necessary. Reserve.

To make the dhal, place lentils, turmeric and water in a saucepan and bring to a simmer. Cook until lentils are just soft. In a frypan, melt butter and fry onion, garlic and chilli flakes until soft and starting to colour. Add tomatoes to onion mix then stir the mix through the lentils. Season with salt. Serve with fresh coriander and a sprinkle of garam masala on top. Serves 4-6.