Garam masala is the Indian equivalent of the French herbes de Provence or the Chinese five-spice powder. The recipe changes from region to region within northern India, and I vary it according to my whim. Here, rose petals add an exciting floral note, but you can substitute black cardamom, fennel seeds (in the style of Kashmir), or a teaspoon of royal cumin (shahi or kala zeera, found in Indian markets)—or just eliminate the roses altogether. The list of spices may seem daunting, but once you taste the difference that this simple powder makes in your cooking, you will find it worth the investment and cupboard space. As a rule (one that certainly gets broken at times), garam masala is added only at the last step of cooking, almost like a fresh herb. If cooked too long, it tends to become bitter.
Break off the stems of the rosebuds, if using, and set aside. Heat the cinnamon, bay leaves, cumin, coriander, cardamom pods, peppercorns, cloves, and chile pepper in a medium skillet over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the cumin becomes brown, about 2 1/2 to 3 minutes. Transfer to a spice grinder or coffee mill, add the rose petals, nutmeg, and mace, and grind until powder-fine. Store in an airtight container for up to 4 months.
Makes about ¾ cup