Dhana Jiru or Dhansak Masala

In essence, this is an elaborate garam masala. Literally translated, dhana jiru means “coriander and cumin,” but you can see that this is only the beginning. There’s also some terminological confusion. Some people see dhansak masala as synonymous with dhana jiru; others see the former as a combination of dhana jiru and sambhar. I prefer to keep them separate and combine them as necessary. Use this recipe when either dhansak masala or dhana jiru is called for.

Recipes for these mixtures often call for the most esoteric ingredients, such as dug-gar ka phul, a lichen, and for tiny amounts of hard-to-find spices like nag kesar, or snake saffron—often mistranslated as “saffron,” but a totally different thing, resembling a peppercorn with a tail. I have left them out here because they are not generally available in the United States. I’ve eaten great wads of lichen to determine what its effect is and still don’t know. Should you be determined, and should you be able to find them, add one teaspoon of the duggar ka phul and half a teaspoon of nag kesar. Your best strategy for making this masala is to shop where you can buy spices in small amounts. Refer to the Glossary and the Sources section for more details on identifying and locating these ingredients. To avoid fits of sneezing while you’re grinding, sifting, and bottling, wear an ordinary hardware store dust mask.

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  • 1 cup coriander seeds
  • ½ cup dried cassia leaves or ¼ cup Turkish bay leaves
  • ¼ cup cumin seeds
  • ¼ cup dried red chiles
  • 1 tablespoon white poppy seeds
  • 2 tablespoons broken-up stick cinnamon or cassia cinnamon
  • 2 tablespoons black peppercorns
  • 1 tablespoon whole cloves
  • 1 tablespoon cardamom pods
  • 4 black cardamom pods
  • 1 teaspoon caraway seeds
  • 1 teaspoon black cumin seeds
  • 1 teaspoon fenugreek seeds
  • ½ teaspoon ground turmeric
  • Pinch of saffron threads
  • 1 nutmeg
  • 1 strand mace


  • In a large heavy skillet, dry-roast the coriander, cassia, cumin, peppers, poppy seeds, cinnamon, peppercorns, cloves, cardamom, black cardamom, caraway, black cumin, and fenugreek just enough for them to start smelling toasty but not to color. Let them cool down for a few minutes before you go on to the next step.
  • In a coffee mill reserved for grinding spices, pulverize the toasted spices with the turmeric, saffron, nutmeg, and mace. Sift them into a bowl, pressing through the sieve rather than shaking, which raises too much nose-tickling powder. Pour the mixture into a jar; cap it tightly and store in a cool, dark place.