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Toasting the whole spices in a dry saute pan brings out all of the aromatic flavors prior to grinding and sifting to create a flavorful Garam Masala blend


Known in India as the “hot spice”, because of the warming qualities that it produces in the body when consumed, Garam Masala has many variations. It can be made with just a few spices or with as many as 30 or more. It is one of the most famous spice blends that hails from India and according to the ancient Indian medical practice of Ayurveda is reputed to have medicinal properties that warm the body when eaten. This ancient spice blend from Northern India is very flavorful but not spicy hot and is used in many different dishes with or without meat. In this post, I use it for a ground lamb and rice pilaf dish.

Chefs and cooks use spice blends for recipes to provide consistency to their dishes and almost all the world’s cuisines have blends that have proven to be popular over the ages. Some of the more famous blends are the French Herbes de Province and Quatre Epices, North Africas Ras el Hanout, and the Chinese Five Spice. From India comes Curry Powder, the most well known along with Garam Masala. From America mixes include BBQ spice blends, Creole Spice, and Pickling Spice. At the University Club kitchen, I use four spices that are commercially blended to my specifications: Mexi Spice, Creole Spice, Blackening Spice and Duck Roasting Spice.

Garam Masala which is a toasted blend of ground whole spices is somewhat like a curry spice blend except that it does not contain turmeric which gives curry its yellow color. According to my research, it is normally used as a finishing spice; however, I like to use it as a base spice to season a basmati rice dish made with ground lamb, peppers and onions, pine nuts and golden raisins. I then use more of the spice blend as a dusted garnish when the dish is served. The main points that I would like to share with you in this post are:

  • the toasting of the spices which is done in a dry saute pan
  • grinding the toasted spices in a coffee grinder and then sifting through a sieve to yield a finely ground blend
  • the technique of using the spice blend first in the cooking process to fully release its flavors and then as a finishing spice to accent the dish along with fresh herbs and toasted pine nuts
  • the rice pilaf technique, which is the technique/recipe that is done by browning the rice with the other ingredients, adding a hot stock and then baking the rice in the oven. This technique is used in many rice dishes from Turkey, Iran, Pakistan, North Africa and India.
  • lastly, the mise en place (French for everything in its place) which is the act of preparing all of the ingredients and carefully measuring them before the cooking process begins. This a very important so that nothing will be missed and even more important in baking and pastry making! This term is also used in professional kitchens to mean having everything prepped and organized prior to service. This is how service in a commercial kitchen is done efficiently with many meals being served either in an a la carte or banquet kitchen.

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Indian Spiced Ground Lamb and Basmati Rice Pilaf
By Chef Daniel Pliska
Can be used to Stuff Tomatoes or blanched Onions for baking 
Yield: 4 portions

1 pound                      Ground Lamb Meat
1/4 cup                        small Diced Onions
1/4 cup                        small Diced Red Peppers
1/4 cup                        small Diced Green Peppers
1 Tablespoon             Minced Garlic
1 1/2 teaspoons         Garam Masala Spice
1 cup                           Basmati Rice
1/2 cup                        Golden Raisins
2 cups                         Chicken Stock
1/4 cup                        Chopped Scallions
1/4 cup                        Chopped Parsley
1/4 cup                        Toasted Pine Nuts
1Tablespoon              Olive Oil
Kosher Salt to Taste

Garam Masala Style Spice:
1 teaspoon                 Whole Cumin Seeds
1 teaspoon                  Whole Coriander seeds
1 Stick                          Cinnamon 1” long broken up
1/2 teaspoon               Whole Cloves
1 teaspoon                   Sea Salt or Kosher Salt
1 teaspoon                  Whole Black Peppercorns
1/4 teaspoon                Ground Cardamom
¼ teaspoon                   Ground Mace

  1. In a dry pan toast the Cumin, Coriander, Cloves and Cinnamon over medium-high heat until fragrant. Make sure to agitate the spices constantly once they heat up by sauteeing or stirring with a wooden spoon so that the spices brown evenly and don’t burn.
  2. Add the Salt, Whole Peppercorns, Ground Cardamom and Mace and grind to a fine powder in spice grinder
  3. Sieve through a strainer and use or store in an airtight container for future use.

Lamb with Basmati Rice:

  1. Sautee the Lamb with the Garlic, Onions, Peppers and 1 1/2 teaspoons Garam Masala Spice
  2. Drain some of the Fat
  3. Add the Rice and Brown
  4. Add the Raisins and Stock
  5. Bring to a boil, cover and cook in the oven 30 to 35 minutes until Rice is cooked
  6. Remove and add the Herbs, Pine Nuts (reserve a small amount to garnish the finished rice) and adjust seasoning to taste with more Salt if needed
  7. Fluff with a fork and garnish with more Garam Masala, Chopped Herbs, and Toasted Pine nuts and serve or cool and stuff tomatoes or blanched onions in preparation for baking.
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Mise en place for Ground Lamb with Basmati Rice. Mise en place is the French term meaning “everything in its place”, and refers to having everything for a recipe prepped and measured before the cooking begins

After the Garam Masala is prepared dice all of the vegetables and measure all of the ingredients. Everything is ready ( Mise en place) to cook.

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Brown the lamb with Garam Masala in olive oil and then add the vegetables and then the rice and stir until the rice has browned. This is the first step in the Pilaf technique and can be done with as few as six ingredients (minced onions, rice, butter, stock, salt, and pepper) or more as is in this recipe. The act of browning the rice enhances the flavor of the rice, and by stirring it with the fat and other ingredients the rice becomes coated and keeps it from not sticking together when cooked.

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The rice pilaf technique is a way to cook rice by browning the rice with the other ingredients, adding a hot stock, covering the dish and baking it in the oven until done. The name Pilaf comes from the Turkish word Pilav and is a prepared in many countries in the region.

Add the chicken stock and bring to a boil. Then cover with foil or a lid and bake at 350F until all of the stock is absorbed and the rice is cooked.


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After the rice is cooked and all of the liquid has been absorbed fluff the rice with some of the toasted pine nuts, chopped parsley, and scallions


Add the toasted Pine nuts and the chopped herbs and fluff with a fork. This final step ensures that all of the ingredients are mixed thoroughly and lightens the rice so that it is not too compact. If needed adjust the seasoning with more salt and serve.

The rice can also be used to stuff small or large tomatoes or blanched hollowed out onions and then baked in the oven topped with herb flavored bread crumbs as shown in the following image. Either way, this rice dish flavored with Garam Masala has a unique and flavorful taste that will surely be appreciated by anyone who eats it. Enjoy!

basmati rice stuffed tomatoes
Baked stuffed Campari Tomatoes filled with Ground Lamb and Basmati Rice are ready to be served.