Food & Wine

Spices combine to make masala essential in Indian cooking

Masala, a blend of fragrant Indian spices in dry, roasted or paste form, is a common flavor in the Indian kitchen. The word “masala” means a blend of several spices.

Garam (hot) masala is the most prevalent blend of spices and an absolute essential addition to North Indian cooking. A basic garam masala is a blend of cardamom, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg and black pepper. Several different variations of the mixture exist, each with a unique spice blend and specific use.

For pungent spice lovers, garam masala may be a favorite flavoring. It complements the following Dry Chicken Masala recipe well and adds delicious flavor and aroma to the dish.

My recipe is an easy Indian dish – you simply cook the chicken in whole spices, onions and ginger-garlic paste. This dish is best cooked on low heat with little or no water.

The most important attribute of the recipe is that the masala is dry, compared to the tomato-based masala commonly used to create a curry, usually with the addition of water.

Serve Dry Chicken Masala with a basmati rice pilaf or naan bread or wrapped as a kathi roll. Green cilantro chutney with sliced red onions enhances the taste of the dish and brings out its flavors.

Gitika Baveja is author of “Indian Flavors to Savor: The Easy Home-Cooked Way.” For additional recipes, visit

Dry Chicken Masala

• 1 cup boneless chicken (skin removed, cut in small pieces)

• 1 medium onion, chopped small

• 1 teaspoon garlic, freshly ground

• 1/2 teaspoon ginger, freshly ground

• 2 teaspoons coriander powder

• 1/2 teaspoon each, cumin, turmeric and red chili powders

• 1 teaspoon garam masala powder

• 8-10 whole black peppercorns

• 2 whole green cardamoms

• Salt to taste

• 4-5 tablespoons vegetable or olive oil

• 1 tablespoon cilantro, chopped (to garnish)

• Few fresh ginger juliennes (to garnish)

• 2 tablespoons fresh lime or lemon juice

• 1 teaspoon green chili, chopped (to garnish, optional)


Wash chicken and set aside. Heat oil in pan and add cardamoms and peppercorns. When they start to crackle, add chopped onions. Fry until slightly brown. Add chicken and sauté for 4-5 minutes until it starts to turn light brown. Add ginger and garlic paste and sauté for another 2 minutes.

Add dry spices and salt and cook until oil starts to separate. Give it a quick stir.

Cover and simmer on low heat until chicken is tender and water evaporates. Only sprinkle water if needed and chicken starts to stick to pan. When chicken starts to dry out and masala has coated chicken, it is ready to serve.

Garnish with chopped cilantro and ginger and serve with hot naan or basmati rice. Squeeze lime or lemon juice and serve hot. You could also sprinkle some additional garam masala.

Variation: For vegetarians, cut paneer (Indian cottage cheese) in cube-sized pieces and cook as above. Cooking time will be much shorter.

Makes two servings.

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