Lal Masala Is the Superpowered Flavor Booster I Always Keep on Hand

published Aug 21, 2020
Kitchn Love Letters
Lal Masala

This 4-ingredient Indian spice paste is an easy-to-make all-purpose flavor booster. Use it in stews or gravies, or as a marinate for fish or chicken.

Makesabout 1/2 cup

Prep5 minutes

Cook10 minutes

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Credit: Photo: Kristin Teig; Food Styling: Catrine Kelty

Growing up in Mumbai instilled a lifelong preference within me for vibrant, flavorful food. Subtle and refined doesn’t cut it on my dinner table! But while I consider myself an accomplished home chef, the thought of making Indian food has always intimidated me. I assumed the multi-layered, complexly flavored dishes I grew up eating couldn’t possibly be quick and easy to make — and yet somehow my mother is always effortlessly whipping something up that tastes better than most restaurants.

After much cajoling, I finally discovered her secret: homemade lal masala. With this Indian spice paste on hand, she can pack a ton of flavor into any dish in a matter of seconds.

Credit: Photo: Kristin Teig; Food Styling: Catrine Kelty

The components of lal masala are essential building blocks for many Indian dishes. Store-bought masalas vary from pastes to ground powders and are often made with a wider variety of ingredients — including preservatives — which can lead to a muddle of flavors that lose their potency fairly quickly. So while store-bought masala mixes are fine in a pinch, nothing quite compares to this unadulterated homemade version: striking red and fragrant with garlic, cumin, and tangy notes of vinegar. The best part? It’s so quick and easy to make so you can always have some fresh on hand. 

All you need is a spoonful of this lal masala to jazz up just about anything you make — whether it’s an Indian dish or not. It’s the perfect flavor enhancer for stews and gravies; you simply add a tablespoon with the aromatics. For example, when sautéing onions and garlic, add the lal masala when the onions are translucent, and stir to coat thoroughly until the onions take on a caramelized look and a spicy aroma. 

I also love to use the spice paste to marinate meat and fish. Just give your protein a little lal masala massage, then let it rest at room temperature for one to three hours, depending on how intense you want the flavor to be. Feel free to mix the lal masala with other spices for marinades, too — I often combine it with ginger and garlic for fish, and with barbecue sauce or mustard for meat and chicken.

So, what are you waiting for? It’s high time lal masala became your secret weapon, too.

Lal Masala

This 4-ingredient Indian spice paste is an easy-to-make all-purpose flavor booster. Use it in stews or gravies, or as a marinate for fish or chicken.

Prep time 5 minutes

Cook time 10 minutes

Makes about 1/2 cup

Nutritional Info



  1. Smash 11 garlic cloves and place in a blender or food processor fitted with the blade attachment. Add 1/3 cup Kashmiri chili powder, 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar, and 2 teaspoons ground cumin. Blend for 1 minute. The result should be a powdery mix.

  2. Scrape down the sides of the blender. Repeat blending and scraping 8 more times. The mixture will eventually become less powdery, and the goal is a grainy paste (resist the urge to add more vinegar).

Recipe Notes

Storage: Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to 1 month.

At Kitchn, our editors develop and debut brand-new recipes on the site every single week. But at home, we also have our own tried-and-true dishes that we make over and over again — because quite simply? We love them. Kitchn Love Letters is a series that shares our favorite, over-and-over recipes.